With his emphasis on takeaways at Arizona State, Steve Sarkisian clearly hit the winning theme exactly. But this past week, his "sword sharpening" talk for the Washington game, how USC had to get better every practice and use that to bring it every game, didn't exactly hit the mark.
That was a very dull sword the Trojans were swinging in Thursday night's 17-12 loss to 17-point underdog Washington before a stunned Coliseum crowd of 63,623.
But afterwards, Sark seemed to be on to something else. "We're going to continue to have games like this and we gotta' get used to it," Sark said. "It's the way college football is right now and how our conference is right now. We have to understand how critical execution is and we didn't get it done."
But getting it done takes way more than practicing, as much as the "sword sharpening" talk may have made it seem. How much good is it to have the sharpest sword on the battle field if the other guy is carrying a cross bow, or a machine gun?
So all the talk of execution goes only so far. So what if Alex Wood wouldn't have been forced back three yards by a sack of Cody Kessler to try a 46-yard field goal that hit the crossbar. USC still would have lost 17-15 because the defense couldn't get it back.
So what if Tre Madden would have held on to that two-point conversion, USC would have been only in overtime if both things go their way.
Now had USC chosen not to throw the ball all three downs in the red zone, had run it in with Ronald Jones or Tre or Justin Davis, well that would have been for a winning six points with the clock running down and game over for the plucky Huskies.
But according to Sark, at crunch time in the fourth quarter, "we didn't find a way to find a way."
And that's not about execution, that's about first knowing what to do, then doing it. But just doing it, doing whatever, doesn't work. You have to do the right thing. Washington did. Now the Huskies also did them well. But their only chance was to win an ugly 17-12 game. Which is exactly what they did. In every way. On every play.
And dulled USC's sword at the same time.
"I'm still trying to figure that out," Sark said on his Friday conference call as he talked about "developing a formula for success" that allows his team to show up with the right weapons in the right frame of mind. "It's a huge question."
Indeed. One of many.
There was one weird postgame tableau in the tunnel as Steven Mitchell limped by on his sprained ankle heading up to the locker room after the game and behind him, limping more slowly in boots, were Max Tuerk and Claude Pelon, who somehow was cleared to play on his high ankle sprain from Monday and now headed for an MRI today. Kevon Seymour still didn't look 100 percent but said he'd expected to play more than three series. In his Friday call, Sark said the injuries were "significant" but that he hd no more information on them right now.
BY THE NUMBERS
2, 2001The last time USC lost back-to-back home games in the same season was in 2001 when in Pete Carroll's first season, USC lost to Kansas State Sept. 8 and Stanford Sept. 29.
2, 2012-2013The last time USC lost back-to-back home games came in the final game of 2012 (Notre Dame) and the opener in 2013 (Washington State) in Lane Kiffin's last season.
0-2USC's home Pac-12 record, both losses to teams from the North.
5-27Kessler has now played in 32 games and thrown touchdown passes in 27 of them. Last night's touchdown-less 16-of-29 game with two INTs was just the fifth of his career. In contrast, he's thrown for five TDs or more in four games.
12-3For the third time in his young career, freshman LB Cameron Smith led USC in tackles with 12.
299-68-7USC held Washington to 299 yards and since 2001, USC is 68-7 when holding opponents to less than 300 yards.
12USC's 12 points were the fewest since a personnel-limited Trojans team scored just 10 in a 14-10 loss to Notre Dame two years ago in South Bend.
8-6Despite the lack of impact from the USC D-line, Delvon Simmons finished with eight tackles and Greg Townsend Jr. had six.
11-3Despite an emphasis in the UW game prep on TFL's, USC lost that battle to UW by a wide margin -- 11-3 -- with the Huskies recording 40 negative yards (25 on five sacks) against the Trojans to USC's nine total negative yards -- eight on just two sacks.
31-25As young as this USC team is with 25 freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep, Washington is younger with 31 freshmen and sophomores on its two-deep.
81-9Adoree' Jackson was pretty much a nonfactor in this game on offense and special teams try as he might, recording just 81 all-purpose yards against a Husky defense very aware of him. He had no yards and no carries, just three receiving yards on three catches, 12 punt return yards in three tries and 66 kickoff return yards.
1 of 13, 6 of 17Third-down conversion numbers not in USC's favor as the Huskies converted five more times than USC's horrific one of 13.
STEVE SARKISIAN On whether he was "confused" by the outcome: "I hate to admit to 'confusion,' I'm frustrated, that's a better word, but I'm frustrated because I believe in this team. We're so right and we practiced so well. We want to play well. When you have an opportunity to seize the moment and gain momentum and don't do it, that's frustrating to me. That's the puzzle I have to put together to make sure we can do that moving forward."
CODY KESSLER "I didn't play well enough," it was that simple he said, "but I don't want to take anything away from them and how well they played."
UW COACH CHRIS PETERSEN: On how the Huskies did it: "We were able to contain Cody a little bit. I have a lot of respect for him and how good he really is and the weapons he has around him. Our secondary played really well and I thought we got some pressure on him and hat's off to our defense for setting the tone."
JOHN PLATTENBURG: On what happened: "I can't really explain it. It came down to execution [or lack of it] -- on offense, defense and special teams."
SU'A CRAVENS: On what now: "We've just got to do it . . . we had a chance late in the fourth . . . we just have to finish on both sides of the ball."
CHRIS HAWKINS: On what Sark told them after the game: "He kept saying 'we . . . we didn't execute as a team.' I agree."
CAMERON SMITH: On losing: "It sucks . . . I didn't really see the season going like this."
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