Steve Sarkisian: I'd take Matt Barkley
LOS ANGELES -- Washington Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian appeared to take a page out of the old Lou Holtz book for game management and amped up the pressure on USC this week with his comments Monday regarding Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley.
Asked about the USC offense in advance of Saturday's game against the Trojans, Sarkisian said Barkley would be a better NFL quarterback than his significantly more-hyped counterpart at Stanford, Andrew Luck.
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"If I'm an NFL head coach right now, I'd pick Matt Barkley ahead of Andrew Luck," Sarkisian said in his weekly press conference.
Told afterward of his comments, Barkley laughed and said Sarkisian was "just pouring on the sugar."
"He's just pouring it on," he said.
As a USC assistant, Sarkisian recruited Barkley out of Santa Ana Mater Dei as a prep. Sarkisian referenced Mater Dei in justifying his comments, noting that very few players start on the varsity as a true freshman -- especially at quarterback and especially at schools like Mater Dei.
Luck, Stanford's redshirt junior quarterback who is almost unanimously considered the top quarterback in the college ranks, did not do much against Washington in the Cardinal's win over the Huskies last month. But he wasn't asked to, attempting only 21 passes but completing 16 of them for 169 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Barkley posted similar numbers against Washington a year ago in the Trojans' 32-31 October loss at the Coliseum, completing 14 of 20 passes for 186 yards. He did not play against Sarkisian's Huskies the previous season because of an injury.
Sarkisian said a lot of his high praise of Barkley could be traced back to this season, as he has improved his numbers across the board. Through nine games, Barkley has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,608 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions.
"I think he's playing at that high of a level," Sarkisian said.
After Washington's 34-17 loss over the weekend to Oregon, Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt told reporters that his team's upcoming game against USC would be easier to plan for than the game against the Ducks.
"We'll be OK against these guys," said Holt, who twice held the same position at USC under former coach Pete Carroll. "I'd rather play USC than Oregon, quite honestly."
Asked about Holt's comments after Monday's practice, Kiffin downplayed the statements and any potential influence it would have on his team leading up to Saturday's game at the Coliseum.
"I don't make much of it," Kiffin said. "We have great respect for those guys and their staff and their players
"They beat us two years in a row so they can say whatever they want."
But the comment -- along with a note marking how many yards USC gained in a losing effort against the Huskies last season -- was posted on a door in USC's Heritage Hall by mid-morning Monday. Most players walk through the door where it was posted each day while leaving the school's athletic headquarters.
Sarkisian said he had no problem with his assistant coach's remarks, saying they were meant to be more of a praise of Oregon than a diss directed at USC.
"I think you can ask every defensive coordinator in our conference the same question and they'd say the same thing," Sarkisian said. "Oregon is harder to prepare for because of how unique they are. That doesn't mean that 'SC's not really good -- I think they're a tremendous offensive football team."
"The comment was about the preparation for an offensive style, and as we've all seen now for years, at Oregon they're very hard to prepare for and the speed and tempo they play at is difficult."
But Sarkisian, who spent seven seasons at USC, seemed to make a slight dig at Kiffin and his program after he was told that USC posted the comments at Heritage Hall.
"If that quote's gonna make USC play better, then that'll make them play better," Sarkisian said. "I don't know.
"We don't motivate that way here."
A year ago, Sarkisian told reporters in Seattle that USC had the deepest team in the conference "from top to bottom." He repeated that comment Monday, despite the fact that the Trojans' 4-2 record in Pac-12 play is only tied with three other teams for third-best in the conference.
It seemed a continuation of a long-standing back-and-forth between Kiffin and Sarkisian, who were co-offensive coordinators for a time at USC and have kept up their friendship through the years. Both men have traded jabs in the week leading up to their head-to-head matchups.
"That's an old Lou Holtz trick that he learned watching TV a long time ago," Kiffin said a year ago of Sarkisian's hype-up comments. "To call a team that has the lowest scholarships probably in the country the deepest team in the Pac-10, that's an old set-up trick.
"We can barely find enough guys to practice. Our service team is made up of some kids from science class. Half of them never played football before."
Asked then if it was possible that he was employing similar tactics by downplaying the caliber of his own team, Kiffin smiled.
"We watched the same show," he said.
Pedro Moura covers USC for ESPNLosAngeles.com.