When they visit 17th-ranked USC for a Thursday night game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Washington Huskies won’t just be seeing former coach Steve Sarkisian for the first time since he left UW in December 2013.
They’ll also revisit the site of one of the most significant victories of Sarkisian’s five-year tenure with the Huskies.
It was five years ago this month — Oct. 2, 2010 — that Erik Folk kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired to give the Huskies a 32-31 win over USC on the hallowed Coliseum grass, the second win for UW over the Trojans in as many seasons.
The first, a 16-13 upset victory over 3rd-ranked USC at Husky Stadium in the third week of the 2009 season — Sarkisian’s first at UW — provided instant hope that the Huskies could recover from their 0-12 finish the year prior. But winning in Los Angeles meant a little more — that victory in 2010 helped the Huskies finish the regular season with a 6-6 record and qualify for their first bowl game in eight years, and it gave Sarkisian some much-needed cachet as a young head coach.
Asked this week to assess the significance of those victories, Sarkisian, now in his second season at USC, described them as “really helpful” in establishing proper morale and culture among the team and the UW fan base, and thought it gave potential recruits “a glimpse of what the future might hold.”
“To go in and get two consecutive wins against (USC) at the time when we were at Washington,” Sarkisian said, “I thought was good for our conference, it was good obviously for our university, and it was good for that rivalry.”
They were landmark victories, the kind that will be remembered fondly despite the relative mediocrity that defined Sarkisian’s time with the Huskies.
And they were the kind of wins that have so far eluded second-year UW coach Chris Petersen, whose young team faces a daunting challenge against the Trojans on Thursday.
None of Washington’s eight victories in 2014 came against an FBS team that finished the season with a winning record. The Huskies’ two wins this season were against an overmatched FCS team (Sacramento State) and an offensively challenged Mountain West team (Utah State). They need to win at least four games against opponents far better to extend their streak of consecutive bowl appearances to six.
Beating USC, like Sarkisian’s team did here in 2010, would be a good start. But as 16 1/2-point underdogs, the Huskies know how difficult that proposition is. USC is loaded with 5-star talent, and after the Trojans suffered through a few years of low scholarship numbers due to NCAA sanctions, their roster again resembles that of a top-10 program.
“They feel that they have something to prove,” UW receiver Jaydon Mickens said. “They feel that they should be a playoff-contender team, and we gotta go in there and prove that for ourselves. Because we know we want to be a playoff-contender team — everybody does. We just can’t let them feel like we’re the underdogs and they’re over us. We gotta go in there and make it a game.”
Mickens, a Los Angeles native who attended Dorsey High School — fewer than four miles from the Coliseum — is one of 42 players on UW’s roster who list hometowns in southern California.
He grew up rooting for USC and Reggie Bush, and even committed to the Trojans as a junior in high school. And now, as a senior, he’ll play his first game at the Coliseum in front of as many friends and family members as possible. Mickens said he’s been aggressively soliciting extra tickets from teammates to meet high demand.
“I’m planning on doing a lot of Reggie Bush stuff, too,” the ebullient senior cracked earlier this week.
Of playing in the Coliseum, Mickens said: “You could say it’s a big deal, especially for people that have never seen you play live or anything like that. For it to be USC, a school that, if you’re from California, you wanted to go to USC. You can be a Cal fan, you can be anything, but you wanted to go to USC at some point in your life.
“But ultimately, I’m coming to play football.”
And when it comes to playing football against the Trojans, the Huskies would do well to play it the way they did under Sarkisian five years ago.
WASHINGTON (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12)
at No. 17 Southern Cal (3-1, 1-1)
6 p.m., Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
TV: ESPN. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
The series: USC leads, 51-28-4.
The skinny: Washington’s defense will have its hands full against a USC offense that averages 8.1 yards per play, which ranks second nationally. … The Trojans run an up-tempo offense at times, but also employ some two-back sets and throw out of pro-style formations. … Each of USC’s three wins so far have been blowouts, the most recent a 42-14 whipping of Arizona State in Tempe. … USC quarterback Cody Kessler, a fifth-year senior, ranks fourth nationally in yards per pass attempt at 10.6. … The Huskies hope to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Cal two weeks ago, in which freshman quarterback Jake Browning was sacked five times and the Huskies committed five turnovers. USC’s defense ranks 56th nationally in yards per play allowed at 5.2. … This is the first meeting between the teams since 2012, when USC beat the Huskies 24-14 in Seattle. The teams haven’t played in Los Angeles since a 40-17 Trojans victory in 2011. … Each of UW’s last three victories over USC required a field goal in the final seconds — Erik Folk from 32 yards in 2010 (32-31), Folk from 22 yards in 2009 (16-13), and John Anderson from 32 yards in 2001 (27-24).
The pick: USC, 38-17.
Struggled with Cal’s pressure. Must make better decisions.
Had 10 carries, 109 yards rushing against Cal.
Will likely be asked to cover WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Freshman faces tough task against athletic Trojans.
Electrifying player returns kicks, starts at CB and is a stud WR.
Has 1,297 passing yards, 15 TDs and only one INT in four games.
Has four TFL and two sacks.
Leads team with 30 total tackles.