Carroll meets former protege Sarkisian

Sep 18, 2009 - 11:20 PM By GREGG BELL AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE(AP) -- Pete Carroll has wanted Steve Sarkisian for most of the last decade.

USC's coach wanted the hotshot assistant when Sarkisian briefly was at San Diego State, before he helped reconstruct the Trojans' offense into a multidimensional juggernaut. Carroll wanted him back from the NFL as his offensive coordinator, after Sarkisian went to the Raiders for a year.

"I am going to come get you. Don't be telling me you can't come back to the Trojans," Carroll recalls telling Sarkisian, twice.

Now, Carroll wants Sarkisian yet again. Wants to make the rookie head coach and his revived Washington Huskies the latest speed bumps in third-ranked USC's drive to an unprecedented eighth consecutive Pac-10 title and BCS bowl.

Their conference opener Saturday is the first time since Carroll arrived at Southern California that he's faced a former assistant as a head man.

"There's a banter, kind of like pickup basketball. We'll exchange text messages," Carroll said of chatting with Sarkisian and Nick Holt this week.

Holt is Washington's new defensive coordinator. He changed his mind on Carroll and left with Sarkisian eight months after USC won another Rose Bowl.

The 35-year-old Sarkisian briefly played baseball for USC in 1992, before transferring to a junior college and becoming a star quarterback at BYU. He then played three seasons in the Canadian Football League. Carroll met him through former BYU passing guru Norm Chow, who later became Carroll's offensive coordinator at USC.

"He didn't draft me. I was a little disappointed," Sarkisian deadpanned of Carroll, who in 1997 was coaching the New England Patriots.

Sarkisian spent seven years on Carroll's staff before he got a five-year deal worth $10 million to become the third-youngest coach in major college football. He replaced Tyrone Willingham and has immediately revitalized Washington following the Pac-10's first 0-12 season.

This is the type of game he was hired to win, to restore Washington's national standing.

So, yes, this is special.

"Oh, no doubt. I spent seven great years of my life there. Special moments. Tremendous moments," Sarkisian said of USC, though he keeps cautioning this game counts the same as one against Stanford, Arizona or any other conference foe.

Carroll also sees the game's uniqueness.

"I want to make sure it's in the right place," he said, "but there is that element there."

There are many others to this reunion:

-USC has uncertainty at quarterback, so the only position at which Washington seems superior happens to be the most important one.

Freshman phenom Matt Barkley hasn't thrown much since bruising his shoulder in last weekend's rousing win at Ohio State. It seems likely that redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp, the starter coming out of spring practice until he broke his leg, will get his first career start.

Carroll said he has told Corp to be ready, though he added the decision may not come until kickoff. Corp is more of a threat to run.

"I'm preparing like I'm going to be the starter. It feels good to be back in that position," said Corp, who last started in 2006 as a high school All-American at Orange (Calif.) Lutheran. "(This week) is my chance to show off."

Barkley? Corp?

Does it matter?

The Trojans have one of the nation's most dynamic runners in Joe McKnight, who could control the game by himself if he continues showing why he was the nation's top recruit a few years ago. Carroll said McKnight was "exhilarating" while gaining 53 of the 86 yards on the final drive that beat Ohio State last week.

Plus, USC has beaten Washington seven straight times.

Holt says bluntly of his Huskies' defense that allowed 412 yards to Idaho last week: "There are some deficiencies there with personnel."

And the Trojans beat Washington 56-0 in Los Angeles last season - though the difference is startling in these Huskies from those Dawgs, who had fired Willingham days before the most lopsided defeat in the 79-game history of this series.

Washington outplayed LSU for much of a 31-23 loss in its season opener. Then last week it beat Idaho to end a Pac-10 record-tying 15-game losing streak, behind conference passing and total offense leader Jake Locker.

"Jake is one of the best players I've ever seen in this conference," said Carroll, who recruited Locker out of Ferndale, Wash. "He's the most extraordinary athlete at the position we've seen."

Sarkisian has the speedy, strong junior throwing more than he did with Willingham. If Locker continues his accuracy against a USC defense that might be without banged up All-American safety Taylor Mays, the Huskies could stay in the game.

-The last time the Trojans beat Ohio State in a ballyhooed "game of the season," 12 months ago, they flopped at Oregon State. It's their only loss in their last 12 Pac-10 games.

How much will Carroll remind his team of that?

"I already started in the locker room," Carroll said - meaning the one at Ohio State. "We went right at that."

Stafon Johnson, part of a four-headed monster at running back for the Trojans, doesn't see that angle.

"I don't think the game we lost last year had anything to do with a letdown or anything like that. We just came out and had a bad game," he said. "We're not going to do things different because we beat Ohio State. We play in too many big games at 'SC for that to happen."


AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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