BY Art Thiel 12:19AM 10/09/2015

Thiel: Huskies’ Petersen leaves a mark on Sark

Chris Petersen, a one-time candidate for the USC job, thoroughly out-coached his predecessor at Washington, Steve Sarkisian, in a 17-12 triumph over USC, an 18-point favorite.

Chris Petersen had a breakthrough moment in his Washington career Thursday night at USC. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest file

The only misstep coach Chris Petersen made in the run-up to the USC game was rhetorical, saying the 17th-ranked Trojans were “very underrated.” No, they weren’t. But the freshman-pickled Huskies had to prove him wrong. As important, they had to prove that Petersen’s program was going in the right direction by delivering a signature win.

Until Thursday night, the Huskies under Petersen beat only the teams they were favored to beat, and lost every game in which opponents were favored. But as an ESPN national television audience, which included many kids in the fertile recruiting grounds of the Southland, watched, the 18-point underdog Huskies delivered on the optimism that surrounded Petersen’s hire with 17-12 grinder of a triumph at the legendary Coliseum.

Two freshmen, QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin, gave the offense just enough to survive while the defense powered down a Trojans offense that led the Pac-12 Conference with 47 points a game.

Just as important, Huskies fans can offer their thanks to Steve Sarksian for three things:

  • Coming to Washington in 2009 to restore respectability to a tattered program;
  • Leaving Washington after 2013 before he lost respectability;
  • Arriving at USC to coach a dumb game that helped Washington climb the college football ladder.

Why Sarkisian kept forcing his playcalling to QB Cody Kessler’s passing, when the Huskies defense had him made, while ignoring a running game that gashed UW several times, will remain one of the great mysteries of the Pac-12′s second century.

But at least he was honest about it, which is a valued trait for anyone who might be a recovering alcoholic.

“We didn’t coach well enough and play well enough to win the game,” he said. “This one at end of the day is on me.”

Meanwhile, Petersen, his roster loaded with players from the greater Los Angeles area, most of whom would have sold their souls for a chance to be a Trojan, reveled in helping deliver the next-best thing: Beating the Trojans.

“The guys are fired up,” he said. “They have a lot of respect for the USC players, coaches and program. That’s why they’re excited.”

Half of the roster was recruited to Washington by Sarkisian, whose dash to his “dream job” of USC in 2013 left some genuinely hurt feelings. But expression of those feelings in words is not allowed in the macho protocol of college football.

But deeds? That’s OK.

Deeds were especially apparent from the defense, which sacked Kessler on USC’s first play from scrimmage, the first of five throw-downs of the one-time Heisman Trophy candidate. He was picked twice and the Trojans were held to an astonishing 1-for-13 on third downs.

The second consecutive home loss (Stanford won 41-31 two weeks ago) for USC produced heavy boos and early departures from impatient fans who have been cool to Sarkisian’s hire almost from the beginning.

“This is going to test the character of a lot of guys,” Kessler told reporters after the game. “This one hurts. It hurts. I’m not going to lie.”

The two biggest defensive moments came after USC’s only touchdown drive of the game concluded with a one-yard run by RB Ronald Jones to cut the lead to 17-12 with 12:02 left in the game. The UW offense went three and out to help swing the momentum heavily in favor of USC.

With plenty of time left to sustain a drive on the ground for a go-ahead touchdown, USC inexplicably called three passes, only one of which was completed, for four yards. A secondary enhanced by the return from injury of CB Budda Baker offered great coverage while Kessler was pressured to throw quickly. The Trojans punted.

The Huskies again went three and out, and this time the Trojans traveled all the way to the Washington 25-yard line. But on third-and-five, Kessler was sacked a fifth time, this by LB Travis Feeney. The yardage loss was critical, because PK Alex Wood, a walk-on from Mercer Island High School, missed a 46-yard field goal when the ball hit the crossbar with 3:44 left.

Petersen was thrilled with the defensive feat, particularly after the Huskies offense came away empty from three drives in the first quarter that began on the USC side of the field, surely an omen for eventual failure. But no.

“We got some heat on Cody, and our secondary was right there on them, contesting everything,” he said. “We tackled well and hunted in packs.

“We had a great energy. Sometimes when you start fast, you wear down. They didn’t. There’s lots of lessons to be learned tonight.”

