In the aftermath of its second defeat, USC is once again teetering.
Even before the end of the Trojans’ 17-12 loss to Washington, a 17-point underdog, social media outlets erupted with some USC fans calling for Coach Steve Sarkisian to be fired.
Sarkisian said Friday he had “a great pulse for this team,” that he would meet with players, as scheduled, on Sunday and that he was not concerned about losing them.
“If I felt that way I would have met with them at 7 a.m. [Friday] morning,” Sarkisian said during a teleconference with reporters. “But these guys are in a good place and they’re going to be OK, and we’re going to be OK and so I’m not as worried, essentially, about where the program is going or where the team is going or what’s the mind-set of the players.
“I feel good about these guys. I really, really do.”
USC is 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12 Conference.
Despite criticism and the Trojans’ performance against the Huskies, Sarkisian said he felt “really, really good” about where USC was headed as a program.
“We are headed in the right direction,” he said.
The Trojans were scheduled to be off Friday and Saturday before practicing Sunday in preparation for their Oct. 18 game at 15th-ranked Notre Dame.
The annual rivalry game is the first in a difficult three-game stretch that will include a home game against fifth-ranked Utah and a Halloween game against 23rd-ranked California at Berkeley.
“We can’t get caught up in looking at that scoreboard and what’s down the road and what ifs, what ifs, what ifs,” he said. “That’s what everybody else’s job is to do. Our job is to focus on the task at hand and what’s right in front of us.”
The Trojans have been plagued by inconsistency.
They rebounded from a loss to Stanford with an impressive victory at Arizona State, and then lost to heavy-underdog Washington. It marks the first time since 2001 that USC lost consecutive home games.
“It’s easy to look at the film and say we should have run it, we should have thrown it, we should have blitzed more, we should have played coverage,” he said. “But the reality of it is it was bigger than that. And how we figure that out is the challenge.”
USC will move forward with several key players questionable for Notre Dame.
Sarkisian said center Max Tuerk, who left the game in the first quarter because of a knee issue, receiver Steven Mitchell (ankle), defensive lineman Claude Pelon and cornerback Iman Marshall (unspecified) suffered injuries that could be “significant.”
The Trojans gave up five sacks against Washington.
“When you lose your senior center, he’s your team captain, I think that had an effect on us,” Sarkisian said.
Quarterback Cody Kessler, who had two passes intercepted and was hit repeatedly, said after the game that Washington’s defense set the tone early.
“We didn’t fix stuff, we didn’t improve like we should have,” he said. “We didn’t make corrections, and when that happens you’re going to get beat every time.”
USC also continues to be plagued by penalties. The Trojans were flagged eight times for 62 yards against Washington.
Several of the infractions resulted from misalignments by receivers. Sarkisian said some back-ups played in unfamiliar spots because Darreus Rogers was sidelined due to a hamstring injury and Mitchell was injured during the game.
“A five-yard penalty’s not much, but we had some five-yard penalties [Thursday] night that were killers,” he said.
Times correspondent Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.