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Sarkisian weighs in on looming Irish-Trojans showdown

Buried inside Ivan Maisel’s preview of Saturday’s game was an interesting tidbit from Washington coach, and former Southern Cal offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian.

Sarkisian’s Husky squad is the only team to have played both USC and Notre Dame, toppling Southern Cal earlier in the year 16-13 in the final seconds before losing to the Irish in overtime 37-30, giving Sark a rare insight into both of the teams doing battle at Notre Dame Stadium this weekend.

(A quick aside -- if you watched Charlie’s press conference yesterday, at the end of the session, Weis took some phone questions from members of the media. One of those calls was from Maisel. If you watch the look on Weis’ face when the call coordinator announces the question is from ESPN’s Ivan Maisel, you see immediately from Charlie’s expression that there is some “history” between the two of them. But that’s another story...)

Sark had some interesting insights into this year’s Irish squad. The first was the atmosphere surrounding this year’s team.

“I would say this: I feel an energy there I haven’t felt since 2005,” Sarkisian said Tuesday. “On Friday before the game, when we go to walk-through, people are standing around outside the stadium. The last time [2007], they weren’t there. For Washington to show up and have people stand around the stadium, there’s an energy around the team that hasn’t been there the last couple of years. ... That 2005 game, the energy in that case was unbelievable.”

I think the energy surrounding that game was a testament to both Weis’ team and the team that Sarkisian put together. Many Irish fans probably wanted to see first-hand the Husky squad that toppled Goliath. And as much as Washington and Notre Dame will be inextricably tied together by coach Tyrone Willingham, that shipped has mostly sailed for Notre Dame fans, especially with Willingham’s dismissal from UW after last season.

Yet Sarkisian’s evaluation of personnel is what raised my eyebrow. When asked to compare the two teams, Sark was pretty emphatic on what team had the better talent.

“I don’t know. I kind of thought they would be a physically better-looking team,” Sarkisian said about the Irish. “We kind of went toe-to-toe with them and we shouldn’t be able to do that, in reality. It would be interesting to see if USC’s physical dominance shows up. In my opinion, it should. That doesn’t mean it does. Our 11 guys and SC’s 11, SC’s are a lot better.”

Here is where I’d question Sarkisian’s allegiances. Obviously, Washington’s 30 points is pretty compelling evidence that Notre Dame’s defense struggled to contain Locker, running back Chris Polk, and company. Yet Sarkisian is forgetting that his defense didn’t exactly go “toe-to-toe” with the Irish offense.

Clausen and the Irish put up 530 yards of offense, and if it weren’t for some uncharacteristically sloppy red zone play by Jimmy Clausen and crew, would have put a much bigger number than 37 on the scoreboard, weather be damned. (Also consider that Clausen gift-wrapped one of the Huskies touchdowns with the lateral pass/walk-in for 6 points.) The yardage output of the Irish dwarfs the 360 yards USC’s offense managed to put up against the Huskies, although you could argue that defensive coordinator Nick Holt and Sarkisian had some pretty good inside information on the tendencies and game plan of the Trojans.

I can only wonder if it doesn’t serve Sarkisian’s agenda to propose a hypothesis that has his scrappy team “finding a way to win” over the physically superior Trojans. He’s obviously still got ties to Carroll and his coaching staff, and it only makes him look like a better coach for supporting this angle.

But before I’m ready to concede that the Irish will be overwhelmed by the physical dominance of the Trojans, I’m considering the source.