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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

September 27, 2010 at 2:11 PM

Monday Sark bites — previewing USC

sarkkiffin2006.jpg
UW coach Steve Sarkisian talked about his first meeting as a head coach against Lane Kiffin — the two worked for five years together on the staff at USC and are pictured at right during the 2006 season in a photo from the Orange County Register — as well as lots of other topics during his weekly Monday press conference.
Here are some highlights:
OPENING STATEMENT: Well, it’s good to be back in game week. Thought the bye week, as we talked about before, came at a perfect time for us, not only from a mental standpoint but from a physical standpoint. We got an opportunity to be healthy. We got an opportunity to get some of our young players reps in some live settings. And I think it allowed our psyche to get healthy. This is a football team that believes in what we’re doing, not only schematically but philosophically. I know they’re chomping at the bit to get back out to show what they’re capable of doing. There’s nothing like Pac-10 play to get into this race, to get into this thing, to sit at home over the weekend and watch Pac-10 play really kick off this past weekend with some great ball games. To watch what the Pac-10 was able to accomplish not only in conference but out of conference, I think, is motivating to our football team. And as we’ve touched on from Pac-10 media day, there’s a lot of parity in this conference. There’s a lot of parity in a good way. I think the conference is continuing to get better as a group, which is what makes it challenging. Every Saturday is an exciting one to be a part of, whether it’s at home at Husky Stadium or on the road. So we’re excited about the opportunity to go on the road and face the USC Trojans, in my opinion the most talented football team in our conference from top to bottom. They’ve got great depth, extremely well-coached. But it’s going to be a challenge that we’re going to embrace and one that we’re excited to be a part of.
ON FACING KIFFIN: Fortunately for everybody involved, Lane and I aren’t going to be blocking or tackling or running or throwing or catching Saturday. So we’re all OK there. We’re going to let the premier athletes do that. You know, both of us have been mentored for this opportunity to be head coaches. He’s done a nice job, I think we’ve done a nice job. These are both jobs we thought we special ones, especially in the Pac-10. It’s a unique experience, this early in our careers, to be facing each other in such a pivotal ball game in the Pac-10 race.
ON WHAT JAKE LOCKER WORKED ON DURING THE BYE: I think a couple things. One, we got back to fundamentals with him, getting his footwork right. Two, we got back to some things that we really believe in. I thought from a coaching standpoint, potentially, I might’ve tried too hard to attack Nebraska instead of ultimately running the things that we do well and giving Jake the best opportunity to be successful, to get completions and to get his confidence going. So I think the beauty of Jake Locker is his competitive nature, of who he is, not only physically but mentally. He came back with a great week of work. He was hungry, wanted to practice right away Monday, which is typically a day off for a veteran quarterback on a bye week, but he wanted to get back out throwing the football, and I thought he did a great job of doing that. And standing up and owning up. That’s why his teammates want to play for the guy. I think all in all, in our career, we all have days like those where they’re not perfect, and they’re hard and difficult, and it can be harder than it needs to be. But that’s not going to define him. He’s going to come back and play tremendous football for us for the rest of the year. I think he expects that, we expect that, and he just wants to get going again. What’s going to be key for us as we come into this ball game is, is Jake not trying too hard to get back on track? Allowing the system to work and letting the plays come to him.
ON NOT FACING MATT BARKLEY LAST YEAR AND UW BEATING THE TROJANS: Well, I think Matt’s playing at a really high level. He’s really benefiting from a tremendous run game right now. They’re running the football at an extremely high level, which is enabling him to utilize their play-action pass game to come up with big plays down the field. Having the likes of a Ronald Johnson, a Robert Woods and a Stanley Havili, those guys that are able to create big plays once they get the ball in their hands, Matt’s really reaping the benefits of that stuff. So I think he’s playing at a high level. It’s going to be one of our keys and challenges to not let him be so comfortable in the pocket, because when he’s comfortable, he’s deadly, and he’s accurate. As far as the second question, I think the win last year at SC, in a lot of ways, validated what we were talking about wanting to do, and we were able to put it out there and show that this isn’t just talk, this is what we’re doing. It validated a lot of things in our own team room and locker room but in our community, in the city of Seattle, that Husky football’s on its way back. We’re not there yet, but it was a step in the right direction.


