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Final analysis: USC-Washington isn't about sentiment

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

If you should happen to look at the Washington sideline on Saturday and see coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt lying immobile on the Husky Stadium turf, know that both succumbed to a syndrome that they knew could infect them with No. 3 USC coming to town.

The dreaded "paralysis by analysis."

Sarkisian, USC's former offensive coordinator, fingered the potential ailment in three separate media events this week when asked about coaching against his and Holt's former team.

"I think we have to be very careful over-analyzing -- I think you can easily get paralysis by analysis," Sarkisian said. "When you start digging too deep into this thing and try to look three or four steps down the road, that's where you can get yourself in trouble. Ultimately, we've got to do what we do well that fits with what they are doing. They're a different football team than they have been. They've got different coordinators. We have to attack them accordingly. The bottom line is we have to do what we do well. If we go too far beyond that, and try too hard, that's where we can get all screwed up."

(FYI: All donations to the Paralysis by Analysis Foundation should be sent care of the Pac-10 blog.)

Sarkisian and Holt spent a large part of their careers working with Carroll. It would be fair, in fact, to say he is their chief mentor. They have spent hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of hours together breaking down film, evaluating players, game planning, talking Xs and Os philosophy, writing poetry about winning forever and just shooting the bull.

So it's not hard to imagine each party will try to climb in the other's head in order to take a few photos.

"We always do that anyway, that's how you operate," Carroll said. "You're always working to the mind of the play caller on either side of the ball and what they like to do and their tendencies and all that stuff. This is just a background that goes deeper with information."

Speaking of background information, some might recall that USC also was a heavy favorite on the road in 2008 after beating Ohio State.

What happened at Oregon State -- a 27-21 defeat that essentially eliminated the previously No.1-ranked Trojans from the national title hunt -- is as much or more of an issue this week in the USC locker room than familiar faces on the Huskies coaching staff.

"Of course, it will be kind of different (seeing Sarkisian and Holt on the Huskies side), but we have to get over that," running back Stafon Johnson said. "It's a football game and he's with the opposite team... When we got back to LA it was back to business. We won that game (at Ohio State) but we could have easily lost. And this is around the same time when we slipped up last year."

Both teams also have in-house issues.

The Trojans are still trying to figure out who will start at quarterback. True freshman Matt Barkley bruised his shoulder at Ohio State and didn't throw in Tuesday's practice. Backup Aaron Corp, who's nearly 100 percent after cracking his fibula during the preseason, has been running with the No. 1 offense. Two-time All-American free safety Taylor Mays may sit out all week with a sprained knee, but seeing that Seattle is his home town and his injury is mostly a pain-tolerance issue, the consensus is Mays will only miss the game if he is kidnapped by aliens.

As for the Huskies, their defensive line is beat up and their secondary continues to struggle, witness 349 yards passing from Idaho in the Huskies 42-23 victory last weekend, which ended a 15-game losing streak.

"It's some communication things -- guys doing some new things," Sarkisian said. "We played a lot of young kids. I don't know if our zone drops were as we would have liked. I don't know if we rushed as hard as I know we can rush the passer. So we're going to clean those things up."

Whoever plays quarterback, USC has issues on offense, particularly in the passing game. The Trojans only gained 313 yards against a good but not great Buckeyes defense. Until the impressive final drive, the offense was out of sync much of the night.

Moreover, style points are at stake for both teams.

If Washington gets blown out, it loses much of the early momentum created by a strong performance against LSU and its first victory since November of 2007. If USC only produces a close victory, it will be on the receiving end of catcalls from the hoi polloi seeking to influence the beauty contest that is the BCS system.

There will be a few back slaps before the game, but jaws will be fully set during it.

"This is not a time for sentiment," Carroll said. "I love seeing Sarkisian in charge of this program and Nick up there doing his thing. These guys are great friends. I love these guys. I'm thrilled that they're doing it. But when it comes to game time, we're going to go. That's what they'll do too and that's the only way we all know how to do it. It won't have anything to do with sentiment. It will have to do with competition and battling."

So, the final analysis is simple. It's an important football game for both teams, no matter who's pacing the opposite sideline.