Oct. 5, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - One lesson Steve Sarkisian learned over a bye week just got Washington a reviving win at USC.
A second lesson, one Sarkisian learned just over 12 months ago during his rookie season as a head coach, may get the Huskies (2-2, 1-0 Pac-10) a lot more -- beginning Saturday night against Arizona State (2-3, 0-2).
Sure, kicker Erik Folk's continued brilliance, a streamlined game plan of short passes on the run that led to one of quarterback Jake Locker's best games at UW, and the Huskies' defense finally rising up late all led to Washington's first road win in three years last weekend.
But that all came as a result of the best coaching job of Sarkisian's 21-month tenure at Washington.
The coup is why the former national championship and Rose Bowl-winning assistant at USC said outside the locker room at the Los Angeles Coliseum late Saturday night that the victory was the best thing to happen to him outside of the birth of his three kids.
"To win in that fashion was very special to me, and then because of what had to take place for two weeks from a coaching perspective, too, with this team," Sarkisian said.
During the demoralizing loss at home to Nebraska two-plus weeks ago, Sarkisian saw a team afraid to fail. So in the ensuing bye week, he and his staff rebuilt the Huskies' psyche more than their lineup or playbook.
"I thought our team in general played in the absence of fear. We weren't worried about losing. We weren't worried about making a mistake. I just thought we played football," Sarkisian said of last weekend's dramatic, 32-31 victory over the Trojans. "You could see it in Jake's game, but I thought we also saw it in our team's demeanor. On the sidelines, even when things went bad ... our kids were loose. We weren't concerned. We just played.
"That's the best mentality for us to be in right now."
Locker threw for 310 yards at USC and ran for 110 more in his most redemptive performance at UW. It came after the senior co-captain reiterated the coaches' bye-week theme prior to kickoff. He challenged his teammates in the visiting locker room beneath the Los Angeles Coliseum to play like they did at the end of last season when they beat Washington State and California by a combined 72-10.
"I believe those were two of the best games that I'd been a part of ... (we) played without fear," Locker said. "Didn't care if we made a mistake, went out and played fast and played hard and had fun and enjoyed playing the game.
"It's something I thought about the two weeks leading up to (the USC) game ... I said, 'Hey man, let's go out and play without fear today. Let's go out and have fun and enjoy the game and don't worry about making mistakes. We're going to make mistakes. Don't dwell on them. Move on and keep playing."
Now, while preparing for potentially rugged Arizona State, the Huskies are living Sarkisian's lesson No. 2, which the coach learned after the home upset of USC in Week 3 of the 2009 season. He told those Huskies not to enjoy that signature win too much for too long. The leashed Dawgs then got beaten at Stanford the following week and lost six of their seven games following that win over the Trojans.
This time, instead of guarding against a letdown this weekend, Sarkisian is encouraging his players to ride the euphoric wave that sprung up in Los Angeles.
"Yeah, I think last year, we (were) thinking in our own minds 'We've got to bring these guys back to Earth,'" Sarkisian said of him and his staff in September 2009. "Well, I think that was the wrong approach by me. That one's on me.
"Where we're at in beating SC on the road in the way we did, we're on Earth. Let's stay there. Let's not go down to the depths of Hell. Let's stay where we are supposed to be."