There is enough of a talent disparity in college football that you can watch the sport regularly and be treated to more than a few video game performances: statistical anomalies that you never encounter in the NFL, and usually otherwise find only when you’re destroying a kindergartener on PlayStation. If you’re as old as I am, you might remember Marshall Faulk hanging 386 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on Pacific in just his second game as a San Diego State Aztec. If you’re a Texas Tech fan—and who isn’t?—you definitely remember your team owning a full half of the top-eight single-game passing records in history, with Patrick Mahomes topping the list with a 734-yarder in 2016 against Oklahoma.
Well now you can add Dillon Johnson to the memory bank. Last night’s showcase duel between USC and Washington featured two players, QBs Caleb Williams and Michael Penix, who put up video game numbers as a matter of routine. And indeed, this game ended up being the kind of balls-to-the-wall shootout where the defense that manages to break serve just once ends up the victor. The two offenses combined for 1,087 yards, which was 748 yards more than Iowa and Northwestern could manage earlier in the day.
But it wasn’t the quarterbacks who tilted the balance in the end. It was Johnson.
Dillon Johnson had only run for 100 yards once in four years of service prior to this game. Thanks to a Huskies o-line that turned SC’s defensive front into Beyond Beef, he racked up 256 yards in the Coliseum last night, with 199 of them coming before any defender had touched him. He scored four touchdowns. He averaged nearly 10 yards a carry, with that run you see up above serving as the backbreaker: a 53-yard scamper from inside Washington’s own 10 that kicked off a nine-play, 91-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth that buried the Trojans for good. Memories of Chris Brown obliterating Nebraska abounded.
This is the last season of the Pac-12’s existence. Thanks to Washington, it may not go out like Stan Chera. In fact, you could make an argument that the two best teams in college football right now are in this sorryass conference. Current no. 1 Ohio State reeks of fraudulence after struggling to put away a Ruckuhs team that is terminally unable to pass the ball. Without superstar TE Brock Bowers, mighty Georgia has had to Ladd McConkey their way to underwhelming victories against the likes of Auburn and Mizzou. And Jim Harbaugh could be sentenced to more time in prison than Sam Bankman-Fried by the time Michigan’s regular season is over. None of these teams have that sheen of inevitability.
Meanwhile, the Huskies will be favored to run the table all the way to the Pac-12 title game, where a rematch with Oregon surely awaits. That game promises to be just as batshit crazy as last night’s was, if not more so. For their part, the Ducks have been white hot ever since losing to the Huskies a month ago, and just did a bunch of video game shit to Cal themselves. The winner of that game is going to the College Football Playoff, and the loser might also deserve to.
No Pac-12 team has ever won the playoff. Only one—Oregon in the inaugural tournament—has even made the final. But thanks to Washington, and thanks to Dillon Johnson’s sudden, it’s-in-the-game ability to run through front sevens that have been digitally erased from your screen, the odds of this conference going out on top are not only decent, but tantalizing. More of this wildness, please.