Sizzle Is Back in Storied UW-USC Rivalry: 'It matters'
Oct. 12, 2012
Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian and USC Head Coach Lane Kiffin meet at midfield after the Huskies' 2010 win at USC.
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Todd Marinovich looking up all day and realizing "all I saw was purple" while getting manhandled by Washington in 1990.
Rain and howling winds forcing the closure of the nearby Evergreen Point floating bridge -- but not stopping Fred Small from recovering a misplayed kickoff by third-ranked USC in November 1981 as the Huskies beat the Trojans 13-3, en route to winning the Apple Cup and another Rose Bowl.
Jake Locker leading a steely, last-minute drive to Erik Folk's winning field goal on the next-to-last play, and new UW coach Steve Sarkisian beating his former, third-ranked Trojans 16-13. Many in the soggy crowd of 61,889 storm the field and party like its 1991 over the first tangible sign Sarkisian's revival is taking hold at Washington.
"That was crazy. The first year I was playing after my redshirt season we beat them when they were number three," senior center Drew Schaefer said this week. "Then we went down there and beat them in a last-second field goal (by Folk, 32-31 in October 2010). And then last year they gave it to us pretty good.
"This year is time for us to really learn from our mistakes and take that next step -- and continue the rivalry."
Washington (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) and No. 11 USC (4-1, 2-1) play for 82nd time on Saturday. It's a 4:05 p.m. kickoff at CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle on FOX, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive, real-time game chat.
Sarkisian was born and raised in Southern California before coaching at USC. So, yes, the Huskies' fourth-year coach knows all about this storied series. The teams have split the last 19 meetings at nine wins apiece, with one tie.
He also knows that UW reaching bowl games the last two Decembers plus Huskies recruiting wins such as Chris Polk and Sean Parker have put sizzle back in the rivalry with his good friend and former USC office mate, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin.
"This Washington-SC matchup has been a classic one, for decades. For it to be a game of importance now as it was way back is pretty cool," Sarkisian said. "Both schools appreciate it. I think the players appreciate it.
"We obviously have a fair number of kids from Southern California (34). So I think it's good that the game is competitive -- and that it matters."
Oh, yes, Saturday matters.
The Huskies are seeking to stay close in the Pac-12 North to second-ranked Oregon and No. 14 Oregon State (both 3-0 in the conference). They are also seeking their third victory in Sarkisian's four years over his former Trojans, in UW's fourth game against a top-11 team in five weeks.
UW quarterback Keith Price grew up in Compton, a couple miles away from USC's campus just south of downtown Los Angeles. He was grinning this week when reminded of his first college touchdown pass, a jump throw on the goal line at the L.A. Coliseum in Washington's last-play win 24 months ago. The score came when Price briefly replaced a momentarily dazed Locker.
"Oh man, I was excited. My first touchdown pass back at home, I will never forget it," Price said this week.
"But now I've got a different task of being the starter. We got blown out last year (40-17 last November), so hopefully we can bounce back this year."
Price's task Saturday: Be himself.
"I have to enjoy the game. I don't think I've been enjoying the game the past couple of weeks," the leader teammates have called "Teeth" Price said on Monday. That was two days after he committed three turnovers that directly led to 21 points by the Ducks in the loss at Oregon. "I haven't been playing with the same passion as last year and the same people, the same confidence, the same swagger. I've got to get back to that."
Price met with Sarkisian Monday, and the mentor agreed with the pupil's assessment.
"I agree with him and he agrees with what I just said, just me getting back to the way that I play football. Having fun and not worrying about being a coach on the field and letting the coaches do the coaching and letting me do the playing.
"I'm just anxious to get back to that. And you are going to see a lot of that this week."
The Huskies would also like to see continued progress from their injury-filled offensive line, which again will have four first-year starters against USC's talented, active defensive front. Last week was the first time this season UW and line coach Dan Cozzetto started the same five blockers in consecutive games. They cleared the way for 208 yards and three touchdowns rushing at Oregon.
"Actually, they're getting a lot better," Price said. "Last week, (we) only gave up one sack. That's a credit to Coach Cozzetto, and that's a credit to our offensive line. They're taking pride in their pass blocking."
Price said at Oregon "I congratulated them the day of the game. I told them, `Hey, great job. I just have to play better for you guys.'
"Hopefully, we can put everything together -- our running game, our new pass protection, and hopefully we can get the passing game going this week.
"(The linemen), they understand the task at hand, and they understand that protecting me is a key to our success. And I think they're taking more pride in that."
USC's pride got stung last month when, while ranked second, the Trojans lost 21-14 to the same Stanford team UW beat in Seattle 12 days later. Now USC is trying to keep pace with Arizona State (3-1 in the league) at the top of the Pac-12 South.
The Trojans have been trying to acclimate to what is forecast to be the first Huskies rain game this season on Saturday. USC had sprinklers running on the field at the start of Thursday's practice in Los Angeles.
If only it rained from the ground up in Seattle.
No matter the weather, Desmond Trufant will be ready for his 41st consecutive start. The Huskies' senior cornerback will get a huge showcase going against wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. The Trojans will move those two all over the field so senior quarterback Matt Barkley can get them the ball.
It will be another chance for Trufant to influence the outcome of a game himself, as the co-captain did last month with a game-sealing interception against eighth-ranked Stanford. A pass rush would help him. UW has been trying to get that going all season.
Parker will also be extra ready Saturday. The Huskies' junior and two-year starter at safety was a star at Narbonne High School south of downtown L.A. He was choosing between Michigan, Washington and USC in 2009. That was the same year Steve Sarkisian moved from a top Trojans assistant to Huskies head man.
That move pretty much ended Parker's picking.
"I just wanted to be a part of something great," said Parker, now a co-captain of the Huskies' remade defense.
The middle child of nine children, with four sisters and four brothers, chose Sarkisian and much as he chose UW over USC in a Signing Day splash on national television three years ago.
"Coach Sark had a great plan when I met him, and I just stuck with him," Parker said. "I knew he wasn't going to lie to me. I knew he was going to take care of me."
That has indeed happened. Parker played in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2010 as the fifth, nickel defensive back. He has started 18 consecutive games since at safety entering this weekend. This week defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox praised Parker for his consistent tackling.
That trend needs to continue for the Huskies to beat USC for the third time in four years.
"No, I didn't expect to start. I just came in and tried to do the best I can to play," Parker said.
"Yeah," he added with a small smile, "it's worked out pretty good."