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Originally published October 1, 2010 at 5:15 PM | Page modified October 2, 2010 at 7:21 PM

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Huskies open Pac-10 play at USC

Steve Sarkarian takes his Huskies back to his old home

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Washington @ USC, 5 p.m., ESPN2

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LOS ANGELES — Steve Sarkisian doesn't care much about his own return to USC.

It's a return to what USC meant for the Huskies a year ago he'd really like to see.

Last season, when Washington opened Pac-10 play, it did so in as rousing a fashion as possible, defeating the Trojans 16-13 in Seattle. That victory appeared to indicate that UW was ready to return to the main stage of college football.

"(It) validated what we were talking about wanting to do, and we were able to put it out there and show that this isn't just talk, this is what we're doing," Sarkisian said.

But the promise evident in that victory, and the rest of the 2009 season, has been lacking so far in 2010. UW, picked by most to contend for a bowl game and a top-half finish in the Pac-10, is 1-2 as it enters conference play Saturday against the Trojans in a 5 p.m. game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Sarkisian called the Coliseum home for seven seasons while working at USC as an assistant.

It's not just the record that has taken the shine off the high expectations of August, however, but the manner in which it has been achieved. UW bumbled its way through an opening defeat at Brigham Young against a Cougars team that has lost all four games since, and after a perfunctory victory over Syracuse, UW was blasted at home by Nebraska 56-21.

UW has had two weeks to lick its wounds and fix what has gone wrong, and players say they have embraced the idea that the beginning of Pac-10 play also represents a fresh start to the season.

"I definitely think we were down," said UW linebacker Cort Dennison. "We didn't expect to get beat that bad at home. But there is nothing you can do about it now. You can't dwell on the past. We have moved on. We need to have moved on. If anyone hasn't moved on, they had better."

USC also comes into the game recalling the events of a year ago. The Trojans were ranked No. 3 when they came to Seattle last September, visions of another national title run in their heads.

But hampered by injuries (quarterback Matt Barkley, safety Taylor Mays and wide receiver Ronald Johnson all sat out) the Trojans let an early 10-0 lead slip away and lost on a last-second field goal. It was the first defeat in a season that saw USC finish 9-4, its most defeats since 2001.

USC players have openly talked of wanting to avenge the loss, a stance first-year Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin has done nothing to quiet.

"It just had the feel that game kind of changed things a little bit," said Kiffin.

Said UW defensive tackle Cameron Elisara: "I think they will be a little spiteful, vengeful, after last year's loss. So I think it's going to be a real battle, a real war of a game."

Sarkisian, though, said he's concerned solely with how his team plays. UW struggled in every area against Nebraska as quarterback Jake Locker was just 4-for-20 passing, seeing his Heisman Trophy hopes pretty much dashed for good; the defense allowed six rushing touchdowns; and the special teams again consistently lost the field-position battle.

Locker, in particular, will be a focal point. Sarkisian said this week that some footwork issues — specifically not getting his feet set before he threw — were at the root of the accuracy problems against Nebraska.

Asked how he expected Locker to play this week, he responded simply "really well" before elaborating.

"I think we've addressed the issues that need to be addressed and have put together a game plan conducive to him playing well."

That plan likely includes a few more opportunities for Locker to run, and some more shorter and intermediate passes to get him some rhythm in the passing game.

"This is a football team that believes in what we're doing, not only schematically but philosophically," Sarkisian said. "I know they're champing at the bit to get back out to show what they're capable of doing."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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