Taking a closer look at the USC offense


As we did earlier in the year, when trying to get some real serious breakdown of the X’s and O’s, we looked to Chris Brown of Smart Football. Just as I was firing up an email to Chris about Steve Sarkisian and the USC offense that he brought with him to Washington, I figured it’d be worth checking out Chris’ website and seeing if he’d already tackled the subject of the USC attack.

And of course he did.

Back in August, Chris took to the cyberpages of Dr. Saturday to talk about the gradual changes in the Trojan offense, and how the attack mutated from Norm Chow to the playcalling of former co-coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.

Brown highlighted the major evolutions in the offense the past few years. Here’s what he highlighted in the running game:

Before Kiffin and Sarkisian (a former record-setting quarterback under
Chow at BYU) began tinkering with Chow’s passing game, Pete Carroll
made one thing abundantly clear after the 6-6 2001 season: junk the
running schemes.
He wanted to go with
the zone blocking schemes that he had seen in the NFL, and to do so he
consulted with Alex Gibbs (the line coach who had designed the Broncos’
great zone schemes during the Super Bowl years under Mike Shanahan) and
Jon Gruden, the boss of Carroll’s good friend (and Lane’s father),
Monte Kiffin. Instead of draws, traps, and counters to serve as
misdirection changeups when the defense overreacted to the passing
game, the zone stuff — which everyone uses today — is designed to get
more double-teams, get more of a vertical push, and to provide a
nice mixture of power while giving the runner freedom to pick the the
crease in the defense.

Even the passing game saw significant changes:

Carroll was not happy with what went on in 2001, and for 2002 he
demanded that Chow and the staff focus more on quick, three-step drops,
more misdirection passes and some deeper, vertical stuff. The trend was
to get away from strictly focusing on the mid-range five-step drop passes Chow favored. (Interestingly, although it shares its roots with USC’s offense in
Lavell Edward’s BYU passing attack, Mike Leach’s Texas Tech offense went in the other direction, emphasizing those five-step routes almost to the exclusion of everything else.)

Regarding the three-step game, one innovation was the “spacing” concept,
but another was the concept of “packaged routes,” where the Trojans put
different route combinations to each side of the field, and let the
quarterback choose which one he wanted to go to. The most common one
was a combination of slants: to one side, was a slant and a flat route,
which is good against “single-high” coverages (like three-deep zone),
and to the other was double-slants, which is good against two-high, or
two-deep zone.

You can see for yourself the USC offense at its best, with Mark Sanchez directing his troops in the dismantling of Joe Paterno’s Penn State defense. This is far from the methodical approach that Norm Chow was known for, but a vertically attacking offense that Carroll implemented with the help of Sarkisian and Kiffin that took full advantage of the offensive weapons that USC had.

As always, the ultimate neutralizer is quarterback. And for the first time in Carroll’s celebrated tenure at USC, he’s without a viable option, instead training freshman phenom Matt Barkley and sophomore Aaron Corp on the job.

Still, learn the USC offense, learn the Huskies offense. And while the players may not have the same pedigree or the same amount of time in the system, they do have Jake Locker on their side, who gives this offense a dimension it has never had with his unparalleled athleticism.

For more from Chris Brown, check out his work at SmartFootball.com or on his twitter @smartfootball

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
Getty Images

Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.


WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

Notre Dame v Florida State

On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.


Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)



Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line

When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.


Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.