Themes can be powerful things -- if they work. If they're timed just right. If they express where people are -- or where they're headed. And most importantly, if they make sense and are achievable.
Which is why USC's approach, Steve Sarkisian's really, the night before the Arizona State game, resonated so well -- before and after the Trojans' 42-14 turnover-fueled romp in Tempe.
It was positively Pete Carroll-esque the way two turnovers just inside and outside the USC and ASU five-yard lines on back-to-back plays highlighted by Chris Hawkins' 94-yard scoop and score constituted a 21-point turnaround in the seconds before halftime. What would have been a 21-7 USC lead and a second half in doubt was a 35-0 romp and game over.
That's how you do it on the road when you absolutely have to make it happen as USC did after the home disappointment in the shocking 41-31 loss to Stanford in the then-sixth-ranked Trojans' Pac-12 opener.
And for a coach who had "barraged" his guys wth 30 minutes of video and demonstrations on what takeaways might mean for them, down to actually showing them how to pick up the football and score with it, it was exactly the right prescription for what was ailing his Trojans.
So now what? What's this week's prescription for Washington (2-2, 0-1 in the Pac-12) when the Husky team he coached for five years arrives Thursday at the Coliseum (6 p.m, ESPN), Sark was asked.
Not so fast, Sark said. "I'm not backing off that [emphasis on turnovers]," after a Tuesday morning "big video presentation" for the team ending with Kam Chancellor's game-saving, ball-punching goal-line effort Monday night for Carroll's Seahawks.
"I don't want to back off it," Sark said of a plus-1.5 turnover margin that has USC No. 11 in the nation despite going two full games without one after four takeaways at ASU.
So consider that a seasonlong theme, one that will work week after week after week. "I think we can be special there," Sark says of the ability to take the ball away.
But if there's a new theme to build on, week to week, it's this. And it's more all-encompassing for a Trojan team so young and playing so many new people.
The 15 true freshmen USC has played are behind only Georgia, Tennessee and Army in FBS' 128 teams. And USC's 33 first-time players has them tied for second with Kansas and Boston College behind only TCU's 36.
Young teams playing lots of young people must do one thing: They must get better. As they should. It's what young players do. It's why you expect them to be better this week than last.
"One of the things," Sark said he's selling this team on in a specifically Trojan-themed way, is "sharpening our sword. . . . It has to happen every day in practice," Sark says.
And after a bye weekend off watching college football and what happened to Top-10 ranked Ole Miss, UCLA and Notre Dame -- and by extension a week earlier -- to that sixth-ranked USC team against Stanford -- Sark says what his team, and every team, must do is this: You better bring it every weekend. Or you will get beat.
Sharpen your sword every day in practice and it will be ready to use every weekend in games.
"We knew we were going to play a lot of people," Sark said. "We were going to need" a lot of people to step up. But now there's something else.
They're going to need them to get better, Sark says. "We're more than optimistic with what we're seeing" as he ticks off the names of wide receiver "Isaac Whitney, [defensive lineman] Rasheem Green and all three freshman running backs" as first-year players whose names you don't always hear but who just keep improving by leaps and bounds.
Sharpening their swords.
TROJAN QUICK HITS
Wednesday night is the premiere of "Trojan War," the first time ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series looks at the Pete Carroll Era of USC football with the first showing at 7 p.m. in of all places -- Westwood -- at the Landmark West Theater . . . USC will go with an early day-before-the-game walkthrough on campus instead of the late afternoon one they normally do on Fridays . . . It's just one of the adjustments that must be made leading up to the Washington game Thursday at the Coliseum . . . some USC players will be attending their regular Wednesday evening classes while the team heads off to the night-before-the-game hotel stay . . . other USC players will be taking their midterms Thursday at the hotel . . . CB Kevon Seymour is good to go, Sark said . . . WR Darreus Rogers not so much but could be an emergency guy, it appears, with his hamstring . . . Claude Pelon, in a boot Tuesday after suffering a Monday high ankle sprain, would appear to be the longest of longshots to be ready to play.
CHECK THIS OUT: For more details on Tuesday's workout, check out TUESDAY UW WEEK GHOST NOTES.
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