UW’s Sarkisian, USC’s Kiffin spar again in rivalry
Matt Barkley didn’t share the rest of the college football
world’s surprise when Washington coach Steve Sarkisian solemnly
told a roomful of reporters this week that he would draft Barkley
over Stanford superstar Andrew Luck.
That’s because it sounded just like something Southern
California coach Lane Kiffin might say about Sarkisian’s players to
stir the pot heading into the Huskies’ attempt to beat No. 18 USC
for the third straight time on Saturday.
”Of course he’s going to say that,” said Barkley, the
quarterback who was recruited to USC by Sarkisian and Kiffin
starting six years ago in the ninth grade. ”Kiff is the same way.
You’re always trying to (pump) up the other guys. I’m sure he
respects me when it comes down to it, but we’ll see what he says
after the game.”
Although it’s usually behind the scenes, both former Trojans
assistant coaches never hesitate to throw a little spice into USC’s
simmering rivalry with the Huskies (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12), who beat the
Trojans (7-2, 4-2) on last-second field goals in each of
Sarkisian’s first two meetings with his former employer. They have
too much mutual respect to rip each other, but they’re not above
overpraise, or comic misdirection: After all, Sarkisian sent a joke
text to Kiffin last year informing him former quarterback Jake
Locker was out for their game with a mystery injury.
”That doesn’t have anything to do with the game,” Kiffin said
this week, hiding his amusement with Sarkisian’s gamesmanship
behind a straight face. ”It’s about our players playing
It helps that Sarkisian and Kiffin are both succeeding.
Washington has grown into an upper-tier, bowl-bound program in
Sarkisian’s three seasons, while bowl-banned USC has returned to
the national rankings despite serious NCAA sanctions that won’t let
up for another three years.
”It’s a healthy friendship and a healthy rivalry,” Sarkisian
said of Kiffin. ”A lot of the communication is over the phone –
pregame, postgame-type stuff about the game and having an
opportunity to watch the other guy play. We’re still both the
play-callers, so we can analyze it that way.”
Not every verbal jab is discounted in this very friendly
rivalry, however. After Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt
– yet another former Trojans assistant – said he’d rather face USC
than Oregon, the Trojans printed up the quote and hung it
throughout Heritage Hall.
Holt was paying respect to the Ducks’ unorthodox offense, but
the Trojans have been very successful this season even when
defenses know what’s coming. Barkley is coming off a school-record
six touchdown passes against Colorado, and the junior has thrown 18
TD passes in the last five games – giving him 28 this season, tied
for third in the FBS – while climbing up the national charts for
pass efficiency and yardage.
Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee could post
more spectacular numbers against Washington’s porous pass defense,
which has allowed a league-worst 283.1 yards passing per game. The
Huskies’ defense has held just one opponent under 21 points all
season long, something the Trojans have done to six teams.
Yet anybody who saw the schools’ last two meetings won’t
anticipate an easy game – particularly not with Erik Folk still
kicking field goals for the Huskies.
Folk, who’s from nearby Sherman Oaks, hit a 22-yard field goal
with 3 seconds left in Sarkisian’s victory over Pete Carroll’s
final USC team in 2009. Folk then made a 32-yarder at the gun last
season at the Coliseum to beat the then-No. 18 Trojans.
For Sarkisian, who’s also a Southern California native, choosing
his favorite win over USC is only slightly easier than choosing his
”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. I think
(it was) a little more emotional last year, but both of them were
special moments that I’ll carry with me for a lifetime.”
Huskies quarterback Keith Price also is from the Los Angeles
area, and his steady emergence will be a key to keeping up with
Barkley’s aerial show. Washington relies heavily on running back
Chris Polk, who is seventh in the nation in rushing.
Although USC is a significant favorite, the Trojans who suffered
through the last two losses to the Huskies don’t see the rivalry on
paper anymore. While Sarkisian and Kiffin proclaim nothing but
mutual respect, another tight game could put this rivalry among the
Pac-12’s best for years to come.
”We wouldn’t look at it as an upset if we beat them,” USC
cornerback Nickell Robey said. ”USC, we’ve been running the Pac-10
for a number of years. We’re used to being the favorites
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this