Remarks could add fuel to fire for USC


With No. 18 USC just two days away from hosting Washington at the Coliseum, Huskies coaches haven’t had many qualms about being the least bit frank when speaking with the media.

First, coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters during Monday’s press conference he would rather have junior quarterback Matt Barkley on his NFL team than Stanford signal caller Andrew Luck, the consensus No. 1 overall pick in next April’s NFL draft.

But it was defensive coordinator Nick Holt who provided the more incendiary comment.

“We’ll be okay against these guys,” Holt said of the Trojans. “I’d rather play USC than Oregon, quite honestly.”

At first glance, it really isn’t all that big of a deal. He’d rather play USC than Oregon? Who wouldn’t? Oregon sports a better, faster offense and has lost only to No. 1 LSU this season after falling to Auburn in the BCS National Championship game last year.

It’s not the boldest assertion for Holt to say he’d like to avoid the Ducks. But it’s the first part of the quote that should anger USC more. Within that seemingly innocent comment, Holt is hinting he holds a secret to stopping USC’s offense.

Holt’s history with USC is extensive. He was the team’s linebacker coach from 2001 to 2003 and the defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008 before heading to Washington with Sarkisian for the 2009 season. USC coach Lane Kiffin was with USC for some of that time, too, so Holt might know some of his tendencies.

What’s more, Washington has defeated USC each of the last two years, so Holt should come in with some level of confidence. But there are some problems with that.

As few will forget, Barkley did not play in 2009. Last year, it wasn’t Washington’s defense that won the game, as it surrendered 31 points. If not for a masterful 10-play, 62-yard drive led by quarterback Jake Locker with 2:34 left in the fourth quarter — which included a clutch 18-yard pass on 4th-and-10 — to give Washington a game-winning field goal, the Huskies would have lost.

Holt has more of a problem on his hands than he realizes. The duo of Barkley and sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods has been nearly unstoppable this season, and proves a tough attack to prepare for. Sure, Holt might decide the best course of action is to double cover Woods on most plays. But then there’s freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee, nearly as talented as Woods, on the other side of the field.

Just because USC doesn’t run a high-tempo spread offense with speed at pretty much every position doesn’t mean there aren’t complications in trying to stop its attack.

Then again, maybe Holt was just blowing smoke. Maybe he doesn’t really put any stock into what he said. Maybe he’s taking this game just as seriously as he took the game against Oregon. Maybe it’s all a plan to rile up the Trojans, much like Sarkisian’s comments about Barkley and Luck appeared to be.

It’s doubtful anyone at USC needs more motivation to win this game. Sure, the bowl stakes are negligible. But since Sarkisian and Holt defected to Washington, they haven’t felt the sting of losing to USC.

Barkley will show up, even though he doesn’t get another shot to beat Locker. Woods and Lee will show up. Junior and senior tailbacks Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler will show up. The whole team is going to be focused on winning this game.

Washington’s defense might not be winded every play after dealing with the quick legs of Oregon’s LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. It might not have to deal with triple options, sweeps and nonsensical audible cards on the sideline.

But if USC has anything to say about it, Saturday’s game will be just as tough on the Huskies’ defense as last week’s was. Holt’s comments might have been about 60 game minutes premature.

 

“Suicide Blitz” runs Thursdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Danny at savitzky@usc.edu.