Oct. 1, 2010
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Weekly Press Release: UW at USC
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
LOS ANGELES - Coach Steve Sarkisian had the incessant "Tribute to Troy" fight song blaring in non-stop loops throughout each of the Washington's four practices at Husky Stadium this week.
That's not all Sarkisian wants his Huskies to remember about playing USC.
The second-year coach and former top Trojans assistant wants his Dawgs to take remnants of their program-shaping upset of then-third ranked USC in 2009 into the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday at 5 p.m. That's when Washington (1-2) has its rematch with the 18th-ranked Trojans (4-0, 1-0 Pac-10) on ESPN2 television, the Washington ISP radio network and on gohuskies.com with our live, in-game chat and Gametracker.
"The biggest tangible we can take is that a lot of the guys lining up against us are the same guys who lined up against us last year," Sarkisian said following UW's last full practice in Seattle on Thursday, before it arrived in California then held walk-through drills at the Coliseum late Friday afternoon. "Any success our guys had against those same guys we can build on (Saturday). And on the other hand, any failures we had we can learn from."
He's mainly talking about the big guys along the line of scrimmage.
All four of the starters in USC's defensive secondary have changed since that Huskies win just over 12 months ago. Dangerous Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley, who's been striking with play-action passes after his offense establishes the run with a deep stable of backs, didn't play in Seattle last season because of a bad shoulder. And these Trojans have a new offensive play-caller from last year with Lane Kiffin as their new head coach.
Sarkisian wants his players to take one other lesson from last season's victory over USC: The realization that if they don't start the game fast in their Pac-10 opener, they can still catch the Trojans.
"People forget that in last year's game we fell behind 10-0 and they rushed for almost 150 yards in the first quarter," Sarkisian said. "Not that that's the perfect scenario to begin this game, but if that should happen it's good to know it's not the whole game after two drives."
Quarterback Jake Locker led the Huskies on the thrilling late drive to Erik Folk's winning field goal with 3 seconds remaining against USC last Sept. 19. Now a senior seeking redemption from his previous start against Nebraska two weeks ago, Locker sees that '09 drive as the basis for Washington's belief in Sarkisian's way.
"We were able to build a lot of confidence within our offense. It was one of the drives that kind of helped to really allow everybody to buy in to what was going on," Locker said.
Fellow senior Cameron Elisara's task along Washington's defensive front will be to stand up USC's strong offensive line and find those running backs. He also thinks last year's win over USC has had a carry-over effect that could pay off in L.A.
"That game last year was a symbol for us making the transition from being on the bottom," Elisara said. "It was a yes-we-can game."
Other factors that may have Washington believing "yes we can" -- again:
Familiarity. The Trojans run many of the same defensive schemes that Locker and the Huskies have been facing in practice for two seasons now. Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt had the same job at USC until he followed Sarkisian to Seattle before the 2009 season, and he brought SC's terminology and design with him.
Relative simplicity. USC's offense is potentially explosive but far more conventional than the shotgun, spread-option one Nebraska used in its win over the Huskies before UW's bye last week.
In four games under Kiffin, USC has returned to featuring an I formation with two backs, straight-ahead running and one-on-one blocking. So the Huskies re-emphasized man-on-man battles, better tackling and more aggression along their defensive front during the last two weeks of practice.
"I think we've been waiting a bit and not being the aggressor, not hitting first," said Huskies middle linebacker Cort Dennison, who is returning this weekend after missing the Nebraska game with an injury. "We've got to change that and hit first."
Linebacker Mason Foster says he can't wait to do just that in his return to his native state.
"It's going to be a big game," Foster said. "It's what you play Pac-10 football for."
That has been another theme of Washington's two weeks since the loss to Nebraska: It's now the Pac-10 season, and in that the Huskies are 0-0. All their goals of a first bowl game since 2002 and contention for a conference championship are still within reach.
"It does feel like a new start," Elisara said. "It is kind of refreshing."