If LSU fans felt down and out after a five-loss Southeastern Conference run in 2008, imagine the blues that Husky fans sang.
Behind former coach Tyrone Willingham’s spread attack, the UW offense averaged just 13.3 points per game. Their opponents averaged 38.6, good enough to keep the Huskies out of the victory column all season. UW held an opponent to under 20 points just once (Washington State, 13-16, 2OT), while the ground game closed the season out with an average below 100 yards per game.
Times in Seattle were tough.
Then came the hiring of Steve Sarkisian, who had previously served as the offensive coordinator at Southern Cal. The Golden State native had both NFL experience and a record of success in Los Angeles with the Trojans, which was just the type of safety net that a freefalling Husky program needed.
Sooner after the hire, the flip of the UW program began.
Sarkisian brought aboard Nick Holt, Southern Cal’s defensive coordinator in 2008, to man the same post with the Huskies. Holt had ceded play-calling responsibilities in Los Angeles to head coach Pete Carroll. In Seattle, Holt has full control, and a guaranteed three-year deal that could be worth $2.1 million to prove it.
On the offensive side, Sarkisian passed the decision-making duties down to Doug Nussmeier, who had previously served as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State.
With three new voices behind the UW play calls, the Tigers said that they are prepared for everything.
“When you line up in the first one and you don’t really know what to expect, you have to have a pretty broad-based game plan so that you can handle the things you might see,” said LSU head coach Les Miles.
Perry Riley, who is making his first start at weak side linebacker, said that preparation time is split.
“We are studying USC for a game plan, and Washington for their personnel,” Riley said. “We are seeing what players are coming back and how they play. Studying USC, there is a grey area. We don’t know if they will come up with a new scheme, or keep the same one. We are just trying to get ready as best as possible.”
Kelvin Sheppard, who will play at both middle and strong side linebacker, said that defensive coordinator John Chavis has prepared the team on all fronts.
“We had tape from all the other teams, but this coordinator might come with a totally new offense we have never seen,” Sheppard said. “We know that, and we know that they are trying to open up and get back on track. Their personnel is impressive, and with new coaches they are able to handle anything.
“Chavis is preparing us well with a lot of different schemes.”
From Fresno State to Idaho to Southern Cal, Tigers on both sides of the ball said that they have studied tape that included a little bit of it all.
“We suspect what they are going to play,” Miles said. “There isn’t a book on them (coaching staff). They have not called a play at Washington and what is USC’s personality and the type of talent they had would lend to the play calls that were offense, defense and special teams from there.”
For starting running back Charles Scott, the story of the Huskies will be told soon after the kick.
“Some guys think that it is kind of crazy, but you never know exactly what you are going to get with anyone,” Scott said. “Somebody is always going to bring something different to a game, so we have to prepare for what we know and adjust on the fly. I would say after the first series, we see a wrinkle and adjust.”
Ranked No. 9 in the Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the Associated Press Poll, the Tigers will travel over 2,000 miles to open a season far from the confines of home. With a wet, chilly night forecasted on Montlake, starting strong safety Brandon Taylor said that the mission is to get in, and get out.
“There is no secret about it, we want to go out and just win,” Taylor said. “I know that we are ready to play. They can bring Washington or USC stuff at us, but we are coming to play, and it should get nasty.”