The booing started in the second half. It got louder heading into the fourth quarter as USC’s offense continued to struggle.
And, at the end, it trailed USC players and coaches off the field at the Coliseum.
Many USC fans who braved rush-hour traffic to get to Thursday night’s game against Washington no doubt wished they had stayed home after witnessing a 17-12 upset by the Huskies that once again will ratchet up the pressure on Trojans Coach Steve Sarkisian.
The loss, USC’s second in its last two home games, dropped the No. 17 Trojans to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12 Conference heading into next week’s rivalry game against Notre Dame.
“This one, at the end of the day, is on me,” Sarkisian said.
USC appeared to have solved several of its issues in an impressive road victory at Arizona State.
But the Trojans on Thursday were horrendous on third down, committed costly penalties and never got their offense going on a night when center Max Tuerk was injured and quarterback Cody Kessler struggled.
The defeat had to be painful for Sarkisian, who coached Washington for five seasons before leaving Seattle for his dream job in December 2013.
Thursday’s game was his first against the Huskies, many of his former players and successor Chris Petersen, who also was interviewed for the USC job by Athletic Director Pat Haden.
The knock against Petersen by some was that his personality worked fine during his successful run at Boise State, but that he was not dynamic enough for the Southern California market.
But Petersen’s understated style — and trademark razzle-dazzle in clutch play-calling situations — was evident in the Huskies’ first win at the Coliseum since 2010.
“That’s kind of been our mission,” Petersen said. “To play hard, with great toughness and with great effort and that’s what I saw. I thought our defense was spectacular against a really explosive offense.”
USC’s defense played well for the second consecutive game, making it tough on Jake Browning, the Huskies’ freshman quarterback.
But Kessler and the offense never found a rhythm, especially on third down.
Tailbacks Tre Madden and Ronald Jones rushed for 120 and 66 yards, respectively, but the Trojans converted only one of 13 downs.
Kessler was sacked on USC’s first play and had a pass intercepted on the first series for the second consecutive game.
Against Arizona State, Kessler rebounded to pass for five touchdowns.
But Washington, the Pac-12’s top-rated defense, sacked him five times and never let Trojans receivers run the wide-open routes they found the previous week.
Kessler completed 19 of 26 passes for 156 yards and two interceptions. It was his first two-interception game since 2013, when he had two passes picked off in a loss at Arizona State that proved to be Lane Kiffin’s final game as USC’s coach.
“They got to me, they covered really well and they made it difficult,” Kessler said. “I had to get to the second and third read a lot — it wasn’t there like it has been.”
Linebacker Su’a Cravens said the Trojans “have all the tools” and that the blame rests with players, not the coaching staff.
“There is nothing wrong with the coaches — it’s the players,” he said. “We have to make a decision to do what we need to do.”
Despite its struggles, USC led 6-3 at halftime on two Alex Wood field goals.
But that’s about as good as it got for the Trojans.
Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled on the Trojans’ first second-half possession and Petersen then went to the kind of play that characterized his successful run at Boise State.
On first down at USC’s 27, Browning took a snap under center and fired a pass to his left to receiver Marvin Hall, who then found tight end Joshua Perkins for a touchdown pass that put the Trojans behind for the first time.
The Huskies increased their lead to 17-6 in the fourth quarter on a short touchdown run by Myles Gaskin.
The Trojans cut the lead on tailback Ronald Jones’ short touchdown run. USC went for the two-point conversion, but Madden dropped a pass.
The Trojans got the ball back with about 12 minutes left but went three and out. They got another chance with seven minutes left and benefited from a roughing-the-passer infraction.
But on fourth and nine from the Washington 28, Wood missed a 46-yard field goal attempt and Washington ran out the clock.
Now USC has work to do as it prepares to face Notre Dame.
“There’s no magical solution or potion I get to sprinkle and it’s going to happen,” Sarkisian said. “It’s going to take hard work.”