By Brent Stecker
At the start of a huge week for the No. 15 Washington Huskies, head coach Steve Sarkisian first had to "get the giant elephant out of the room," as he put it.
Sarkisian spent an early portion of his weekly press conference Monday addressing the sudden head-coaching vacancy at USC, even though the Huskies are just five days from a monumental battle at No. 5 Stanford, the Pac-12 North's other 4-0 team.
USC dismissed coach Lane Kiffin after the Trojans fell to 3-2 (0-2 in the Pac-12) with an embarrassing loss to Arizona State on Saturday, and Sarksian's name was immediately linked to the Trojans, for whom he was the offensive coordinator, assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach throughout the 2000s.
Washington's Steve Sarkisian, left, said he won't comment on any speculation that he could be a candidate to take over at USC, which fired coach Lane Kiffin over the weekend. (AP)
"I'm extremely thankful for the opportunity I have to be the head football coach at the University of Washington. I have never once and I will never comment on hypothetical scenarios. I've never done that in the four and a half years that I've been here, and I won't do that," Sarkisian said.
"I have great respect for USC and the rich history and tradition they have, but I'm proud to be the head football coach of the 15th-ranked team in America right now. And all the hard work that we've put into this program for the last five years to get to this point, to be in an awesome matchup on national television on Saturday night against a national-championship contender in Stanford, that's where my focus is."
Sarkisian, who said he has not been contacted by USC, believes the speculation may give the Huskies a chance to prove something.
"We've been on this zero-distractions kind of mantra since the offseason to get ready to open up Husky Stadium, and I've been talking to them about it, so this was a cool opportunity for me this morning to go into the team meeting and use it from a personal standpoint," he said. "This is a great chance for us to really show and prove that there are zero distractions. We're focused on the task at hand, and the task is a big one this week, and that's playing Stanford."
Cardinal at a glance
The Huskies' 31-13 win over Arizona was big, but with Stanford's bruising offense and defense looming, there isn't much time for Washington to savor its victory.
Sarkisian said that Stanford plays more balanced on offense than it gets credit for, and Washington will prepare accordingly.
"You can't go into the game thinking they're just one-dimensional – a bunch of tight ends and linemen and they're gonna run the ball," he said. "They've got balance, they've got speed on the outside. ... (They have) guys on the perimeter that can really run, so they're gonna tax you in all phases. You have to defend everything. You can't go in thinking this is just goal-line football. That's not the way they play, and that's not the way they play when they're at their best."
Versatile quarterback Kevin Hogan is known for his feet, but he showed that there's more to Stanford than the running game in its 55-17 win over Washington State, as he threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns.
"Hogan, he's a little bit bigger, more physical runner (than Arizona's B.J. Denker)," Sarkisian said. "I think Hogan can really throw the ball down the field some, too, and that presents its own issues for us."
As for the Cardinal defense, it's allowing just 19.5 points per game, meaning it will be a long day for Washington's up-tempo offense.
"They're a veteran group (on defense) – guys that have played a lot of football," Sarkisian said. "They're disciplined. ... They're obviously talented, they're big physical guys up front, athletic in the back end, (and) they've got tremendous leadership."
Sarkisian was pleased with the Huskies' tackling against Arizona, especially because they held down running back Ka'Deem Carey, the nation's leading rusher in 2012.
"We're tackling so good right now. For Ka'Deem Carey's longest carry to be 13 yards, 30 times of giving that guy the ball and we held his longest run to 13 yards, was really tremendous," Sarkisian said.
Defensive back Sean Parker was highlighted by Sarkisian as a strong performer against the Wildcats.
"I thought Sean Parker played a really good football game the other night. He was fantastic. He tackled really, really well, (and) the interception that he makes," Sarkisian said. "Sean is playing really good football, and sometimes he goes unnoticed because of some of the big-name guys on the defense. He's been playing really well for us this year and Saturday night was no different. I thought he played phenomenal."
Punter Travis Coons also stood out to Sarkisian in the game film from Saturday's rainy and windy victory.
"Travis Coons deserves an MVP award. Five punts inside the 20 under those conditions. Some of the snaps, because of the weather, he's jumping up and catching the ball, putting the ball inside the 10," Sarkisian said. "I thought Travis deserves an award just for his performance. I know (defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox) brought him into the defensive team meeting this morning, praised him and had the defense applaud him. When you're pinning opponents deep it makes the life of our defensive coordinator and our defense a lot easier."
• Sarkisian said RB Bishop Sankey was sore but looked good Monday after rushing a school-record 40 times against Arizona.
"Ideally, 40 carries is not what we want to be with a guy," Sarkisian said. "But you do what it takes to win the game, and I felt like that's what it took the other night, based on the elements and the way the game was going. He was just an absolute champion about it."