YOU AND LANE STILL TALK REGULARLY? “Yeah, we do.”
WILL YOU TALK THIS WEEK, TOO? “Yeah, we talk. We text. It’s a good friendship. It’s one that keeps us healthy in the profession. The ability to talk to another head coach and bounce ideas off of. Because so much of this profession is keeping things in close and in tight and you can’t share with anybody. The ability to share with Lane different thoughts, different ideas, different frustrations that maybe you don’t want everyone else to see, but you can bounce it off him and he understands. So it’s been a good relationship that way.”
ON SIMILARITIES IN USC’S OFFENSE AND DEFENSE AND UW’S: “When you look where our defenses are coming from – you look at Pete Carroll. Pete Carroll’s best friend is Monte Kiffin. A guy who was on staff with Pete Carroll for years, Nick Holt, there is a lot of common ties defensively on the way we fit things, the base defenses that are installed. When you start to game-plan and different things come, it can be different. Lane and I obviously come from the same kind of family of offense – of concepts and types of plays. But ultimately we’re different. We’ve got different teams, and our schemes fit our personnel. We’re much more shotgun-oriented, quarterback-run, zone-read stuff as well as traditional run stuff, and they’re a much more traditional offensive football team. The concepts are obviously the same, but how it looks and the way it comes across, it can be different.”
ON IMPROVING KICKOFF COVERAGE: It’s been a big point of emphasis. One, is understanding our lane integrity when we’re covering kicks, and understanding the types of returns and how to fit those returns. That is coming with experience with our young guys. we’ve had quite a few freshmen out there doing that, and I think they’ve gotten better. So ultimatley it’s understanding what we’re doing, how we’re trying to fit the returns and we’ve got to tackle. The tackling drills have been a huge point of emphasis for us last week, and will continue to be so this week.”
ON KIFFIN’S PERSONALITY: “Confident. I think Lane has a real belief in his knowledge of football, not only offensively but defensively. I think he’s creative. I think you’re seeing that in their two-point conversion stuff, and their formation things. So I think confident/aggressive. Lane goes for it, which is a great trait to have in this business.”
ON WHETHER HIS PERSONALITY IS DIFFERENT: “I think we’re both (confident), to be honest with you. I have firm belief in what we’re doing, too. I’d like to think we’re aggressive and confident. How we go about doing things, and the way we approach things are obviously going to be differnet. Everybody is different. I think we’ve got some similarities, but overall we’re different guys. And I think that comes in our style of play, and who we are as people.”
MORE ON LOCKER’S FOOTWORK: “Part of it is just the rest of the pocket. Jake, he’s such a good athlete – good athletes have a tendency, they want to almost bounce in that pocket because they feel good on their toes and moving. When you’re a quarterback, you want two feet on the ground. You want to continually be on the ground when you reset. We went back to a lot of that stuff of keeping his feet on the ground with his reset stuff in the pocket, especially in the (shotgun). You have a tendency – all quarterbacks do have a tendency to sometimes get a little lazy in their footwork in the gun, and that can create that hopping mechanism, and get your feet not underneath you when they can be, especially if the pressure is not there. The other key effort with getting his fundamentals and footwork right was getting our protection sound and right, so he feels good about it so he’s not having to feel jumpy in the pocket, that he’s believing in what we’re doing with our protection. That was a big emphasis for us as well.”
ON CHANGES ON THE DEPTH CHART: “Only real change is Erik Kohler is going to stay at left guard for us. He did a very good job for his first start against a tremendous defensive tackle last week. I thought there were some things in pass protection, now that he sees it on film, he’ll go, ‘Oh geez, that’s too easy, coach.’ But that’s part of playing in your first ballgame as a true freshman lineman. That’s really the only big change on the offensive side of the ball as far as what happened last week. You’re going to see some guys play more than they have. james Johnson has earned his way back to getting on the field, so you’re going to see him play more. Johri Fogerson still remains to be seen if he’ll be back out yet – he had a nice practice last night, but we’ve got to see how he bounces back from that. Ultimatley I’d like to see Kevin Smith getting back in the fold to where he’s been, and I’d like to see Zach Fogerson get in the fold a little bit more.”
ON DIFFERENCES IN DEFENDING USC AND NEBRASKA: “I think the first part is, they’re different – Nebraska and USC are extremely different. Nebraska was a spread zone-reasd offensive football team, quarterback-run team that can tax you mentally, and in turn what happened to us, we got caught up looking at the quarterback too much instead of worrying about the conventional runs that were coming rigth at us. It created us to play a little bit softer than we normally do. USC is a much more traditional offense – two-back approach, inside zone and outside zone, power game, toss sweep stuff that I think we’ll fit better. That doesn’t mean we necessarily stop them. We’re going up against a tremendous offensive line, a four-deep running back corps, a great fullback so the challenges are different for us. Utlimatley, we’ve got to continually be prepared for the unexpected. They’ve got a young kid on their team, Dillon Baxter, who was a high shcool quarterback in San Diego. They ran a lot of the Wildcat stuff when he was down there, so we’ve got to be prepared for that as well because we know he has the capability of doing that. ”
