The big letter “L” had one inescapable connotation for the Washington Huskies in 2008. That’s since been put in the past, taken care of by a couple of “W’s” over Idaho and Southern California.
But the “L” was a concern in UW coach Steve Sarkisian’s team meeting room this week, but taking on a completely different meaning.
This “L” is for letdown.
Coming off such a high after beating seven-time defending Pacific-10 Conference champion USC last week, being ranked in the top 25 for the first time in six years, and suddenly experiencing an expectation explosion, a letdown is more than a small concern.
Sarkisian thinks his approach this week takes it out of the equation.
“We’re supposed to be playing in big games. And when you get used to, and (feel) comfortable in that arena, I think that’s when letdowns don’t occur,” Sarkisian said. “You don’t get caught looking back at the last game. You enjoy that we won the last game – you relish in the moment – and then you go, ‘Man, I want to feel that same feeling again.’ So you prepare really well to get back to that point.”
Sounds good in theory, but the proof will be in what happens today between the 24th-ranked Huskies and host Stanford in a matchup of early-season co-leaders in the Pac-10.
In his seven seasons at USC, Sarkisian learned a great deal about managing a college team. No team in America has won more games since 2001 than the Trojans.
But oddly enough, the Huskies’ first-year coach got to witness firsthand some of the biggest letdown blunders in USC history. Consider:
• In 2007, after USC eked out a 27-24 victory over the Huskies in Seattle, they went home to face Stanford, arguably the worst team in the conference, in coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season. The Cardinal pulled off an upset, 24-23.
• Last season, the Trojans flexed their muscles by bulling over Ohio State, 35-3, in the second week of the season. But after taking 12 days off, USC lost to Oregon State, 27-21, in Corvallis, Ore.
USC coach Pete Carroll was asked about those two unexpected defeats last week after the Trojans’ final-minute comeback win at Ohio State, and were about to face Sarkisian’s Huskies in Seattle.
His response: “We see teams every week with a big emotional (effort), and then the next week, they don’t look like the same football team. That happens in sports. We went right at that in the locker room (after the Ohio State win) to make sure we set the tempo. ... I don’t want to miss this opportunity to play really well again.”
Five days later, UW beat the Trojans, 16-13, and Carroll was criticized by the L.A. media afterward.
This week, Harbaugh was asked about the letdown topic at his weekly press conference.
“This week, every week, you have to prepare for the game at hand,” he said. “I think Steve Sarkisian knows that as well as anyone, and I fully anticipate they will have their team ready to play.”
The Huskies have prepared much in the same intense, physical manner they did last week heading into the USC matchup – with a few different points of emphasis.
Part of that is relative to a different opponent. Part of it is the staff wanted to change it up a little bit.
“I feel like we’re really prepared,” Sarkisian said. “Our guys had a great week of work. They’re locked in on the game plan. I like their demeanor. They’re focused, but yet they’re loose. It’s not too big for them. I feel good about it.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442