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

well.”

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

favorite child.

”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

here.”

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this

report.