LOS ANGELES - How fitting the play that proved to be the decisive score for a Chris Petersen-coached team was something out of the ordinary — though Petersen might argue otherwise.
“It’s one trick play a game, and after it works, now we’re Trick Play University,” he laughed, following Washington’s 17-12 upset of 17th-ranked USC Thursday.
“I wish we ran the ball in,” he added. “There [are] too many good, hard-nosed running plays those kids deserve to feel good about.”
Be that as it may, the Washington coaching staff knows pretty intimately the importance of a well-timed and well-executed trick play. It’s why the Huskies dedicate practice time to it.
“We work on trick plays all the time,” said wide receiver Marvin Hall, a key player in Thursday’s flawlessly executed double-pass. “And I’m that guy [who] gets to throw the ball. I just work on throwing it as accurately as possible.”
The right time to put Hall’s efforts into action came.
The Husky struggled both in the run and pass through the first half, squandering three drives with field position starting at or on the right side of the 50. When USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster coughed up possession in Trojan territory, the Huskies, trailing 6-3, needed to capitalize.
Petersen, whose Boise State teams were celebrated for their successful execution of trick plays in critical situations, cannot be credited for the double-pass touchdown that gave Washington its lead.
“That was [offensive coordinator Jonathan] Smith’s [call],” Petersen said. “All Coach Smith’s.”
“That” would be Hall taking a pass from quarterback Jake Browning behind the line of scrimmage and unleashing a perfect, 27-yard pass to hit tight end Joshua Perkins in stride to the end zone.
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Everything about the play looked so seamless in real-time, but every facet that went into it had to be just right.
Without a crisp, easily handled pass from Browning to Hall, the USC secondary would have time to collapse on the streaking Perkins. The Trojans could not cover for a deep pass, or Hall would be left in space, having to make a play with his feet for likely minimal gain.
And, of course, Hall’s pass had to be delivered just right. After all, it wasn’t the first time Perkins got behind the USC secondary, but it was his lone scoring catch.
“We saw that they like to run a lot of man coverage,” Perkins explained. From there, it was just a matter of beating his man.
In this situation, he was left alone deep with safety Chris Hawkins trailing once Hall’s pass was made. Hawkins, however, was not the Trojan meant to cover Perkins.
“We’re taught, once we see the ball is out, trigger: go help,” Hawkins said.
But, as Perkins breaks from the line in this instance, he’s never picked up.
“They committed to the screen,” Hall explained. “I saw Josh wide open and thought, ‘I gotta make this throw.’
“You have to catch the defense on their toes,” he added.
Thursday was actually Washington’s second time successfully running this exact play. The Huskies with this exact play and passer-to-receiver combination against Arizona in 2014.
So, it wasn’t a hard-nosed run play. But it got Petersen’s team ahead to stay.