ON HAVING JAMES JOHNSON BACK THIS WEEK: “Well it’s good to have him back because he’s got a lot of game experience. This guy caught seven balls in this game last year and he’s physically strong enough to handle the bump-and-run coverage and get off bump-and-run coverage and he’s got good football IQ. It’s been a little frustrating because it’s really, we talk a little about pain or injury and an injury is when you are out, things are torn things of nature, pain is when it’s a bump or a bruise, and sometimes an ankle sprain can get confused as pain, but really his was an injury — he couldn’t right. When you are playing receiver and you are limping and running and trying to get off bump and run coverage it can be challenging. And I thought he really started to come on at the end of last week and last night he looked great, so you will see him more involved in the game plan.”
ON USC PLAYERS SAYING THEY’VE BEEN POINTING TO THIS GAME: “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. To me this is the Pac-10 opener and why we play the year and what we are striving for. It’s a tremendous challenge. A great venue to play in, and especially when it’s a game at 5 o’clock, their fans get there, they are excited about the game, those night-type games. So it will be a tremendous environment to be part of. It’s the start of Pac-10 play for us. 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 and we’ve got a horrible taste in our mouth from the last game and we want to get rid of it.”
THOUGHTS ON THE PAC-10: “I’ve thought this all along now is that man, there are really good coaches in this conference. Guys can scheme. This is not just the Jimmys and the Joes. Guys are scheming each other and doing a really good job of it. You watch the Arizona State-Oregon game, the Cal-Arizona game, the defense that was played in that game. And then you look at the talent level and teams are talented, you know? Gosh, there is just a lot of parity. And guys played hard. I thought the Pac-10 played really hard, physical football this weekend not only against each other but look at the UCLA-Texas game, and the Oregon State-Boise game — I thought we played a really physical brand of football this weekend and I think that’s encouraging for the conference as we move forward.”
ON EXPECTING ANY DIFFERENT EMOTIONS RETURNING TO USC AS HE MIGHT HAVE RETURNING TO BYU: “Uh, not really. I was more, when I was back in BYU I couldn’t believe that Provo hadn’t changed a lick. It had been how many years and it hadn’t changed. I’ve been going to LA quite a bit since I’ve left for recruiting and different things and it’s a big city, I know it pretty well, so don’t think I’ll be that enamored seeing what’s changed and what’s not.”
HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH THE TEAM’S PSYCHE LAST WEEK? “I think there was reality. You have to get to the reality of it, and what’s the truth in it, who we are right now. But then we have to build up. We have to get back to what we are capable of being. I’m not trying to … here’s reality and then keep our guys down there. That’s defeating the purpose of becoming a better football team. It was understanding where we were after three ball games, this is where we need to get to, and it was understanding how we are going to get there — and let’s go do it. I thought our kids responded great, at times maybe even better than the coaches as we started to get going. And that’s a tribute to them buying in to a culture and a belief system of what we’ve tried to get installed here. I’ve been proud of our players. They want to be 3-0, trust me, right now. And unfortunately we’re not. We’re a 1-2 football team. We’ve got Pac-10 play starting off. And we’re hungry, excited and want to play well, which I think is the most important thing. These guys really want to play well. It’s not about dwelling on all the mistakes we made. It’s about learning from those mistakes, how are we going to fix them, how are we going to get better, so we can go out and play to the best of our abilities.”
HOW DO YOU USE LAST YEAR’S USC GAME? “Well, we use it in the way that there is a lot of familar faces. You look at that defensive line, there are eight to 10 guys out there and they are all really good players, but it’s the same defensive line that they played with last year. You look at the offensive linemen, a lot of the same players. The running backs, a lot of the same players. So we try to look to the similarities in the personnel groupings. But then you can’t get caught in that because Ronald Johnson didn’t play against us last year, Robert Woods didn’t play last year, Matt Barkley didn’t play last year, all four in the starting secondary didn’t play last year. So there’s a lot of similarities yet there’s a lot of differences, so we have to pick and choose what is similar, how it is similar, but it’s not about using it as a motivational tool. It’s about understanding our opponent and knowing our opponent.”
CORT DENNISON AND VICTOR AIYEWA’S STATUS? “They’re fine.”
ANY OTHER INJURY ISSUES? “Johri’s probably the biggest question mark of coming back. He did practice all the way through last night. We’ll see how he responds today.”
HOW IS FACING KIFFIN AT USC DIFFERENT THAN FACING CARROLL AT USC? “I think there’s something about when you are facing your mentor, in a weird way you want to make him proud. I felt like that going into last year’s game going against Pete. At the end of the game, whether we won or lost whatever happened, I was hoping that Pete would just be proud of how we played, the style we played. Going against Lane, his opinion of us doesn’t concern us nearly as much as what Pete’s opinion of us was. I respect Lane. I respect everything he’s done. He’s got a bright football mind. He’s got a very good football team. But it’s just a different feeling going in.”

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