LOS ANGELES (AP) - Steve Sarkisian spent five years at Washington attempting to build the Huskies into the type of perennial powerhouse program that he inherited two seasons ago when he came home to Southern California.
Sarkisian hadn’t succeeded in Seattle by the time USC came calling. He raised a winless team to a regular bowl participant, but also earned the derisive nickname “Seven-Win Sark” for three straight 7-6 records.
College football coaching is a harsh profession even for its successful practitioners, and Sarkisian hasn’t betrayed any serious emotion about his first chance to coach against the Huskies since leaving them for his dream job. Led by Chris Petersen, Washington (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) visits the No. 17 Trojans (3-1, 1-1) for a rare Thursday night game at the Coliseum.
“It doesn’t mean more,” Sarkisian said. “I think the memories kick up a little bit. You start looking at the tape, and there’s a bunch of players that you recruited. They’re playing hard, and I’m happy for them. But I’ve got great memories from the University of Washington. We really felt like we took a program that was at the bottom of our conference and built them the right way, got them to four consecutive bowl games and feel good about it.”
Sarkisian also has five assistant coaches who followed him from Seattle to Los Angeles, including defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and former Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. The Huskies’ upperclassmen were all recruited by those assistants and Sarkisian, who tried fruitlessly to land several players he is now coaching at USC - including star quarterback Cody Kessler, who was hours away from signing with Washington before Lane Kiffin and current USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton swooped in.
But instead of the purple uniforms across the way, Sarkisian and his staff are focusing on matchups, schemes and the imperative of keeping the Trojans away from their second loss.
Petersen was another candidate for the USC job two years ago, and he recognizes the importance of playing well on a national stage at the Coliseum.
“I think there will be a lot of eyes on, so you really want to go out there and put your best foot forward,” Petersen said. “I think the players are always excited to play in that situation and compete hard. A lot of guys come from California and Southern California, so we’ll stay down there ourselves and recruit a little bit after and all those types of things. It’s important.”
Here are some more things to watch in USC’s third regular-season game at the Coliseum on a Thursday in 93 seasons:
THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL: A weekday game at the Coliseum is a rarity. The school resisted such games for years, but got into the rotation for the national spotlight. Unlike UCLA coach Jim Mora, who has bemoaned the academic effects of Thursday games, Sarkisian doesn’t mind, even though some Trojans will be taking midterms on game day. “To me it’s not as big a deal as when you look at other sports like basketball or baseball that travel so much,” Sarkisian said. “For us, it’s a day of school, maybe two days of school.”
LOCAL HUSKIES: As usual, Washington’s starting lineup is dotted with players recruited out of the Los Angeles area - much of it by Sarkisian’s staff, which worked heavily in the talent-rich Southland. Three starting offensive linemen are from the area, as are starting tailback Dwayne Washington and starting receivers Jaydon Mickens and Dante Pettis. At least five defensive starters are from Southern California as well.
WILCOX’S TIES: Wilcox was the Huskies’ defensive coordinator for two years, but he also had the same job under Petersen at Boise State. Wilcox and Petersen only lost four games during their four seasons together, and Wilcox has praised Petersen’s leadership. Wilcox was criticized last month after Stanford’s victory over USC, but rebounded slightly in public estimation with the Trojans’ performance at Arizona State.
BROWNING’S GROWTH: Washington freshman quarterback Jake Browning opened his college career with a 150-yard performance at Boise State last month. He hasn’t played on the road since, and the Coliseum is a formidable challenge for any quarterback. Petersen acknowledges that his young quarterback is still learning. “We’re trying to get him more reps, really, because he hasn’t had a whole lot,” Petersen said. “It’s that fine balance between flooding him, overloading him, and still being able to scheme things how we’d like to.” The only other true freshman to start a season opener for the Huskies? That would be Tuiasosopo.
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