USC/UW a Mutual Admiration Society

When talking about his former team, the USC Trojans, Steve Sarkisian didn't waste time in bringing up their seven consecutive Pac-10 conference championships, as well as their seven-straight BCS bowl appearances. They also have seven-straight 11-win seasons, and AP Top-Four finishes.

As another coach in the Pac-10, it has to be pretty sickening reading the Trojans' list of recent accomplishments, but Sarkisian is in a unique situation: He helped to create a lot of those accomplishments. So Monday he was more than happy to sound the trumpet for USC, and especially his former boss, Pete Carroll. It was downright saccharine.

"Pete would be the first one to downplay it, but the run he's had down there has been amazing," Sarkisian said Monday. "It's one of the best, if not the best run in college football history. To go seven years and accomplish what they've accomplished - it's an amazing run.

"It does need to be talked about, and I don't mind bringing it up for them. I think they deserve it."

What's interesting is that the only seven-year streak Washington football has had of late is their seven-game losing streak to USC (although it's possible they may have been in the Bottom 10 the last seven years, but I haven't checked). But you wouldn't be able to tell that listening to Carroll, who has as much admiration for his former offensive coordinator as Sarkisian does for him.

"You go back to when we got here and Washington was on top of the Pac-10," Carroll said via teleconference. "We all knew the potential and the dynamics of that job. It's a great place to coach, it's a great place to work, great fans and all of that...so when that opportunity came about, and knowing that Sark could still recruit in LA, where he's still so well known and so well-versed, this could be an ideal situation for him. The fact that he was able to connect the dots with the process and with the committee and all that stuff, that's an extraordinary accomplishment. Now you know.

"It didn't surprise me, but now you know how effective he's going to be and what a great leader he can be in the program. It's a great setup."

It's also a dream setup for the media, who are going to be talking all week about Carroll's Trojans, fresh off a dramatic 18-15 win over Ohio State in the Horseshoe, the product of a final drive Carroll likened to the one they had in 2005 to win at Notre Dame - and Sarkisian's upstart Huskies - also feeling good after winning their first in sixteen tries.

"I know how hard they worked to get to that point and I thought they performed extremely well under the most adverse conditions," Sarkisian said. "To say I wasn't feeling emotion in that game would be wrong."

The buildup is awfully similar to when the Irish travelled to Seattle in September of 2005 to take on the man they had just fired, Tyrone Willingham. Carroll, in fact, showed so much respect for Sarkisian that he wouldn't even bring up last year's Huskies when asked for a comparison. "That's long gone," he said, matter-of-factly.

He would, however, talk at length about this year's Huskies. "They are fired up, they are highlighting their special players, they are putting their guys in positions to be successful," he said. "It's a high-tech offense and a high-tech defense. Everything about the program this year is different from what it's been. And obviously it's been effective so far."

Carroll has always been very open about making sure he'll do everything in his power to get his coaches the jobs of their dreams. But he never leaves out the possibility that the job of their dreams just might be at USC. So when Sarkisian accepted the job as San Diego State's quarterbacks coach in 2002, it only took Carroll seven weeks to bring Sarkisian on in the same capacity.

And all Sarkisian did was help Carson Palmer win a Heisman Trophy. Palmer eventually became the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, selected by the Cincnnati Bengals. It was also at the time Carroll decided to overhaul the way they played offense, and Sarkisian was right in the thick of it.

When Sarkisian went to be the Oakland Raiders' Quarterback Coach in 2004, Carroll competed hard to get him to stay. He didn't get him right away, but as Carroll always tells his coaches - "Don't be telling me you can't come back to the Trojans."

"The pinnacle of our profession is to get to the NFL, especially as a young coach," Sarkisian said. "You realize it's a different game, a different environment, especially in Oakland - so the opportunity to come back, to be a part of something special, was something I wanted to take advantage of. So I jumped on it."

By this time, Sarkisian was ready to manage the offense. In 2005 and 2006, he was an assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. In 2007 and 2008, he promoted himself to Offensive Coordinator.

"Sark grew up with us at that time, so he was right at the source of the whole process when it was being put together," Carroll said. "He is such a bright guy and it made sense to him and he paid attention all the way throughout."

And according to Sarkisian, Carroll gave him the same freedom and autonomy Sarkisian is now giving to former USC DC Nick Holt. Holt is now in charge of the entire defense at Washington, a by-product of an intense recruiting battle between the two head coaches.

So who has the advantage here? The teacher, who knows the student's game inside and out? Or the student, who might be able to show the teacher a few new wrinkles? "I don't know who could have an advantage," Carroll said. "What's happened in the time we've been apart, that makes us different. We have a new OC and Special Teams guy and new quarterback. We're different in many ways. But it's a factor that everyone knows the background. It's like being in the NFL and you stay in a certain division and you become familiar with coaches and players. You still try to find your ways to find your advantages. And that's what's going on this week."

"It's very similar - the schemes, the formations, the personnel groupings," Sarkisian said of what he's seen out of USC's offense under new Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates. "It is what it is. And it's a credit to Pete that you stand by what you do well. They've been doing that for years. They are running outside zone and inside zone and tossing the ball to their good players. They are utilizing a really nice play-action pass package to get the ball in their playmakers' hands."