Perhaps the biggest lesson was that, contrary to the grumblings from some Huskies fans, the Washington job was not too big for Petersen and his staff, imported nearly intact from Boise State.

Another lesson might be that the USC job might be too big for Sarkisian, who had just learned an equally embarrassing lesson in August: Never mix alcohol with meds.

He may also have learned that in moving from job to job, it is best to go out of conference, so the hurt feelings left behind have a harder time catching up.


  • Pixdawg13

    I thought that any chance we had was gone after those 3 possessions in the first quarter yielded only 3 points. That defense–wow. I knew, after the first couple games, that this was a better overall D than last year’s, but just…wow.

    And of course, there’s still those #$%^% Pac-12 officials.

    • art thiel

      I agree — I thought the misplays on the first three possessions would be game-fatal. But the defense was as resolute as I can remember since the 01 Rose Bowl.

  • 3 Lions

    Oh, the sweet taste of victory! At Sarks expense no less. I take back my ignorant comments of a couple weeks a go and applaud the best Dawg performance in a long time.
    A week and a half to prepare probably didn’t hurt but you could actually see this team improving before your eyes. Somewhere, the Dawgfather is smiling.

    • art thiel

      Good of you to own up. A rarity these days.

  • Effzee

    That offensive coordinating guy did a really good job last night. And the defense! Wow! And the halftime adjustments continue to amaze! The only problem is the gaping hole at QB. Last night was what it would have been like if Jake Locker had a good team around him, except that while Jake Browning had all of the inaccurate throwing of Locker, he had almost none of the mobility. LOL? But still. I’ve been waiting for this feeling for like, 20 years or something. Not the winning a big game feeling. But the feeling like our coach isn’t horrible, or about to go golfing, or get embroiled in controversy, or leave for another program. Coach Pete gives me a feeling of quality and quantity. Of style and substance. Also, the feeling of having a real QB at the helm. Not an undersized guy. Not an athlete who refuses to play another position. Not a guy who has spent his life being QB just because he was the biggest, fastest kid around. Browning has been a passing QB his whole life. Finally. Another real QB. Now, someone just has to work and that accuracy. Sheesh. Coulda been a blowout last night.

    • art thiel

      You make a good point about Petersen providing a calm about the program. I may have to write about that.

  • ReebHerb

    The tackling was nostalgic. Ty’s boys hurled themselves through the air at the ball carrier and let the weight of their own body break their grip if they made contact. This is old school Boeing tackling! Hopefully we won’t see any more of the mayor’s and park department’s touchy davenport football.

    • art thiel

      Not sure about the references but I catch your drift.

  • Jamo57

    For me, the big difference between Petersen and Sark is their attention to detail and perhaps that was the difference in this game.

    Coach Pete may be James-ian in that regard which will be a relief to long time Husky fans.

    • art thiel

      He is as fastidious as James was in preparing for every eventuality.

    • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

      P just looks like he fits just like our NFL Coach P? His skills to the program he is running is a timely and smooth match.
      I imagine this was an amazing feeling for coach in knocking off not only a pac12 powerhouse but the guy that bestowed him with much of the talent he is working with. I always get annoyed when a coach says that wasn’t my recruiting class…these weren’t “our guys”. Coach P is too classy to do that. Love your James analogy. I hope he does WANT to build a James like Dynasty here.
      With mister wonderful(Sark )as we know it was just lip service.
      Good riddance. Go Huskies!

      • art thiel

        I enjoy a good Sark bash as much as anyone, but he did get UW to nine wins his final year.

        • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

          You are right….true misery lies with the Willingham years. Sure he(Sark) did have success here and for that we should be thankful.

  • Blair Teddy

    Sark continues to be a fraud, I’m just glad he’s doing it for another team now!

    • art thiel

      The long knives are out in LA.

      • Blair Teddy

        I hope he doesn’t get fired, I want him to be just good enough at USC for them to keep him for a few more years. He can then take a leap into the NFL with the 49ers, Rams, or Cardinals.

        • art thiel

          Haden has a lot invested in Sark. He’ll be around unless he implodes.

