USC-Stanford battle royale
No love lost for two of Pac-12’s elite programs
Last year the biggest game of coach Steve Sarkisian’s season was lost on the final drive when his Washington Huskies were unable to score one last time and pull the upset at Stanford.
Sarkisian suspected foul play, accusing the Cardinal of faking injuries in order to slow the fast-paced UW offense.
Stanford coach David Shaw bristled at the accusations, saying, “This is one of the most respected programs in the country and I’m not going to put that on the line to beat Washington.”
Less than a year later the coaches are gearing up for a rematch in Palo Alto, a game that will be the first major Pac-12 matchup of the 2014 season.
Both coaches say they have met multiple times since last year’s accusations were levied and that the incident has never come up. Still, last year’s actions only add intrigue to this weekend’s game.
Sarkisian now coaches No. 14 USC, which looked dominant in a 52-13 dismantling of Fresno State. With quarterback Cody Kessler earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors throwing to a cash crop of talented freshmen, the Trojans look like an infant version of the Pete Carroll-led teams of the program’s heyday.
The Trojans could be conference contenders in Sarkisian’s first season at the helm, particularly with No. 11 UCLA looking vulnerable after a less than impressive opener at Virginia. Big things are also expected of Shaw’s No. 13 Cardinal and the schools have developed a bit of a rivalry recently.
The Trojans have dominated the series, like they have against almost all opponents, but Stanford pulled one of the biggest upsets in conference history over the Trojans in 2007, winning 24-23. After losing to USC the following season, Stanford won the next four matchups against the former bully.
The Cardinal are known for their physical play, particularly in the trenches. However, they have also had offensive stars at running back, receiver and quarterback.
“The one thing that makes Stanford difficult is that they’re a lot more multiple than people give them credit for,” Sarkisian said. “Everyone wants to focus on what they do in their big package and when they bring in the offensive linemen, but they do stuff out of the traditional pro-style stuff, they do stuff with two tight ends sets, they do things with three wide receiver sets. So, they give you a lot of looks and they execute it really well.”
Last season USC swung back with interim coach Ed Orgeron leading the Trojans to an upset over Stanford and ending the Cardinal’s national title aspirations.
“I think they’ve all been two really good football teams that have playmakers and also have great defenses, too, make some great defensive plays,” Shaw said during the Pac-12 teleconference. “It’s just been really, really good football and when both teams have been ranked, when one team has been ranked, it hasn’t mattered. The games are tight, the games are exciting, they’re fun to watch. That’s really typified the whole series over the last eight years.”
UW tags Miles
With starting quarterback Cyler Miles suspended for Washington’s season-opener at Hawaii, it was a fair expectation that the UW offense would miss some beats. But few predicted that the Huskies – who were favored by 17 points – would have such a tough time stopping the run, or that the passing game would be such a mess.
Coach Chris Petersen wasted no time in naming Miles the starter this week and hopes that some positives can come out of UW’s narrow 17-16 victory. Particularly, he hopes that his team stops worrying about who is favored or what pundits expect – a valuable lesson heading into this weekend’s game against dangerous FCS foe Eastern Washington.
“That was obviously not an easy game for us, in a lot of ways,” Petersen said. “I think there are so many lessons we can learn out of that game and one is outside expectations, which have nothing to do with anything. It’s a new season, it’s a new team, and because somebody says the UW should be favored or whatever, you start believing those headlines, bad things are going to happen.”
UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm didn’t hold back when asked about his unit’s play in the team’s 28-20 win at Virginia last weekend.
“It was probably one of the (worst) performances I have been a part of as a player or a coach,” Klemm told reporters after practice. “I’m disappointed. But we have to move on from it, and we definitely have to get better.”
The Bruins gave up five sacks and committed four false starts in a surprisingly tepid day for the offense. UCLA entered the season as a chic pick to win the Pac-12 and play in the first College Football Playoff.
If not for three defensive TDs, those dreams would have been dashed in the season opener by a team that won two games last season.
“Guys have to be prepared when the opportunity comes and it’s my job to prepare them,” stated Klemm.