USC Football: How Lane Kiffin Can Scheme Around Questionable QB Play
There were going to be changes for the 2013 USC Trojans football program after a disappointing 7-6 record last year, but most thought that the focus would be on the defensive side of the ball with the hiring of new coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
And while that is still true, recent developments on the offense now lead Trojan fans to believe that significant changes could be on the horizon there as well.
With the dismissal of Kennedy Polamalu as offensive coordinator, it now appears that a shakeup in that portion of the game is also imminent.
Whether or not this new philosophy entails head coach Lane Kiffin giving up his play-calling duties remains to be seen, but either way, USC's 2013 offense promises to have a different look.
One reason for this is the fact that USC will be breaking in a new signal-caller next year with the departure of Matt Barkley to graduation.
And if the recent Sun Bowl debacle is any indication, the play at quarterback—whether it is Max Wittek, Cody Kessler or true freshman Max Browne—will have to receive special consideration if USC has visions of success this year.
At least in the early part of the season, the Trojans will have to take pressure off of the new QB as that person finds their way in the offense.
This slideshow will look at some of the ways they can do just that.
Of course, inspired play by the offensive line will be critical to that success, but if the Trojans can get that, here are some ways they can help their quarterback as well.
Get the Tight Ends Involved
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Even when Matt Barkley was guiding the offense, one component of the offense that always seemed to be lacking was the involvement of the tight ends in the passing game.
And it's not like the Trojans don't have an abundance of talent at the position with co-starters Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer both likely to be playing on Sundays when their time at USC is over.
Couple that with yet another talented player—redshirt freshman Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick—waiting in the wings and it becomes obvious that this is an area that the Trojans can exploit to take pressure off of whomever wins the quarterback job in fall.
Introduce Some Wildcat to Give the Defense a Different Look
Tre Madden (photo from ocregister.com)
One way to take pressure off of the new quarterback is to give opposing defenses something else to think about.
One option to do this is to offer different wrinkles to the offense, and throwing in the Wildcat on occasion would certainly provide a scheme that would give the opponent cause for pause.
And best of all, the Trojans have the perfect guy to run this type of offense.
Tre Madden—a converted linebacker who was switched to running back before tearing an ACL last season—ran the Wildcat effectively in high school before coming to USC.
Assuming he is now healthy—and all indications are that he is—Madden would provide an effective distraction to USC's opponents while also providing production in short-yardage situations.
Speaking of Different Looks, How About Kessler in the Read Option?
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If USC wants to really shake things up, why not try backup quarterback Cody Kessler in the read option offense every now and then?
Kessler—a Tim Tebow clone with a much better arm—has the running ability to make things happen out of this formation and the passing ability to make the defense pay if they overcommit to shutting off rushing lanes.
Though not something USC would run regularly, the read option would satisfy a variety of needs for the offense, not the least of which is keeping opposing defenses on their toes.
It would also offer the talented Kessler opportunities to see the field of play, which may be important if Max Wittek (or perhaps Max Browne) garners the starting gig and a frustrated Kessler decides to look elsewhere for playing time.
Other Options Could Include Running a Modified Spread Once in a While
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In this continuing effort to run schemes to protect the new quarterback, USC could also introduce a modified version of the spread offense to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands as soon as possible.
By utilizing the Trojans' bevy of talented receivers—headed by all-everything wide receiver Marqise Lee—USC can implement an offense that features quick-hitting short passes that don't require lengthy blocks to be held by the offensive line but still offers production to move the ball downfield.
The downside to this is that it would require that the quarterbacks to learn a new component of the offense, but if this shows promise in practice, it would serve to once again give opponents something else to think about.
Utilize Short Passes to the Running Backs
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If there are concerns about simplifying the offense for the new quarterback, there is always the fall back position of throwing passes out of the backfield.
Short, and sometimes sweet, dump offs and passes into the flat takes the ball out of a nervous QB's hands and gets the running backs involved as well as offering the possibility of opening up other options such as flanker screens as well.
The biggest concern, of course, is ensuring that the running backs are capable of catching the ball, and this will have to be ascertained in the practices prior to the start of the season.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, the running backs they will enter 2013 with have a total of 17 receptions out of the backfield in 2012 (Redd had nine and Vainuku had eight), so special attention will have to be made to developing this aspect of the game.
However, this could also present an opportunity for a guy like incoming freshman running back Ty Isaac, whose size, speed and soft hands would make him a natural for implementing this type of offensive philosophy.
The Running Game Must Shoulder the Burden in the Beginning
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Of course, the best way to remove pressure from the quarterback is simply to not ask him to throw the ball.
But in order to do that, the Trojans must get production from their running backs.
The good news is USC returns some experienced talent in this unit, and guys like Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan and, if healthy, Tre Madden all have the ability to produce big numbers in 2013.
Other guys like Javorius (Buck) Allen, fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner are also talented and could come up with production as well.
And this doesn't even include possible production from incoming freshmen Justin Davis and Ty Isaac—both of whom will be the face of USC's running game in the future but might also surprise in 2013 with strong practice showings.
At least in the beginning of the season as the quarterback is getting acclimated, a strong running attack will help ease the new QB in his transition to mastering the offense.
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Let's be clear about one thing when it comes to making the life of USC's new quarterback easier for the 2013 college football season.
All of the "scheming" won't mean a thing if the offensive line doesn't perform well.
Given the problems the O-line sometimes encountered in 2012, that is not a given, and in 2013, USC will be trying to replace their heart and soul in center Khaled Holmes.
Combine that with the spotty play of the left tackles (Aundrey Walker and Max Tuerk) and there is reason for concern for whomever assumes the starting quarterback job.
However, if the "big uglies" do well in 2013, either Max Wittek, Cody Kessler or Max Browne will have a fighting chance to succeed this year.
Then it will be up to the coaching staff to put them in a spot to win, and if they incorporate some of the suggestions contained in this slideshow, it should alleviate some of the pressure, at least in the early stages of the 2013 season.
But if the coaches and offensive line don't do their part, it is going to be a long season.
And after 2012, that is the last thing the Trojans and their fans need.