The Southern Cal athletic department hosted its first live chat with Steve Sarkisian on Thursday, allowing fans to ask the new head coach about his plans for the future of Trojans football.
He dished on many topics, ranging from his involvement in USC's bowl game practices to keeping cookies at the training table. The most intriguing, and illuminating, parts of the conversation came when he shed some light onto the tactical plan for USC's offense next year.
The Trojans have been abysmal in third down situations over the past couple of seasons, something that Sarkisian addressed as an immediate area for improvement. USC converted on third down only 34 percent of the time in 2013, a poor effort for any team that wants to be considered elite. At Washington, Sarkisian's Huskies did very well, particularly in third-and-long situations, he said.
The Huskies converted 50.2 percent of their third down attempts this season, a 41 percent increase from their productivity in 2012 when they converted 35.6 percent on third down.
"We will be excellent on third downs next year," Sarkisian said emphatically of USC.
In that same vein, Sarkisian told the fans that he does plan to employ the no-huddle offense at USC and that he is excited about the possibilities the personnel provides. While some Trojan fans may scoff at the idea of a scheme with a spread influence, it's no secret that the Trojans' traditional, but stale and uninspired, offense has kept them behind the curve in the Pac-12 recently.
Sarkisian took a USC-style offense up to Washington with him five years ago and, over time, injected it with spread elements to make it more competitive. Michael Castillo of Reign of Troy illustrated exactly how Sarkisian did that, and how much the Huskies benefited from the change.
USC's base offense will still be a pro style, but he wants to implement similar changes involving the spread in the Trojans' game plan, he said.
As far as play-calling goes, Sarkisian made very clear his intentions.
Steve Sarkisian said that the plan would be for him to call the offensive plays. #USC— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) December 5, 2013
Sark also said that he hasn't called plays by himself. A lot of communication between him and the staff on offense. #USC— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) December 5, 2013
"I've been doing it for years and I feel connected to doing it," Sarkisian said.
On recruiting, Sarkisian said his first priority is to fill the places where USC is the most impacted by depth problems: the offensive line and wide receiver.
At one point this season, Nelson Agholor was the only healthy scholarship wide receiver available, and the Trojans have had a bevy of depth and skill issues since the 2011 season on their O-line. Sarkisian already has a plan to remedy that:
Sarkisian said he would take a minimum of 5 offensive linemen in this recruiting class. #USC— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) December 5, 2013
Because of scholarship limitations, Sarkisian said that young players at USC have had to "learn by fire", as opposed to learning and developing on the field. Shoring up more depth can help counter that problem and prevent highly touted recruits from underwhelming at the college level.
"There's some real value in redshirt players," Sarkisian said.
Defensively, Sarkisian's Washington teams have left much to be desired. At USC though, he thinks the Trojans will continue to excel up front.
"I think with the front seven we have here, the roster is set to be a tremendous stopping defense," he said, further nothing that the first step to winning championships—and one of the things that made USC so exciting and successful under Pete Carroll—is having a stout defense.
Sarkisian expects USC's defense next season to be flexible and able to address each opponent, but on the surface, it will continue to appear as a 3-4 scheme.
Having coached at Southern Cal before, Sarkisian said he has no plan to disrupt any of the Trojans' existing traditions, although there is one new one he would like to continue:
Steve Sarkisian liked the Trojan legends leading the team out of the tunnel. He would like to continue that.— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) December 5, 2013
How do you feel about USC going No-Huddle in 2014?
The new head coach continued to say that the players are excited for the changes he plans to bring, and that some have already even asked him for the new playbook.
Sarkisian said that all positions will be open come spring ball, including at quarterback. He plans to attend USC's bowl game practices, but only as an observer so that he can have an idea of recruiting needs and where the Trojans will stand come the spring.
To listen to Sarkisian's complete chat, click here.