Trojans Add Shotgun To Arsenal

USC adds new formation to offense this spring

April 13, 2007

By Jason Owens

Special to



Jason Owens is a freelance writer for, covering various collegiate sports. E-mail here!

LOS ANGELES - Fans at the L.A. Coliseum are likely to see something new in the fall when USC takes the field. The Trojans are calling shotgun.


Quarterbacks John David Booty and Mark Sanchez have been going to the formation during spring practice and took several snaps in shotgun during an unusually blustery day in Southern California on Thursday.


While it isn't remotely close to a well-oiled machine during these early sessions, the formation should provide a new fold to the already potent Trojan offense.


"I like it," Booty said of running the shotgun. "I'm still really getting used to it. I feel like it can really help our football team."


The new formation comes courtesy of former quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian, who takes over as offensive coordinator for the departed Lane Kiffin, now head coach of the Oakland Raiders. While Sarkisian is making a few tweaks to the system, he realizes that the offense isn't broken and he's not trying to fix it.


"We've always got some new wrinkles," Sarkisian said.  "You like to experiment with a few things and some people have had some success in special situations, like third down. We're not going to become a shotgun team."


A wrinkle or two is exactly what this offense needs.  The Trojans return the bulk of a unit that ranked in the top-25 in both total offense and scoring offense last season with more than 391 yards and 30 points per game.


Those are certainly impressive numbers, but it's a far cry from 580 yards and 49 points per game the 2005 Trojans produced, which USC fans yearn for. And while it's absurd for anyone to expect a repeat of the historical numbers put up by the '05 unit, it's not unreasonable to expect this year's version of the Trojans to improve on last season.


It's also not unreasonable to expect the Trojans to avoid any collapses like the one they experienced in a stunning 13-9 loss to UCLA to end their 2006 regular season and their hopes for a national championship.


Booty never found a rhythm against the Bruins and was under constant pressure from the UCLA defense. Kiffin and Sarkisian both took a lot of flack for being out-coached by the Bruins' staff. Throwing a shotgun formation into the mix could help alleviate some of the pressure that Booty felt that day working under center.


As far as Booty's concerned, it won't be too big of a change for him. He ran the shotgun as a high school quarterback in Louisiana.


Although adjustments usually come with the territory when a new coordinator takes the helm, there won't likely be many other adjustments facing Booty or the rest of the offense. Sarkisian steps into his new position from the same school as Kiffin and former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow. He also spent some time working under Norv Turner with the Oakland Raiders, but looks to keep the USC offense running like it has been for the past few years.


"We grew up together in the same system," Sarkisian said of Kiffin. "He's very influential - from him to Norv Turner to Norm Chow and Pete Carroll."


The offense Sarkisian is running includes a bevy of talent and experience that will likely help USC to a preseason No. 1 ranking. There's a line out the door of blue-chip running backs fighting for a spot in the rotation this fall, and surprisingly, sixth-year senior Hershel Dennis is at the head of the line.  Dennis has made his mark during the spring after missing the last two seasons due to injury.


The 5-11, 200-pound tailback tallied 88 yards of offense and two touchdowns during the spring game.  He made the most impressive play of Thursday's practice with a barreling run through the line that ended deep in the defensive backfield. He was joined by fellow veteran Chauncey Washington, last year's leading rusher after missing two seasons himself to academic ineligibility, in gaining the bulk of the carries.


But Washington and Dennis will have plenty of competition from a slew of underclassmen that would each likely start for a number of Division I teams, including freshmen Joe McKnight and Marc Tyler, the two top-rated high school running backs from the class of 2007.


In addition to the talent in the backfield, USC isn't lacking at wide receiver, despite the loss of Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. Patrick Turner and Travon Patterson lead what is still considered to be one of the country's best receiving corps.


And though the Trojans do lose All-American center Ryan Kalil, they won't be hurting on the offensive line.


All these changes add up to a pretty full cupboard for Sarkisian and another season of chasing a national title for USC.