LOS ANGELES – First and foremost, I’ll admit that as a college football aficionado, the heart that resides in my chest is that of a traditionalist. There is just this warm and fuzzy feeling when I see USC’s offense line up in some sort of resemblance to John McKay’s I-formation.
To enhance that I-formation euphoria and time-tested security blanket, it manifests itself when the Trojans run either a “blast” inside the tackles, muscle a “power” off tackle, or simply execute “28-pitch,” which is known in USC lore as Student Body right or left as the tailback takes a quick, underhanded toss from the quarterback, and the entire offensive line leads the charge around the flanks.
Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and admire other offenses that have come down the pike like the wishbone, veer, speed option, pistol, run and shoot, and even today’s modern era spread offenses out of the shotgun. Truth be told, get the right personnel for any of these offenses, a premier coaching staff, and a fan base that just loves winning and it all works.
Another truth-be-told is that the current spread option takes all the same sorts of concepts that option football has always employed: an athletic dual-threat quarterback, talented running backs, some misdirection, sure-handed receivers, and a formidable offensive line.
The winning offensive formula for USC football has always been a powerful, physical running attack, a respected and measured passing game, and a host of future NFL offensive linemen. Whenever the Trojans have deviated from this proven plan, they eventually return to it when all else fails.
Even when the Trojans had precision throwing quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, their former Trojans coach, Pete Carroll, would call upon a punishing I-formation running attack or don’t you remember the likes of Justin Fargas, LenDale White and Reggie Bush?
New Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian does. In fact, he has reminded those listeners on more than one occasion that he was an assistant during those Carroll glory days. But more about Sark and his offense in a moment.
As has been well documented, the early 2013 USC Trojans offense was a rudderless ship of controversial play-calling, an increasing “don’t make a mistake” mentality, and a circle-the-wagons philosophy. Eventually, there was a long overdue coaching change, and the Trojans’ first interim coach decided to go back to what USC does best and that’s run the football, pass the pigskin down field to move the chains, and play maniacal defense, especially up front. It turned a season that was headed for disaster into a beloved 10-4 team that was “Fight On” to its core.
So what’s the point?
The USC football program is about to make a rather radical evolution in its offense under Sarkisian. The masses are told by “Sark” that it’s a hybrid of a pro-style and spread offense, and for good measure, it is a no-huddle offense. Something suggests somewhere in football heaven John McKay is rolling his eyes, chuckling, yet anxious to see what Sarkisian has in mind.
For the record, let’s not forget that in McKay’s first couple of seasons as USC head coach (1960-61) resulted in records of 4-6-0 and 4-5-1. That changed dramatically in 1962 when The Silver Fox unveiled his I-formation and the Trojans won the 1963 national championship with his revolutionary offensive system.
McKay’s offensive change in strategy and philosophy is noteworthy because Sarkisian, formerly of Washington, comes to Troy with four consecutive 5-4 Pac-12 Conference records, and, like McKay once did, is evolving and tweaking his own style of offense.
Somehow, one would think McKay would look down and tell Trojans fans to give the kid a chance and let’s see where this is going offensively. Returning to the mother lode of recruiting, Southern California, maybe Sark with elite skill players and burly linemen will make those 5-4 Pac-12 Conference records a thing of the past.
Make no mistake about it: The Trojans are in for a whole new offensive experience. The running back will line up behind or to the side of the quarterback, who will be in a shotgun formation. The term “tailback” could become obsolete. Remember, however, that Sarkisian’s running back at Washington, Bishop Sankey, became a 2013 All-American and All-Pac-12 rusher taking handoffs in these multiple formations.
To reassure Trojan nation, Sarkisian claims his offense is not Lane Kiffin’s offense and that he philosophically sees things differently. The personable new head coach also says football is changing and this offense, based on the rules, is the future.
I was once told by a highly respected USC historian that all Trojans fans want is a big winner, and they don’t care what offense is being run as long it leads them to a Rose Bowl and/or national championship.
In due time, that theory will be put to the test.