Sept. 17, 2009
by Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE -- Steve Sarkisian wouldn't take the bait.
During his weekly Monday press conference, the assembled media corps tried several times to cajole the Washington coach into placing extra importance on this weekend's game -- at home against No. 3-ranked USC at 12:30 p.m. (PDT).
After all, Sarkisian coached at USC (2-0) for seven years outside of a one-year stint with the Oakland Raiders. He knows the ins-and-outs of the Trojans program. He recruited many of their current offensive players. USC coach Pete Carroll is his mentor, having offered Sarkisian his entry pass into Division I coaching.
Sarkisian even admits to feeling some emotion whenever he watches USC play, such as their last game against Ohio State.
Given how the two are intertwined, it would be safe to assume Sarkisian might feel conflicted going into this weekend. Remember, the same topic came about with athletic director Scott Woodward and Louisiana State, his alma mater, in the season opener between the two teams.
Like Woodward, Sarkisian also stresses that his focus on the Huskies is undivided and that, once underway, this game will resemble any other.
"Once that kickoff goes, it's going to be football," Sarkisian said.
As boring as it makes for stirring up hype, Sarkisian insists this is just another game week.
Washington (1-1) is attempting to get the Pac-10 Conference portion of their schedule off on the right foot. The Huskies have drawn positive reviews from national pundits for their upbeat performances in two games with LSU and Idaho. Now they face a team that has been on top of the conference for seven consecutive seasons, as stiff a test as any out there.
Yes, Sarkisian knows the USC program as well as almost anyone in college football. He could probably draw on a sheet of paper their personnel groupings and formations -- blindfolded. But he warned of subjecting himself to "paralysis by analysis," focusing too much on the Trojans and not installing the proper game plan for his players.
"Our biggest fear is that we put too much into this game," Sarkisian said. "That we try to build this thing up to be something that it really isn't. This is a Pac-10 football game. And at the end of Saturday at 4 o'clock, whether it's a W or an L, it's all worth the same."
The way Sarkisian sees this week, it's the same whether the opponent was Oregon, Stanford, Cal or UCLA. His feeling is that if he places too much importance on USC, then his players could be subject to a letdown if the game doesn't go the way the Huskies imagined. Or if the result is the opposite, then the players' egos are swollen and they could possibly have a letdown the following week.
"This is just like any other game to us," said quarterback Jake Locker. "It counts just the same in the win-loss column."
Locker even shrugged off the revenge motive after a reporter brought up a particularly nasty hit from a Trojans player two years ago that drew a flag for a personal foul. Locker grinned when he thought of the hit ("that was a good one," he said), but shrugged it off and didn't see it as a snapshot for motivation this week.
Two games into the season, the Huskies have their own issues to worry about, much less anything stemming from Los Angeles. Sarkisian pointed to several aspects from the Idaho game he would like to see his team refine and clean up. To waste valuable practice time on the intrigue surrounding the master-vs-protege themes with him and Carroll could have a negative effect on Saturday's outcome.
"I don't feel the extra incentive," Sarkisian said.