Don't be fooled. The conditions might be comfortable this afternoon as the University of Washington football team takes the field at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but there is only one temperature reading from the other sideline.
Hot and bothered.
Fifty-five weeks have passed since a purple-and-gold sea engulfed Southern California players and coaches as they walked off the field following the UW’s shocking 16-13 upset over the then-No. 3 Trojans last season at Husky Stadium.
Today is the rematch – a 5 p.m. kickoff.
“I think they’ll be a little spiteful, vengeful after last year,” Huskies defensive lineman Cameron Elisara said. “We are coming down to their house. It’s going to be a real battle, a real war of a game.”
The 2009 loss wasn’t just a defeat. It started the Trojans’ slide after winning seven consecutive Pacific-10 Conference titles.
Gone is the leader during that run – former coach Pete Carroll, now with the Seattle Seahawks. In is his replacement, Lane Kiffin, who was an offensive assistant under Carroll starting in 2001.
Things didn’t get much better for the Trojans in the offseason as they were slapped with a two-year postseason ban by the NCAA and had a reduction in scholarships as a penalty for the improper benefits that Reggie Bush received in 2004.
Provoked? Kiffin knows he can say very little to his 18th-ranked squad before the game that will top how his testy his players already feel about taking the field for their Pacific-10 Conference home opener.
“I do sense there was a lot of conversation about that game throughout the offseason here,” Kiffin said. “I don’t think motivation will be a factor.”
The Huskies are facing plenty today – an us-against-the-world USC squad in its own stadium; questions about quarterback Jake Locker’s effectiveness; and the dire possibility of a 1-3 record under second-year coach Steve Sarkisian if they don’t find a way to pull off another improbable win.
And a few key statistics bear mention:
• The UW has not beaten the Trojans in Los Angeles since 1996 – or Sarkisian’s senior season at Brigham Young.
• The Huskies have not won on the road in their past 13 attempts.
• Not since 2003 has the UW won facing a ranked team in back-to-back games.
If any of that, including the extra attention USC is giving the Huskies this week, has bothered Sarkisian, he’s not letting on.
“I’m first, flattered that they think that much about us. I’m sure there are a couple of other teams on their schedule that they circled, too, from last year,” Sarkisian said. “All in all, it hasn’t put any special meaning on it for us other than that Pac-10 play is on, and we are coming off a bye. We’ve got a horrible taste in our mouth from the last game (a 56-21 home loss to Nebraska), and we want to get rid of it.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
WASHINGTON (1-2, 0-0 PAC-10) AT NO. 18 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (4-0, 0-0)
Kickoff: 5 p.m., Los Angeles Coliseum.
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: USC leads, 49-27-4, although the Huskies stunned the Trojans last season, 16-13, to snap a seven-game skid. UW’s last victory in Los Angeles was 1996 (21-10).
What to watch: Will Jake Locker rebound from his 4-for-20 showing against Nebraska? Two weeks of rest, a thorough review of his mechanics, and a game plan that should put the ball in his hands often to throw deep and run at will should give him every opportunity to produce big-time. … How is the USC defense different under new coordinator Monte Kiffin than it was under Pete Carroll, the former Trojans coach? Carroll found more creative ways to disguise pressure schemes, particularly with his defensive linemen. What the UW offense sees pre-snap against USC is usually what is coming – a Kiffin trait. … What could tilt today’s outcome in the Huskies’ favor? UW has to make big plays against USC’s suspect defensive backs, and cannot afford any special-teams gaffes facing more pressure than it did against Nebraska.
What’s at stake: Almost a must-win if the Huskies want to get their season back on track toward a bowl bid. A loss, and a 1-3 record, might be too much to overcome with their remaining conference slate.
The pick: Trojans, 34-21.
1 Chris Polk (RB)5-11/214Sophomore Will let legs do the talking this time against school he initially committed to.
3 James Johnson (WR) 6-0/201Sophomore Coming off ankle injury, he is big part of the passing game plan; can muscle off press coverage.
10 Jake Locker (QB) 6-3/230 Senior Was Nebraska effort an aberration? For UW fans, hopefully it was.
31 Cort Dennison (MLB) 6-1/236 Junior Sorely missed against Cornhuskers; needs to be dependable tackler UW lacks.
92 Everrette Thompson (DT) 6-6/244 Junior His longer, leaner frame and good leverage shifted inside to plug running lanes.
7 Matt Barkley (QB) 6-2/220 Sophomore Did not play because of injury against UW last year; thrown at least one TD pass in past 12 games.
24 Shareece Wright (CB) 5-11/185 Senior A steady performance could do wonders for an ailing secondary giving up big plays.
31 Stanley Havili (FB) 6-1/225 Senior Even if UW slows down USC’s quick tailbacks, Havili can do plenty of damage.
42 Devon Kennard (MLB) 6-3/250 Sophomore Moved from defensive end; registered team-high eight tackles against WSU.
83 Ronald Johnson (WR) 6-0/185 Senior Perhaps no receiver in the Pac-10 poses a greater challenge than this speedster.
Todd Milles, staff writer