Sept. 15, 2009
By TIM BOOTH
AP SPORTS WRITER
SEATTLE -- If Washington coach Steve Sarkisian had his way, the Huskies coming off their first win in 22 months and preparing to face No. 3 USC in the Pac-10 Conference opener on Saturday would be the only story line of interest.
But that's not the case this week with the unavoidable connections between the Huskies and Trojans. And none is bigger than Sarkisian, the former USC offensive coordinator and whiz-kid, facing his mentor in Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll.
"I think our biggest fear is we put too much into this game, we try and build this thing up to be too much than it is," Sarkisian said.
"If we try and put too much into this there can be the repercussions after the game if it doesn't go the way we want or if it does go the way we want there can be repercussions afterward. So we've got to be careful of that," he said.
Sarkisian spent seven years with Carroll at USC, including the last two as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, and is largely credited for USC's offensive success in recent years.
But the USC connections go deeper with defensive coordinator Nick Holt having held the same position with the Trojans for the last three seasons before Sarkisian persuaded him to help in the rebuilding process at Washington.
Huskies cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin also was a graduate assistant with USC for two seasons.
Despite all that, no one is really sure if anyone has an advantage over the other - aside from USC's supreme talent. Carroll certainly knows what Sarkisian and Holt like to call, while the Washington coaches are quite familiar with the Trojans' personnel.
"We have to be careful of too much analysis because you can get paralysis by analysis if you look too deep, too far into something," Sarkisian said. "If you're searching for things, you can lose the scope of what your team does well, giving your kids the best opportunity to do well and play fast."
Washington has gone down this path before with its football coaches, with two of the previous three facing off against their former teams in their first year with the Huskies.
In 1999, Rick Neuheisel welcomed his former Colorado team to Seattle and handed the Buffaloes a 31-24 defeat, Neuheisel's first victory with Washington. In 2005, Tyrone Willingham got a shot at Notre Dame, which had fired him the previous December. The Irish routed the Huskies 36-17.
But in both of those situations, neither Washington coach left his former employer on the best of terms. Sarkisian came to Washington last December with Carroll's full blessing.
"When our guys come through this program, they know I'll do everything in my power to help them get the job of their dreams," Carroll said. "I'll compete like crazy, try and support them and help prepare them and all of that, battle for them when the time comes, and that is exactly what this is an illustration of."
While the Huskies were given 24 hours to enjoy Saturday's 42-23 win over Idaho, their first win since Nov. 17, 2007, and the end of a 15-game losing streak, the focus quickly turned to the Trojans. Many of them made sure to be in front of a television on Saturday night to watch USC pull out an 18-15 win at Ohio State.
"They are fast and physical, they are intelligent, and they are put in good schemes and have good coaches," Washington quarterback Jake Locker said. "So it's a combination of very talented players being put in the right positions so they understand what they are doing and able to play to their full potential. I think that's what makes them so successful."