New USC Coach Steve Sarkisian will wait until spring practice to install the up-tempo, no-huddle offense he brought with him from Washington.
Trojans quarterbacks are already looking forward to it.
“I’m very excited,” said starter Cody Kessler, who ran a spread offense at Bakersfield Centennial High.
Fellow sophomore Max Wittek operated out of a more traditional pro-style offense at Santa Ana Mater Dei, but said, “I think I can move around well and do what’s asked.”
Freshman quarterback Max Browne said the new offense was similar to the one he ran at Skyline High in Sammamish, Wash., where he operated almost exclusively from the shotgun and pistol formations.
“I think it suits me and all of the quarterbacks,” Browne said.
Asked about the offense during his introductory news conference on Tuesday, Sarkisian said, “We’ve evolved really well.”
Sarkisian coached for seven seasons as an assistant at USC, which has run a pro-style system in which the quarterback took the vast majority of snaps from under center.
At Washington, running a more traditional scheme, Sarkisian took an offense that ranked 116th among 119 major college teams in 2008 and improved it to 62nd in his first season. The Huskies subsequently ranked 76th, 38th and 97th before making the change to the up-tempo scheme this season.
Production increased dramatically.
“It’s a run-first offense,” Sarkisian said, “but we do strive for balance.”
Washington ranks eighth nationally in total offense, averaging 514.3 yards a game. The Huskies are 14th in rushing (243 yards per game), 31st in passing (271 yards per game.)
Bishop Sankey, a finalist for the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s top running back, is second nationally with 1,775 yards rushing.
“We’re going to run the football,” Sarkisian said of the Trojans. “It might not be in the exact same fashion that it had been here for decades, but we’re going to run the ball and run it well.”
John Robinson, who coached Heisman Trophy-winning tailbacks Marcus Allen and Charles White at USC, said Sarkisian’s offense is “up to date with what’s going on in football.” The success of USC offenses during the Pete Carroll era helped lay the groundwork for Sarkisian’s philosophy, Robinson said.
“I think you’re looking at the evolution of an offense that he’s been either leading or developing over a period of 15 years,” Robinson said.
Kessler would be steeped in the offense had he signed with Washington in 2011. But as he prepared to phone Sarkisian to tell him he was coming to Seattle, USC called and offered a scholarship.
Three years later, Sarkisian was overseeing a team meeting at USC’s McKay Center, reintroducing himself to players he tried to recruit to Washington.
Kessler approached Sarkisian after the meeting.
“He kind of laughed,” Kessler said, “and said, ‘Well, here we are now a couple years later.’”
Kessler has worked for years with private coach Steve Calhoun, who also tutors Washington quarterback Keith Price. Price ranked 75th nationally in total offense in 2012. This season he is 30th. Kessler ranks 82nd.
“Keith said nothing but great things about him,” Kessler said of Sarkisian. “So I’m excited to play for him.”
Sarkisian inherits a roster that has been depleted by NCAA sanctions that limit the Trojans to 75 scholarship players — 10 fewer than the allowable maximum. The sanctions are in place for one more season, and it is expected to take USC a couple of years after that to build back up to a full roster.
Despite the reduced numbers, having everyone in top physical condition and practicing smart will allow the Trojans to play at the desired tempo, Sarkisian said.
“The pace will be one that’s borderline frantic,” he said.
For the record: An earlier version of this story reported the name of Cody Kessler’s private coach as Rich Calhoun. It is Steve Calhoun.