  • Bruce McDermott

    I haven’t forgotten the Arizona game last year, or its aftermath. But this game showed that Petersen can learn. Clock management at the end was perfect. And Sark’s clock management was very poor. I think Art is exactly right. Sark brought us back from the abyss, but that is where it ended. Needed a different kind of coach to go farther. What impressed me most of all is the ferocity and lack of fear of the defense. That is the players, but it is also the coaches. To win a game like this with a QB that clearly needs more time is very sweet.

    • art thiel

      Well said. Petersen had his blunders in a transition year harder than expected. He spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with discipline problems with Sark’s holdovers — and his own newbies. But by Thursday, that was a well-managed team at the Coliseum.

      • TimJoFred

        I loved CP’s reaction after the second roughing the passer penalty.

  • MrPrimeMinister

    The 10+ year wait is over. The wandering in the wilderness that husky fans have been enduring is done. The mediocrity, the embarassment, the insults, slam the door shut. New chapter begins.

    • art thiel

      Wow. Can I have an amen for our brother who has seen the purple light?

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        And the purple winged Angels break into song belching out the impromptu diddly …called College football has a heaven its Huskyville in Seattle….

  • ll9956

    This is one of the most pleasant surprises in recent memory. Based on SC’s record I expected the Dawgs to fall something like 48-10. I imagine SC will fall out of the top 25 and the Huskies might sneak in.

    Had Browning been able to be more accurate with the deep passes, the margin of victory might have been significantly greater.

    • art thiel

      Browning will find the deep ball connection. These guys then might even be scary.

    • jafabian

      Just a freshman. Next season he’ll make those connections. Dawgs could have easily scored more in this game.

  • DawgDave

    This team reminds me of the 84 Huskies. Great defense, an offense that’s a work in progress. Defense wins championships and this is one snarly, tough, intimidating bunch. They seriously are a couple plays from being 5-0. Wonder what would have happened against Cal if Gaskin was given the ball instead of Washington when he fumbled. Time for Gaskin to be the started until Washington can create some yardage and keep the ball in his hands.

    • art thiel

      Gaskin’s transition is remarkable.I wouldn’t be surprised to see change at RB.

  • rosetta_stoned

    While I’m no fan of Sark, your incessant shots (both yesterday’s piece and this one) – regarding his alleged alcoholism – is beyond tedious.

    • Effzee


    • art thiel

      What I don’t like is USC offering no public consequence for an employee abusing alcohol from a position of public trust. If this were a player, he’d be suspended. I don’t know how a Pac-12 coach manages treatment with his work schedule. My suspicion is that there is no treatment. Going dry on one’s own is very hard and not recommended.

      So I thought I would remind people that the situation is unresolved. Sorry you find the reminder tedious.

      • Jeff Shope

        You do realize U$C is a private school and therefore not subject to the whims of know it all liberal holier than thou PC clowns who think people in athletics should be held to some insane higher standard that politicians cops and judges and yes media types are not just sayin

        • art thiel

          It’s a private school but engaged in a very public sales job with recruits and fans with 10 other public schools on the Pac-12. It is those schools who create the standards, not media. They just don’t want to be accountable when they screw up.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Thiel: Huskies’ Petersen leaves a mark on Sark

    When i read the headline for some reason My imaginative mind flashed to the day after (the Huskie loss)for the USC coach …..he had fallen off the wagon in depressive style and when his hungover eyes gazed to his forearm he sees a tattoo he doesn’t remember getting… A canine with the words FOREVER A DAWG underneath it…..

    • TimJoFred

      It was sweet for us here in Eastern Washington as well.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        I bet it was….hating USC is pretty much a statewide thing ~ right? Didn’t mean to dis-include you ,Tim.
        BTW ?Might I ad that the EWU red eagle logo is one of the most creative and majestic looking logos in college sports today.
        It is such a creative design… but its reflective of the people of this area of the country~just another reason to love Washington state.
        Go Eagles.

        • TimJoFred

          Thanks, of course I agree. EWU has had a great run the last 10 or so years. As an alum, I love the red field, their logo, and their never say die attitude.
          GO HAWKS!!!

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Would it make for a (completely)Sweet Weekend if our NFL team that resides in this state knocks off a team in Ohio….on the road ….that happens to be 4~0?
        We need the 12s to cheer on our guys be it in Eastern or Western Wash, Idaho or Montana (or Canada and Alaska for that matter!)
        Go Hawks! Edge the Bengals!