The Huskies are hosting Pac-10 juggernaut and third-ranked USC on Saturday in their conference opener.
Some story, sure. And if it were up to Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt, they’d have everyone believe that’s the only thing worth discussing as this game approaches.
But it’s not. Far from it, really, because Sarkisian was USC’s offensive coordinator last season, then after being hired by UW he lured Holt, the Trojans former defensive coordinator, away from Los Angeles to come work for him.
And so what we have here this weekend is one big, maybe-not-that-happy reunion between Sarkisian, Holt and USC head coach Pete Carroll, who was Sarkisian’s boss and mentor for seven years.
Teacher, student. Mentor, apprentice. Whatever you want to call it. Sarkisian’s simply calling it another game.
“I think our biggest fear is we put too much into this game, we try to build this thing up to be something that it really isn’t,” Sarkisian said. “This is a Pac-10 football game and at the end of Saturday, come 4 o’clock, whether it’s a W or an L, it’s all the same as if it was against Stanford, or UCLA or Cal. It’s worth one point, and 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.”
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter how much the players build it up, because everyone else will do it for them regardless. It’s hard to ignore the fact that Chris Polk and Quinton Richardson were not allowed to talk to the press during the week due to some bulletin-board comments made following the Idaho game in regards to the Trojans.
Then there were the reports that Carroll, far and away the most successful coach in the Pac-10 this decade, was upset with Holt for taking the defensive coordinator job at UW in January. Holt had originally denied interest before Sarkisian swayed him, and since Carroll calls the defensive plays for the Trojans, a major selling point for the Huskies was that Holt would have full control over the defense.
Both parties denied any hard feelings.
“Whoever thought that doesn’t understand it,” Carroll said. “When our guys come to this program, they know that I’ll do everything in my power to help them get the job of their dreams. I’ll compete like crazy and try to support them and help prepare them and all that, and battle for them when the time comes. That’s exactly what this is an illustration of, so in essence, I couldn’t be happier for these guys, and it’s the opposite of what some might think.”
Said Holt, of Carroll: “He was good. He’s very mature about those sort of things.”
Just as everyone insists there are no hard feelings anywhere, nobody really seems to think the others’ knowledge of each teams’ game plan — Sarkisian runs an offense very similar to what he ran at USC — is going to have much of an impact on the outcome.
Carroll compared it to coaching in the NFL, where you play division rivals twice a season and you end up knowing their schemes pretty well, anyway.
“I don’t know how somebody could have an advantage,” Carroll said. “We know what they know, and they know what we know.”
The advantage — as the odds makers see it, anyway — rests more on the fact that the Trojans have another stout defense, another crop of thoroughbreds in the backfield and top-class athletes across the board. They’re 22-point favorites on the road for a reason.
Even if starting quarterback Matt Barkley and All-American safety Taylor Mays — neither of whom had practiced this week as of Wednesday — both sit out, the Huskies are still going to be seen as a massive underdog.
Whether they can slay the giant that they helped build — or at least offer resistance — could go a long way toward determining where Sarkisian and Holt will take these Huskies this season.
Reach sports editor Christian Caple at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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