In his first year as the new Southern Cal head cheater coach, Steve Sarkisian has performed rather well. He lined up a very good recruiting class despite still being held back by the well-deserved-still-too-soft sanctions following the Reggie Bu$h scandal. It was never the recruiting that people questioned but rather his coaching ability. In Washington, Sarkisian earned the moniker "Seven-Win Sark" because, well, that seemed to be his ceiling. Though some criticism is likely deserved, he also deserves some credit for bringing that program back from the brink after it was cratered by the previous two head coaches.
What some people forget, however, is that despite a tumultuous season that had us all laughing hysterically with the mid-season firing of Lane Kiffin, the 2013 Trogans finished 10-4...with a total of 3 head coaches after Ed Orgeron was not kept on permanently as the head coach before their bowl game.
So far, Sarkisian has his team at 7-3 and 6-2 in the Pac-12, with still a chance at winning the South division. For the most part, they are right where they should be, save for a mind-boggling (yet Bruin satisfying) beatdown from Boston College which led to this brilliant post. Some would argue that they should have one more win as ASU beat them with a hail mary, while others would say they should have one more loss as they lucked out in beating Stanford. I say their program should be banned for life but I'm just one voice in the wilderness...and I digress. It's too soon to tell if Sarkisian was an upgrade hire for Southern Cal, but he will at least get the benefit of the expiration of the sanctions, which his predecessors did not.
Southern Cal's offensive coordinator is Clay Helton, aka 2013 Head Coach no.3, having served as their interim head coach in its victory over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Clay Helton is also in his fifth year (2010-14) as the quarterbacks coach. He added the passing game coordinator role in 2012 and became the offensive coordinator in 2013. He joined the staff in February of 2010 after spending 10 seasons as an assistant at Memphis. But really, under Steve Sarkisian, both of those titles are somewhat meaningless as Sarkisian is quite involved in the offensive scheme and likely play calling. While Helton is a holdover, the offense has changed somewhat from last year, moving from a pro-style to one that includes more zone read and zone pass read, i.e. a sort of hybrid offense since Kessler is not exactly a dual-threat QB but is athletic enough to make those plays work. More than anything, the tempo has changed, going up from 66 plays/game in 2013 to 75 plays/game this year. Otherwise, the yards per play are nearly identical to last year at 6.1. This Southern Cal team also scores more than its predecessor, putting up 35.1 points per game.
On defense, Justin Wilcox followed Sark from Washington after having joined him from Tennessee. That means that the Trogans are playing in their third defensive scheme in 3 years, after the 4-3 in 2012 and the 5-2 in 2013. Being shorthanded, a few of the players had to switch spots, but there is a lot of talent on this team and in general Wilcox has utilized the personnel rather well. Still, overall, this defense is a bit less stout than the 2013 version, allowing more points per game and more yards per play, though that could be attributed to a ridiculous South division. Turnovers have also not been this team's forte compared to last year, particularly in terms of interceptions. All in all, a talented group with a good DC, essentially a similar unit to 2013.
The Special Teams are headed by Johnny Nansen, who also followed Sark from Washington. Nansen also doubles as the RB coach. Andre Heidari still handles the place kicking duties, hitting 80% of his attempts this year but only on 10 attempts. Kris Albarado is the punter, averaging about 40.5 yards per punt. On the return side, the Trogans average about 21.5 yards on kickoff returns which are mostly handled by CB Adoree Jackson and 11.8 yards on punts where they also have had 3 TDs.
While the personnel and coaching may look familiar, I certainly hope the UCLA coaching staff does not get too comfortable with the idea that they have beaten them previously.
That concludes Part 1 of the Southern Cal preview. Fire away with any additional comments, and be sure to check back in tomorrow when we preview Southern Cal's offense.