By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — It was a game that may have changed the futures of two programs, for better or for worse.
In Southern California, they can’t seem to forget. At the University of Washington, the biggest win in recent memory is all but forgotten.
When the Huskies and USC reunite this Saturday in Los Angeles, revenge could be on the minds of the returning Trojans players. USC’s seven-year run on Pac-10 supremacy effectively came to an end when UW shocked the third-ranked Trojans a little over a year ago.
The Huskies are trying to forget.
“Last year is last year,” UW safety Nate Williams said this week. “They’re a whole new team, a new coach (Lane Kiffin, who replaced Pete Carroll). They’re getting better, just like we’re getting better. Last (year’s) game was big, but it’s nothing that we’re thinking about coming into this week.”
To say that the Trojans (4-0) have moved on would be a blatant oversight.
In the minutes that followed USC’s win over Washington State on Saturday night, linebacker Malcolm Smith told The Los Angeles Times: “We’re ready to play Washington already.”
Even Kiffin himself, who was coaching at the University of Tennessee when UW upset USC last year, admitted that Saturday’s game has been on the radar for awhile.
“We’ll see if it pays off,” Kiffin told The Times, “because we’ve spent a lot of times on these guys.”
The Huskies’ 16-13 victory was certainly one for the ages. After snapping a 15-game losing streak by beating Idaho the previous week, UW snuck up on a heavily-favored — but also short-handed by injuries — USC team. Erik Folk’s game-winning field goal set off a celebration like Husky Stadium hadn’t seen in years, and no one who was in attendance will soon forget the post-game electricity.
“That game last year was a symbol of us making that transition from being on the bottom for so long,” Huskies defensive tackle Cameron Elisara said. “That showed us — kind of that ‘yes-we-can’-type win. That was probably one of my favorite wins of my whole career here. So it was a big confidence booster.”
And yet it’s a game the Huskies are trying to leave behind this week.
“Obviously, that was a key win in our program, but you can’t do anything about last year,” UW linebacker Cort Dennison said. “This is this year. We realize that the team we’re playing on Saturday definitely has a chip on their shoulder. They want to get back at us. When we go down there, we’ve got to be ready because they’re definitely going to be ready.”
Said Elisara: “I think they’ll be a little spiteful, vengeful, after last year. And we’re coming down to their house. So I think it’s going to be a real battle, a real war of a game.”
USC’s Kiffin admitted earlier this week that there is a “revenge factor” within his program after the way last year’s game went. Kiffin wasn’t backing down from the comment during his Tuesday conference call.
“I had the feeling that that game kind of changed things a little bit,” he said when asked whether the loss to UW seemed to stick with the returning Trojans. “Maybe that was the start of the quote ‘dominance’ of SC not being what we’re used to seeing. They ended up 5-4 in the conference with that being the first conference loss.
“I do sense that there was a lot of conversation about that game throughout the offseason, here, with the players.”
When told of the comments coming from Los Angeles, Sarkisian tried to downplay the significance of last year’s game.
“I’m, first, flattered that they think that much about us,” he said. “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.
“… 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 (a loss to Nebraska 11 days ago) and we want to get rid of it.”
The Huskies can generate their own motivation from the last time they took the field for a game, but down south the genesis of inspiration this week comes from a year-long frustration.
“Obviously,” Kiffin said, “they’re very motivated to play a team that beat them last year.”
The friendly gamesmanship between coaches has already started, with USC’s Kiffin responding to Sarkisian’s Monday comment that the Trojans were “the most talented football team in our conference from top to bottom” by saying his longtime friend was playing opossum. “That’s a trick he learned from Lou Holtz or something,” Kiffin said, referring to the former college coach who was famous for overhyping overmatched opponents. “They’re really, really good, and as people who follow us know, we’re not very deep.” … After snapping a seven-year losing steak against USC last fall, the Huskies hope to rain on another drought this Saturday. It’s been 13 years since UW beat the Trojans in back-to-back years.