When it comes down to a deeper analysis, the quarterbacks might spell the biggest difference. USC has only two games' worth of film to scout the new wrinkles Sarkisian has put in with Jake Locker running the show, while Sarkisian saw just how well true freshman Matt Barkley did in helping the Trojans pull out a three-point win at Ohio State.

"They are different guys," Carroll said. "Matt is a more conventional quarterback; Jake is a ridiculous athlete that plays quarterback. Jake is dynamic because of his legs. Jake is such an extraordinary player. (Sarkisian) has done exactly the kinds of things you should do with that guy. He's utilizing him and adding him to the offense, and it makes it more dynamic than it was for us here. (Matt) Leinart can't run 4.3 in 30 yards, so we're in a different ballgame. Sark and those guys have jumped right on that and made him a big factor in the offense.

"Jake is one of the best players I've ever seen in this conference. He's the most extraordinary athlete at his position that we've seen. I saw that as a freshman. With Sark's coaching and his scheme and everybody pumped up around him, that makes him extremely dangerous."

Sarkisian was equally as effusive in talking about the talented signal-caller from Mater Dei, who started for them as a 9th grader. He was one of three USC coaches heavily involved in getting Barkley to stay home, along with Holt and Carroll. "I'm thoroughly impressed with what he's been able to get accomplished up to this point," he said of Barkley. "I'm sure he's exceeding the expectations of everyone there but himself. I can't imagine another USC QB doing what he's doing. In four years, this guy is going to be better than all of them."

In the end, it's a game that is shaping up to be a clash of masterminds - from the offensive genius of Steve Sarkisian, to the defensive prowess of Pete Carroll. They will certainly rely on their coordinators for help - Doug Nussmeier for the Huskies and Rocky Seto for the Trojans - but who will win the chess game within the football game?

"For us, we have to be careful of too much analysis," Sarkisian said. "If you look too deep, too far into something...you can miss the scope of doing what you're team does well and allowing your team to play fast. We have to be careful of that, that's for sure.

"I'd be a fool not to address the game with them, but we can't sit there and dwell on it - because all that does is build up emotions that don't have a factor in the game come 12:30 on Saturday. We need to address it, we need to assess it, we need to talk about it so it's out in the open, but then the bottom line is - we have to get mentally and physically right on what really matters; the gameplan, what we're doing, what we're trying to accomplish and how we want to play in the game."

So is it going to be weird for Sarkisian to look across the field and see so many players he recruited to USC, to see the team he helped coach less than a year ago? "I don't think it's going to be strange," he said. "I looked across the line of scrimmage for seven years at those guys on defense, in practice. And practice there is as difficult, or more difficult than games. I think once the kickoff goes, it's going to be football.

And of course there is the long-held thought that when the student comes back to the teacher, there is a certain amount of incentive held by the student to show the teacher that they have applied what they have learned. Sarkisian isn't buying any of it. "I keep looking at it, and maybe I'm missing it, but I don't feel like there's more incentive there," he said. "The incentive is that these kids deserve a great week of preparation, these kids deserve a great game plan, and these kids deserve our undivided attention in trying to get them prepared to play. The moment we get caught looking at the game and the history and the things that build up the game, we miss the point. Our kids and fans deserve a really good game plan and a great effort."




Notes:
David Takes His Batts Home: David Batts a sophomore defensive back from El Camino College, has been dismissed for a 'violation of team rules'. Sarkisian would not elaborate, other than to say that Batts' number 25 - given to honor the memory of former UW safety Curtis Williams - would not be given to another player this year. He added that there wouldn't be any other switches in the secondary. "We're solid with where we're at," he said. "We have good numbers still in the defensive backfield spot. Justin Glenn moved to free safety last week and did a nice job. It was his first game, so there's some natural mistakes but he got better as the game went on. It allows us to have some flexibility to have a guy that can swing and play both spots as we move forward."

Injury report: It appears that both DE Darrion Jones and DT De'Shon Matthews have bruised knees, and their status is being assessed on a day-to-day basis, according to Sarkisian. Jones was hurt in the Huskies' opening game loss to LSU, while Matthews sustained his injury this past Saturday in their win over Idaho. Both were running Monday during the team's one-hour practice in the Dempsey Indoor, but neither player practiced. It appeared that safety Jason Wells got in some light work, but it's unclear how close the senior is from getting cleared to play.

DE Everrette Thompson is still not 100 percent after getting hurt in the spring. "Everrette is a tough kid and he's fighting through his ankle injury," Sarkisian said in response to a question as to whether UW will try and redshirt the 6-foot-6, 262-pound former Kennedy standout. "We'll assess it after week three."

In The Zone: The 2009 National Championship Softball team will be awarded their rings Saturday in The Zone at 11:30. On October 10th, the national champions from crew will be recognized. Also, it sounds as if some additional help will be hired to get the beverage lines down from six-minute max waits to under three minutes.

No TV for Stanford: The Washington-Stanford game on September 26th will not be on television, so they will play at 6 p.m. Options are being looked at into possibly hosting the game on campus via a closed-circuit feed, similar to the feed they did back in 2003 when UW lost at Arizona 27-22. Hopefully we'll have more on this later in the week.

Husky Legend: This Saturday's Husky Legend is Mark Bruener. Bruener is the career UW tight ends leader in receptions with 95, and third in yardage with 1102. He was a member of the 1991 national championship team and played in the 1992 and 1993 Rose Bowls. He ended up as a first-team All-America pick as a junior, and a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers - eventually playing 13 years as a pro.


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