It's not just Washington coach Steve Sarkisian who is making a homecoming of sorts when the Huskies visit USC on Saturday. His defensive coordinator, Nick Holt, also was a long-time assistant under Pete Carroll and coached alongside Sarkisian and new Trojans coach Lane Kiffin.
Suffice it to say, the two staffs know each other well, which adds another layer of intrigue for what should be a revealing game for both teams. The Trojans certainly should be motivated after losing in Seattle last year, a game Kiffin seemed eager to talk about this past week.
Holt and the Huskies are coming off a bye week, which fell at a good time after the embarrassing 56-21 home loss to Nebraska. While quarterback Jake Locker caught most of the grief for the Huskies poor play, the defense didn't exactly shine.
So it seemed like a good time to check in with Holt.
Probably not your favorite subject, but what did you learn about your team after reviewing the Nebraska game film?
Nick Holt: (Laughs) We didn't play as well as we can. We did stuff we haven't done in a long long time. Guys just not doing their fundamentals. A lot of it was guys just trying too hard to make a play and just not using good sound fundamentals. We just broke down. It wasn't just one guy. It was a different guy at each time trying to do too much, trying to cover for somebody. We broke down and we just weren't good. It was one of those days you look at the film and go, 'Golly, man, we just weren't ready to go.' And it's one of those days you want to get right back on the field and play it over right away, because you know you're better than that. But we learned. We came back and watched the film on Sunday. The kids saw it. They knew it right after. We just didn't play up to our capability. We just weren't right. We did some good things, but every time we kind of fought back into the game, which was late in the second quarter, they had some big plays and shut the door. It was a good learning experience that you have to take the care of business all the time and do the little things, the basic fundamentals, and get your mind ready to play every Saturday. It wasn't a very good job by myself.
How did your guys react during the bye week: Did you see any loss of confidence?
NH: No, I didn't. During the bye week we got guys who had been banged up healthy. And we went back to work. They had a good attitude. We had some really good practices. One of the big things that hurt us -- and we don't want to make excuses -- but our starting middle linebacker, who is one of our leaders [Cort Dennison], and one of our top tacklers, and one of our better players, he couldn't play because he got a mild concussion in practice on Wednesday before the game. He was out. He couldn't play. We had to play a true freshman at middle linebacker [Garrett Gilliland] and he did some good things, but I think quite honestly that affected some of the other guys. They just didn't play right. They just weren't as confident as they have been. So during the bye week we had some good practices and tried to get back to who we are. I think we feel a little more confident right now.
Who's been playing well for you?
NH: Our inside linebacker Mason Foster has been playing really well. Nate Williams, our strong safety, is doing a good job. Our corner, Desmond Trufant, has been doing really well. And our middle-backer, Cort Dennison, has been playing really well. And like I said he didn't get to play against Nebraska. And our noseguard [Alameda Ta'amu] has been playing well but he can play better. He's doing a decent job.
What about the young guys? Who do you see getting more playing time as the season goes on?
NH: One of our safeties, Sean Parker, will continue to get more reps in the games. He's a strong safety. Two of our defensive linemen. Sione Potoa'e is getting 20-30 reps in the games. He's getting better each week, more confident, making plays for us. He does a good job. Then Hau'oli Jamora, a defensive end, he had the most production of all our defensive linemen in the last game. He had a lot of nice plays. He's not the biggest guy [238 pounds] but he's a really good football player. Those three, along with one of our corners, Greg Ducre. Those guys are going to keep getting more reps as they continue to learn and grow.
Think you'll feel any sentiment coaching from the visiting sideline inside the Coliseum opposite USC?
NH: That side of the field will feel a little awkward, but not sentiment, no. It will be good to get back down there. I haven't been there a couple years. I love walking down that tunnel. It's a great venue to play in. One of the best if not the best, in my opinion, in the country. I'm looking forward to getting back down there and playing. Quite honestly, I'm just looking forward to playing again. It seems like we haven't played in so long. You come off a loss after a bye it seems like forever. It's such a long week. We're ready to get going again.
Tell me about USC's offense: What do you see on film?
NH: They run the ball extremely well. They are extremely balanced. They are solid upfront. They've got some good offense linemen. Their center [KristoferO'Dowd] has been starting for a million years. He's a good player. Heady, makes all their calls. Ronald Johnson is one of the better wideouts in the conference. Just a really good player. I like all their running backs, especially Stanley [Havili]. He's a complete running back. He can run, catch. He can block. And Matt Barkley is doing a nice job. They have some weapons. They are physical. They try to run the ball and they believe in it. Then they try to hit you with a big play passes. They do a nice job.
How much will you and Steve Sarkisian try to get inside of Lane Kiffin's head and do the ole: 'Lane likes to do this.' And, 'if we do this, he'll do that?'
NH: That's a part of the game and the strategy. But you've got to remember, Lane knows us too. He'll have his own ways of trying to get in our heads. So you don't want to get too caught up in all that stuff. You want to coach your guys. You want to do things they are really good at that they're confident in. You don't want to get into your own little mind games, or your own little battles. This is a team game. You got to make sure you're putting your kids in position to be successful, regardless of who you're going against.
I know you guys love to compete. Is there anything special calling defensive plays versus Kiffin, who calls the Trojans offensive plays?
NH: (Laughs) Kiff is one of the more competitive guys. He loves to win. Whether it's 7-on-7, or at high school camps, whenever it is. He's going to bring out all the stops. It will be fun to go against him.