USC Football: What Sarkisian brings

Ed Orgeron is out and Steve Sarkisian is in. The hiring of the former USC Football assistant was found to be underwhelming by Trojans across the nation. Athletic director Pat Haden and his staff even expected such a reaction.

Whatever everyone’s level of acceptance is, Sarkisian is here to stay—at least for now. Almost no football program will fire their head coach after a single year unless they do something flagrantly illegal. He would probably have at least three years to prove himself.

He’s got at least one thing going for him. He, like Orgeron, understands the USC culture, which apparently held a lot of weight in the hire. During a Spreecast, he guaranteed he would not change any of the logos or uniforms. He also said that he wants to continue the practice of having former Trojan greats leading the team out of the tunnel.

Sarkisian began as a baseball player at USC but decided to transfer to El Camino College, near his hometown of Torrance. It was at El Camino where he began his college football career. Since it was a community college, he finished out there and transferred to Brigham Young University.

During his senior season at BYU, he threw for 4,027 yards, 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, leading BYU to a WAC title and a 14-1 season. The only loss, interestingly enough, was to Washington.

His coaching career began back at El Camino as a quarterback coach in 2000. He spent the next three seasons in the same capacity— but for USC instead. He then spent a single season with the Oakland Raiders before returning to USC with an extra title of “assistant head coach.”

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Steve Sarkisian during his first season as offensive coordinator at USC (Photo credits: Jeff Gross/ Getty Images)

In 2007 and 2008, he also acquired the duties of offensive coordinator in name and practice. The offense averaged 32.6 and 37.5 points per game, respectively. Against the nine ranked teams they played those two seasons, they still managed to average 35 points per game. That should be taken with a grain of salt, though, as USC had stellar defenses, which handed possession back to their offense. Those defenses had nearly 30 takeaways in each of those seasons, holding opponents to 16 and 9 points per game, which ranked #2 and #1 in those seasons. Besides, those numbers may not mean much since he changed his offense drastically going into the 2013 season at Washington.

As Sarkisian has noted multiple times, he hopes to bring the uptempo offense he installed at Washington this season along with him to USC. He claims that it will be run-first and will utilize the pistol formation more to take advantage of the way college football rules are right now. Given the state of the roster after sanctions, transfers, injuries, and NFL draft early entrants, this may not be the best time to implement an uptempo/no huddle system. Not only does that put more pressure on the offense, but the defense suffers as well.

During the 2013 season, USC had possession of the ball for 421 and a half minutes (rank #4) for an average of 32.5 minutes. Washington possessed the ball for almost 345 minutes (rank #94), and average of about 28 minutes and 45 seconds. That means the Washington defense plays roughly four minutes more than the USC defense. Teams like Baylor, that averaged 1:19 per touchdown drive, have the potential to put together three more touchdown drives per game. Ultimately, it’s not the four extra minutes that kill defenses; it’s the lack of time to rest between drives.

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When trying to score fast against uptempo offenses, it forces the game into a shootout. In Washington’s 2011 Alamo Bowl game against Baylor, the final score was 67-57. Besides looking more like a college basketball score, it featured two touchdown drives of 12 seconds (one for each team) and only two drives that lasted over four minutes. Everyone gets locked into a mentality of scoring on every drive. An entire facet of the game is lost on them. What happens when these offense need to slow down and control the clock? Would they be able to?

Look no further than teams like Stanford. In the 2013 meeting between Stanford and Oregon, the Cardinal dominated in time of possession, controlling the ball for over 25 minutes more than Oregon (42:34 to 17:26), defeating them 26-20.

Sarkisian was the primary playcaller at Washington and said he will retain those duties at USC. He did add that the entire staff contributed to the playcalling. If that is the case, hopefully he and his staff will carefully consider the repercussions of changing the offensive system of this sanctioned and injured USC team.

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