Sarkisian Returns Home - Yet Again - To Face USC
Nov. 11, 2011
UW Weekly Notes
By Gregg Bell
LOS ANGELES - Steve Sarkisian is back home yet again.
The former USC quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator will be 21 miles up the 110 freeway from his home suburb of Torrance on Saturday, when Washington (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) again plays at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the 18th-ranked Trojans (7-2, 4-2) beginning at 12:45 p.m. It's on FX cable television, the Washington IMG College radio network and again here on GoHuskies.com with the live game chat, play-by-play, analysis and exclusive photos from the field.
Like he did last season - when UW beat USC 32-31 in L.A. on the final play -- Sarkisian will have friends, family and potentially classmates at the fabled Coliseum. Those are from his days at West High School in Torrance, his fall season as a middle infielder on USC's baseball team and his time as a quarterback for hometown El Camino College.
Yet he won't have his mom there. Again.
Sally still hasn't watched her son coach a game for Washington in person.
"Nope," Sarkisian said before the Huskies boarded their charter flight from Seattle then checked into their downtown hotel here in drizzly L.A. Friday evening. "She'd rather watch it on TV. Gets a better view, probably, like a lot of people these days."
He says he doesn't mind Mom still hasn't seen him in person in a game as a head coach.
"Nah, nah. She's an awesome lady," he said. "Talk to her before every game."
He says she gives simple, yet pertinent, advice each week: "Go kick their butt."
That's the Huskies' goal on this trip: Kick butt for the third consecutive time against USC, and for the second straight year in Los Angeles. The last time that's happened? 1934-35.
Of course, the two-game winning streak that Sarkisian, defensive coordinator Nick Holt and the Huskies' coaching staff have over their former school since coming north to Seattle gives the Trojans the same goal Saturday.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure they want to beat us. Want to beat us bad," Huskies senior defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu said.
Washington upset third-ranked USC at Husky Stadium in the first month of Sarkisian's UW tenure after he left Pete Carroll's Trojans staff. In September 2009 a late catch by then-sophomore Jermaine Kearse from Jake Locker set up Erik Folk's last-second field goal.
Thirteen months ago down here, USC missed a late field goal. Then Locker led Washington's drive to another game-winning kick by Folk. Sarkisian said he will remember that one-point win forever.
"The one last year was probably a bit more emotional, quite honestly," Sarkisian said. "Being in Southern California, in front of friends, family, in that same stadium that I had so many great moments with SC with as well as a couple of tough moments, bad losses that occurred too ...
"But both of (those wins) were special moments that I'll carry with me for a lifetime."
There are three keys to the Huskies' hopes of creating more memories for their coach:
Slowing down Matt Barkley and USC's rocketing passing game.
Getting Keith Price back in his quarterbacking groove.
Barkley, a junior who may be headed to the NFL after the season, will be making his 34th career start. He is masterfully directing USC's pro-style offense, getting it out of bad plays and into huge ones.
He is second in the Pac-12 to Arizona's Nick Foles with 290 yards passing per game. His 28 touchdown passes have him atop the conference, ahead of Stanford's Andrew Luck (26) and Price (25). Barkley's 67-percent completion rate is just behind Rob Johnson's USC record of 68.6 percent in 1993. And he throws to two lethal wide receivers, national-receptions leader Robert Woods plus Marquis Lee.
Sarkisian began recruiting Barkley when Sarkisian was still at USC and Barkley was at Santa Ana's Mater Dei High School in Southern California - as a freshman starting quarterback there.
"So I know him very well," Sarkisian said.
So well, Sarkisian didn't back down Thursday from his comment on Monday that if he was an NFL decision maker he would draft Barkley ahead of Luck, the presumed No. 1 choice next spring.
"He's arguably having one of the greatest seasons in that school's history at that position," Sarkisian said of Barkley. "He is knocking on (Matt) Leinart's door for the (conference) record in touchdown passes, 38."
All this should make Price, Barkley's high school rival in the same league when the Huskies' quarterback was at St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Calif., mad - or at least envious. Right?
"No, Matt's `The Man," Price said, laughing. "He was `The Man' in high school, and he is still `The Man.'"
So how can he beat "The Man" on Saturday?
Price, who will again be playing in front of family and friends from where he grew up in nearby Compton, says he needs to get back to playing loosely. He and Sarkisian say the redshirt sophomore needs to stay within the framework of Washington's offense instead of pressing to make a big play on his own. That approach had Price at 21 touchdown passes and four interceptions through six games. Getting overly excited and trying to do too much, in the quarterback's estimation, has resulted in four touchdown throws and six interceptions over Washington's last three games - two of them losses.
Establishing the running of Chris Polk early would be help put Price at ease. Polk, a star at Redlands East Valley outside of Los Angeles that got away from Sarkisian and USC in 2008 as a top recruit, has rushed for 100 yards in seven of Washington's nine games. He is 449 yards from Napoleon Kaufman's school record of 4,106 from 1991-94.
Polk didn't get at least one touchdown or 100 yards rushing for the first time this season last week in UW's 34-17 loss to Oregon, when Sarkisian thought his offensive line was "poor at best."
That line had an intense, competitive week of practice. Saturday's first quarter will prove how good that week actually was.
The Huskies' defense hung in against high-powered Oregon last week, holding the Ducks to 14 points and 146 yards of offense below their per-game averages.
But Holt, the defensive coordinator at USC through the 2009 Rose Bowl, says his Huskies must tackle better in the open field Saturday. And, as Holt said, "obviously a pass rush always helps." But USC's offensive line, anchored by potential NFL first-round pick Matt Kalil at left tackle, has allowed just five sacks on 354 pass plays this season.
If they can't put Barkley on his back, the Huskies could use some turnovers. They created four against pass-happy Arizona and won two weeks ago, but got just one combined in the losses to Oregon and Stanford that sandwiched that victory.
The Huskies are plus-12 in turnover margin in their six wins; they are minus-7 in their three losses.
"We can't let these guys bust a 60-, 70-yarder or something like that," Holt said of the Trojans. "We've got to make them work for everything -- and hopefully get some turnovers."
If the defense does that, Sarkisian could pull off a three-peat over his former school in its iconic stadium up the road from home - whether Mom is there or not.
"The Coliseum to me, growing up in Southern California and watching USC play there for years (is) 90,000-plus people, the great moments, the great wins, the special moments I had a chance to be part of -- whether it was on SC's sidelines or last year on Washington's sidelines," Sarkisian said. "Those moments stay with you for a lifetime.
"That is why we coach."