Sarkisian: 'We don't need to save ourselves for later in the game anymore'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Thursday October 08, 2015

USC hasn’t been playing with the tempo Steve Sarkisian wants, but when you look at the rest of the numbers, that’s OK. Explosive plays will be something to watch in Thursday night’s game against Washington.

The Trojans are averaging 66 plays per game. Steve Sarkisian wants it over 80. But USC is averaging 8.06 yards per play and 1.41 plays per point. Both of those numbers are No. 2 nationally. As a result, they’re averaging 46.8 points per game.

“Then it’s percentage of explosive plays,” Sarkisian said on his radio show. “The number of plays we run, we want to average 20 percent of those plays being a run of 10 or more yards or a pass of 15 or more yards. We’re well over 20 percent. So we’re not getting as many plays, because we’re not getting as many opportunities.

We’re not getting a whole lot of third down opportunities, either. Those numbers are going start to change some. We’re at an astronomical yards per play. We’re a little low in total plays. Those numbers are going to even themselves out, so third down efficiency is going to be critical for us.”

The Trojans have faced just 42 third downs, which are the second-fewest nationally. It’s been an incredibly efficient and explosive offense behind offensive coordinator and new play-caller Clay Helton and senior quarterback Cody Kessler.

Another factor is USC’s depth, which has increased as the roster returns to form after scholarship sanctions. Sarkisian says he no longer has to pull back.

“Our depth is much different than a year ago. We can keep our pedal to the metal,” he said. “That’s something we were preaching the other night. Let’s go, let’s go. We don’t have to always slow it down. We need to stay aggressive. There are going to be games we can be smart and slow down late in the game, but where we’re at right now, we have an opportunity to remain aggressive, regardless of what’s going on in the game.

We don’t have to save ourselves at the beginning or early in the third quarter. We can stay in attack mode in all three phases into that fourth quarter.”

USC and Washington kick off at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to