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USC Preview: Offense

The Trojans have a lot of weapons on offense. Who are they?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Before I dive in, you can find USC's game week depth chart here. Page 18 covers the offense, and one look tells you just how scary this team is: Three year starting, 5th year senior at QB?  Check.  Game breaking, explosive,  wide recievers?  Check.  Experienced offensisve line?  Check.  Stable of talented running backs?  Check.  Put that talent together and they are scoring an average of 46 points per game.  Let's take a closer look...


Key Player: Cody Kessler, 89/122 for 1,297 yards and 15 TDs (1 INT), 8 sacks.

Cody Kessler has quietly been one of the better QBs in the Pac-12 for the past few years.  While he doesn’t have amazing arm strength or measurables, he’s very accurate and can put the ball exactly where it needs to be.  Most importantly, he can run Sark’s up tempo, no huddle offense very well.  With him under center (or more accurately behind center, in the shot gun), this offense just keeps humming along.  He’s thrown about 1,300 yards and has an impressive (also insane) 15-1 TD to INT ratio.  That he shows an incredible ability to not turn the ball over while throwing for so many scores is really something noteworthy.  He’s also completing over 70% of a passes.  Against a very active and aggressive Sun Devil’s defense, he casually tossed 5 TDs, and in the loss to Stanford had another 3.  So, we know against quality Pac-12 opponents, he can produce.

Wide Receivers

Key Player: Juju Smith-Schuster, 27 catches for 537 yards (19.9 yards per catch), 6 TDs.

There was a time when Sark was recruiting JuJu Smith to Washington to play safety, and I dreamt of having a starting safety tandem with the names Budda and Juju.  Sadly that did not come to fruition as Juju Smith signed with USC and has been tearing it up on the other side of the ball ever since.  He excels at taking short passes and turning them into big plays, which is a staple of the up tempo offense Sark runs.  Basically, he’s a big, strong athlete who is a natural pass catcher, and is currently #6 in the nation in receiving yards.  He’s also 5th in touchdowns for a receiver.  He’ll be flanked by Darreus Rodgers and Steven Mitchell.  While Rodgers has yet to catch a touchdown this year, Mitchell has become a nice 2nd option for Kessler, with 126 yards and 4 TDs so far this year.  He’s more a fleet footed and quick receiver than the larger and more physical Rodgers and Smith-Schuster.  Lastly, you cannot forget Adoree Jackson, one of college football’s true 3 way players.  He stars at cornerback, returner, and of course wide receiver.  He plays the John Ross type of role, where he won’t be getting loads of touches every game but will make use of chances with big, momentum changing plays.  For example, he only had 3 catches against Arizona State, but turned them into 131 yards and a touchdown.  It’s also worth noting he returned 2 punts for 50+ yards, and had 4 tackles in the game.  He’s a natural football player, and a threat no matter where he is on the field.

Running Backs

Key Player: Ronald Jones II, 30 carries for 242 yards, 2 TD.

USC has definitely taken a running back by committee approach this year, featuring 3 talented players: Ronald Jones II, Justin Davis, and Tre Madden.  Jones II is a true freshman from Texas whose immense speed has Trojan fans excited about his promise.  In open space he can be a game breaker, as evidenced by his 8+ yards per carry average.  Justin Davis, a one-time heavy UW lean, is a true one-cut-and-go type of back.  He runs upright with a lot of power, and one he sees the crease can get north-south very quickly. He’s a great fit for the zone blocking scheme employed by USC’s offense.  Lastly, you have Tre Madden, who is the between the tackles bruiser.  You will likely see him on 3rd and short plays when they choose to run the ball.  He can also score on big plays, and he has a 65 yard TD run to his name this year.  While the run game isn’t dominant by any means, USC boasts a 3 headed monster most schools nationally would be very jealous of.  They have a good mix of skill sets and Sarkisian, the offensive minded coach that he is, has found a way to feature each of them in the weekly game plans.

Offensive Line

Key Player: Center Max Tuerk.  Senior, 6-6 285 pounds.

At first, I expected the USC offensive line to dominate more than they do.  I haven’t watched a lot of USC this year but based on the offensive numbers you’d think they were a more opposing unit.  The overall offensive numbers are there to suggest them as a team strength.  I mean, how can you have the best scoring and overall offense in the conference with a bad O-line?  At the same time, they’re giving up an average of 2 sacks per game, and their rushing offense only ranks 62nd in the nation (8th in the conference).  Those are fairly uninspiring numbers for a unit with as much talent as USC.   But give credit where credit’s due: USC boasts a top flight offense, and someone’s up front doing a nice job blocking.

Final Thoughts

I was surprised looking through the statistics.  USC’s offense is as good as I thought overall, but a little less balanced than I expected.  I’m honestly surprised they haven’t been dominating running the ball, though 175 yards/game is nothing to scoff at.  Is it a talent/experience issue, or is it that Kessler and the pass game is just that good?  At UW, many fans criticized Sarkisian’s play calling when he went away from the run too early, or too often.  Yet, Sark has handed play calling duties to OC Clay Helton – is he just as pass happy?  Either way, USC is putting points on the board and has a bevy of weapons to choose from.  They have an impressive -6 turnover margin, only giving away the ball twice all season. Their red zone conversion numbers are scary as well: in 20 trips, they’ve scored 15 touchdowns and 2 FGs, which is the best in the Pac-12.  One area of weakness could be penalties (any one surprised?): they average almost 7 per game.  Thursday will be a very tough challenge for the Husky defense.