The Jets may have pulled off the NFL's biggest upset last weekend, but the University of Washington shocked everyone in college football with a monumental triumph over the University of Southern California. It's quite possible that neither outcome would have happened if Mark Sanchez hadn't declared for the NFL Draft in January.
Sanchez, who's completed 60.4 percent of his passes during the Jets' 2-0 start, was mentored last season by both USC head coach Pete Carroll and Carroll's former offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian. Coach Sark, introduced as the Washington Huskies head coach last December, led the upstart Dawgs to an improbable 16-13 "W" over his former boss last Saturday.
But Sanchez, a humble 22-year-old who is also very confident in his abilities, says there's no way the now 2-1 Trojans would have lost in the Pacific Northwest if he was still leading them.
"We would have been 3-0, though," he said today. "I wouldn't have lost to Sark. You can tell him I said that, too."
It would be hard to argue with Sanchez. With sophomore Aaron Corp forced into action due to a shoulder injury to freshman Matt Barkley, the Trojans converted none of their 10 third-down chances at Husky Stadium. They played conservatively as Corp completed 13 of 22 passes for 110 yards and one interception.
Less than 24 hours later and a coast away, Sanchez completed 14 of 22 for 163 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers as the Jets defeated the New England Patriots at home for the first time since 2000.
"Bittersweet" is how Sanchez described his emotions after the Pac-10 shocker on Lake Washington.
"I was happy for Sark but at the same time my roommate [FB Stanley] Havili fumbled, he put it on the turf, so I was bummed with him," the QB said. "I was texting him and wishing him the best and I know they'll bounce back. They'll be fine. It might not be the Rose Bowl [the BCS National Championship Game will be played at the famous stadium in Pasadena on Jan. 7, 2010] or a National Championship, but it could be a Pac-10 championship, so they just need to play smart and rebound."
A year after Washington went 0-12, the 35-year-old Sarkisian has the Huskies well on the way to a rapid recovery. In fact, UW finds itself ranked 24th in the nation heading into a conference clash at Stanford. A prolific quarterback himself at Brigham Young University, Sark left his imprint on Sanchez as the rookie talked about a long list of lessons today, including leadership in the huddle, the importance of cadence and the having the presence a signalcaller must have.
"He would show me this clip of Marino and Favre and Aikman, Warren Moon and John Elway, guys who would come into the huddle and they remind their guys of situations," Sanchez said. "And he would always talk about situational awareness and command in the huddle, so you get in the huddle and you remind them, 'It's goal line.' And that might just trigger someone to think, 'That's right. Their goal-line defense is this.' And that kind of awareness as a quarterback is important."
Sarkisian also had an interesting pet peeve that he made sure Sanchez followed.
"Before any practice, meeting, workout, anything, you make sure you shower," Sanchez said of the rule. "And I've done it to this day because when you don't shower and you come in and there's sleep in your eyes, you're looking like everyone else on the team and guys are just dragging. If you shower, you're alert and you're ready to go. You chose to take extra time this morning and say, 'Hey, I'm ready.' And it just kind of exudes this confidence, this awareness and this readiness for that day. So that's something I took with me forever."
Sarkisian, who helped educate Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Sanchez at USC, has another great talent at his disposal in Jake Locker. After Locker completed 21 of 35 for 227 yards against the Men of Troy, Carroll called him the best quarterback the Trojans have faced in his nine years as a head coach at Southern Cal.
Locker, who already signed a baseball contract with the Los Angeles Angels, is a junior who looks to be on his way to becoming a first-round NFL draft choice. The Jets probably won't be in the running for him — they're happy with their own Sarkisian protégé. And you have to think Huskies fans are also pleased Mark Sanchez has moved on to the NFL.