Projecting USC Football's New-Look Offense for 2014 Season

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Projecting USC Football's New-Look Offense for 2014 Season
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Steve Sarkisian joked at Pac-12 media days that the biggest change he's introducing in his first season as USC's new head coach are "glow-in-the-dark uniforms."

Fans need not brace themselves for neon duds, but Sarkisian is introducing at least one dramatic change in the coming season. 

"Obviously, the uptempo [offense] is a big change," Sarkisian said. "We're going to go fast, and that is something that will be very different than has ever been seen at the Coliseum."

This year's Trojans are abandoning the offensive style past Trojans employed, seemingly dating back to the leather-helmet era.

OK, so the pro-style may not be quite that firmly entrenched into USC tradition, but it was part of the program's identity. 

Of course, the introduction of a no-huddle system doesn't mean USC will emulate Pac-12 counterpart Washington State by lining up four or five receivers every down. Neither will the Trojans be running the zone-read option Arizona's Rich Rodriguez is known to employ. 

Uncredited/Associated Press

"The schemes are going to look similar, but we are going to go fast," Sarkisian said.

USC's new system is more of a modern twist to the traditional concepts. But what exactly does that entail? 

Nearly nine months of suspense come to a head on Aug. 30 when the Trojans' new-look offense is unveiled against Fresno State. Spring practices, fall camp and Sarkisian's 2013 Washington Huskies offer some insight into what can be expected of USC this season.

Washington took 1,023 snaps through 13 games in 2013, 17th most in the nation and 99 more than USC had in 14 games.

As this season is for the Trojans, 2013 was the Huskies' first operating in the hurry-up system, and their number of plays increased from 904 the season prior. 

That breaks down to fewer than 10 more snaps per game, which may not seem significant on the surface. But for Washington, those extra snaps were taken in three minutes, 10 seconds of possession less per game than the 2012 season. 

Extra snaps obviously equate to more touches to be spread among the offensive playmakers. And, since Sarkisian promises a continuation of USC's longstanding run-pass balance, the extra opportunities should spread to the run and the pass accordingly. 

In other words, USC should have roughly 40 passes and 60 rushes more for which to account. 

USC and Washington 2013 Offensive Side-by-Side
Team Total # of Plays Rushes (Yards) Pass Attempts (Yards) Time of Possession Points (PPG)
USC 924 534 (2,408) 390 (3,179) 33:04 416 (29.7)
Washington 1,023 610 (3,107) 413 (3,384) 28:41 493 (37.9)

CFBstats.com

Quarterback Cody Kessler is tasked with distributing those additional touches.

Sarkisian said the redshirt junior is uniquely equipped to handle to the on-the-fly improvisation necessary to flourish in the uptempo offense.

"He can make and see things extremely well and make decisive decisions quickly," Sarkisian said. "I think that comes from his basketball experience, playing point guard, having him make those types of decisions."

Comparing the modern tempo of college football offenses to basketball is nothing new, and Sarkisian brings up an interesting point. The back-and-forth pace on the hardwood doesn't allow for huddles between each sequence, so the point guard gets his play-call from the sidelines. 

This is true for a quarterback running a no-huddle offense. And, like a basketball team getting out in transition, the hurry-up offense's goal is putting the defense back on its heels. 

Kessler's ability to do that effectively will be an immediate boon for his individual production. 

The change in systems benefited Washington's Keith Price last season virtually across the board. His completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, touchdowns and interceptions all improved markedly. 

Keith Price Junior and Senior Year Statistics
Season GP Comp./Att. (Pct.) Passing Yards TD/INT Carries (Yards) TD
2013 12 233/352 (66.2) 2,966 21/6 82 (108) 5
2012 13 263/432 (60.9) 2,728 19/13 69 (-34) 2

CFBstats.com

Price also distributed his passes more evenly among his teammates. His total number of attempts dipped in 2013, yet he connected 20 or more times with six different receivers. In 2012, he found just four different targets for 20 or more receptions. 

That uptick in distribution bodes well for Kessler with Marqise Lee gone for the NFL. Lee was the focal point of the Trojans' passing attack in 2012 and through the first half of 2013, before battling injury. 

USC returns talented playmaker Nelson Agholor, who last season caught a team-high 918 yards on 56 receptions. Agholor is likely to exceed 60 catches in his junior campaign. 

Darreus Rogers is a breakout candidate, and Victor Blackwell was involved in some noteworthy plays during fall camp. 

George Farmer is a potential X-factor. Injuries and position changes have hindered Farmer thus far into his USC career, but Kessler is seeing him develop into a weapon. 

"He's making cuts he wouldn't have made eight months ago," Kessler said last month at Pac-12 media days. "He's really starting to get back into the swing of football." 

USC's Top Returning Receivers in 2013
Player (Pos.) Receptions Yards TD
Nelson Agholor (WR) 56 918 6
Darreus Rogers (WR) 22 257 0
Javorius Allen (RB) 22 252 1
Tre Madden (RB) 15 201 4

CFBstats.com

Keeping Kessler upright is crucial for USC to push the tempo, but last year protecting him was sometimes an issue. The Trojans gave up 34 sacks to rank No. 104 in the nation. 

That was bad, but Washington's 38 sacks allowed in 2012 were worse. Price's struggles in his junior campaign were partially attributable to porous protection.

The Huskies shaved eight off that total in 2013—not necessarily ideal, and not particularly impressive on the surface. But with Washington running almost 120 plays more in 2013 than 2012, sacks were coming far less frequently. 

And, in general, Price was able to operate with far less duress. Similarly, Kessler's acclimation to the hurry-up will rely heavily on the offensive line's development. 

Offensive line play is USC's biggest question mark heading into the season, so look for the Trojans to particularly emphasize building from the rush through the first few weeks.  

Past USC teams have employed multiple ball-carriers, and that won't change with the arrival of the no-huddle. 

Sarkisian leaned primarily on one, workhorse back to shoulder much of the responsibility in his time at Washington, whether it was Chris Polk or Bishop Sankey. But Sarkisian didn't have two proven No. 1 backs at Washington, as he does in USC's Javorius "Buck" Allen and Tre Madden. 

USC and Washington 2013 Run-Game Comparison
Team/Player GP Carries Yards TD
USC 14 534 2,408 29
Javorius Allen 14 134 774 14
Tre Madden 11 138 703 3
Justin Davis 7 53 361 6
Washington 13 610 3,107 35
Bishop Sankey 13 327 1,870 20
Dwayne Washington 13 47 332 4
Deontae Cooper 6 43 270 3

CFBstats.com

Madden rushed for 703 yards on 138 carries last season, and he exceeded 90 yards in each of the first five games.

Getting him back healthy from a hamstring injury means opposing run defenses will get no relief from a relentless ground attack. 

"[Madden is] definitely a big asset for this team," Kessler told Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register. "I think him and Buck will be a really good one-two punch."

Sophomore Justin Davis also figures to be in the mix. Davis has impressed in fall camp and appears to be fully recovered from the foot injury that shelved him midway through last season. 

The trio should split somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 carries. Allen and Madden could combine for around 400 of those. However, Davis is fast making his case to be more than just a change-of-pace option. 

No matter who is getting the touches, Allen told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times the no-huddle offense means one thing: 

"There's enough to go around," he said.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.

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