Sep 21, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) gestures during the game against the Utah State Aggies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC Football Roundtable: Should Trojans leave the pro-style offense behind?


With the firing of Lane Kiffin, USC finds itself at a crossroads as Pat Haden sets about his search for a new head coach, and by extension, a new offensive coordinator to take the reins of USC’s stable of athletes.  Pro-style versus spread has been a constant debate in college football circles for years and with most offensive-minded coaches firmly entrenched on one side or the other, Haden’s ultimate choice will likely decide whether USC sticks with tradition or branches out into the world of the spread offense. Here’s what Reign Of Troy’s football brain-trust has to say on the matter:

Should USC stick with the pro-style or move on to the spread?

Matthew Moreno:

I think USC should consider moving away from the pro-style offense so long as the right coaching hire is made.  What I don’t want to see is them go to a spread offense with the zone-read as a big component.

If the direction of the offense is to spread out the defense and utilize the athletes USC has in space, then sign me up.  The frustrations with the traditional pro-style offense is no doubt being exacerbated by the lack of an elite quarterback.

Not saying Kessler (or Wittek) can’t get there, but it is what it is right now.  Spreading things out could help mitigate those problems and provide assistance to an offensive line that has routinely struggled in pass protection.

All of that being said, Stanford serves as a great example that the pro-style offense can flourish.  But even they have somewhat of a mobile quarterback in Kevin Hogan.

If USC isn’t going to switch to the spread, I think they need to go after quarterbacks who are more mobile than what we’ve traditionally seen.  If you’ve listened to our podcasts, Josh has been very vocal about this, and I completely agree with him.

George Dulcich:

It’s no secret that the USC offense has struggled this year. In fact they have been awful and it’s falling on the quarterback play. USC should stay with the pro-offense because we need to rely on the running game. With Tre Madden, Justin Davis, and now Silas Redd we have one of the best sets of running backs in the nation and we will need to lean on that game. Let them carry the team and it will provide opportunities for Kessler.

Speaking of Kessler he has to be in there to get the job done. He has to be the mediator between Clay Helton and the offense. Last year Stanford put in Kevin Hogan in the middle of the season and he did a great job at controlling the game. He did not always have the big stats but they have been unseated with him.

Oliver Twist:

For me, changing the style of play isn’t nearly as important as bringing the offense into this era of college football. USC needs to start adding quarterbacks who have the ability to pick up good chunks of yards with their feet. Most USC fans feel that this would bring an end to some ‘tradition’ of sending quarterbacks to the pros. The reality is that the quarterback doesn’t need to take off, he just needs to present the threat of doing so.

When USC’s defense takes the field, they have to account for six players on offense, excluding the down-linemen. When USC’s offense takes the field, opposing defenses only have to account for five guys since USC quarterbacks aren’t a threat to take off. This is a decided schematic disadvantage.

Mobile quarterbacks of this era have aged beyond simply being flashy runners. Most can now make all the necessary throws. They also complete some that have you in awe of how they were able to fit the ball into such a tight space while on the run. The notion that a quarterback can either throw or run is silly and out-dated. Frankly, people still clinging to this argument make me wonder if they actually know anything at all about the game.

USC can still use their ‘traditional’ offense while adding another dimension to the quarterback position. Andrew Luck’s ability to command an offense and take off didn’t exactly hurt his draft stock. Stanford has continued to use mobile quarterbacks and still has one of the most dominating running games and defenses in the entire nation. The fabric of who you are does not have to change because you add another dimension.

It’s time to embrace the new era of football that favors an exciting brand of offense. Even the mighty Alabama has found new defensive struggles as the SEC embraces this style of play that is sweeping the country. USC can remain true to who they are while still embracing the future. After all, isn’t this something we do everyday as humans?

Alicia de Artola:

I think there’s a problem with vocabulary when it comes to this never-ending debate. Pro-style doesn’t have to mean “three yards and a cloud of dust” anymore than spread can reliably equal exciting football. The key is taking the athletes you have and getting the most out of them. That’s what USC hasn’t done recently, but it isn’t because they run a pro-style offense. It’s because the offensive line has been subpar and the play calling and play design has been unimaginative.

What USC needs to change isn’t the style, but the substance. It doesn’t take a spread offense to spread the ball around. USC’s offenses in the past have relied heavily on tight ends, running backs and fullbacks. Their successful inclusion in the passing game can make an offense that much more dynamic and gives opposing defenses that much more to think about. And when you have a running attack as potent as USC’s is primed to be with Tre Madden and Justin Davis at the helm, a pro-style offense that makes regular use of play-action can be plenty effective.

The other thing Trojan fans should keep in mind is that Lane Kiffin deliberately paced his recent offenses at a crawl in order to protect depth during scholarship reductions. With Kiffin gone and reductions nearly over, USC can instantly improve the stale offenses of the past few years by increasing the tempo, whether that means going no-huddle or just upping the overall operating speed, and thereby the number of plays run by the Trojan offense each game. Spread offenses don’t have a monopoly on uptempo.

What’s your take? Join the discussion in the comments below.

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Tags: Cody Kessler Justin Davis Lane Kiffin Tre Madden USC Trojans

  • Dennis Scales

    There’s another team doing pretty good with a “pro-style” offense…..Alabama

    • Alicia de Artola

      To be fair, Bama has won their championships because of their defense. Having said that, I think they’re definitely proof that you don’t need a flashy offense to get things done. Dominant offense lines help as well.

  • carlosatUCLA

    While those pro-style offenses are “flourishing,” I think everyone is overlooking one thing: Those dominant defenses are struggling. Alabama runs a pro-style offense but guess what kind of offense put up over 40 points on them this year and beat their defense last year? Stanford runs a pro-style offense, but UW lit them up last night, UCLA lit them up in the P12CG, and Arizona lit them up earlier that season. Yes, they stopped Oregon but what if their blueprint to stopping the spread is highly specific to the Ducks’ brand?

    The spread also doesn’t hinder the run game as someone here suggested. It vitalizes it

    • GoJoeBruinUCLA

      Another thing (phone cut me off): Spread offenses aren’t so reliant on the offensive line and can negate the effects of a porous one. Obviously having a stout OL will improve even a spread offense, but you can have success in both facets of the game without a great one. The pro-style offense is totally reliant on having a solid one.

      Of course, the spread is totally reliant on having solid athletes to make plays in open space, but let’s be real, USC *always* has solid athletes, offensive line or offensive schemes be damned.

      A note on QBs being mobile in the spread: It helps but I don’t think it’s necessary. Brock Osweiler ran ASU’s spread under Noel Mazzone rather well, and definitely boosted the profile of their running game. The spread is adaptable and doesn’t require as much as the pro-style does.

      The main point here is that USC shouldn’t let scheme determine their head coach; if Kevin Sumlin wants to come to USC? You don’t turn him down because he’s a spread guy. If Art Briles expresses interest, you don’t ignore him because he runs the spread.

      • Alicia de Artola

        Even though I personally prefer the pro-style, I think you’re spot on with that last point. They is hiring the right coach. The one who can handle the pressures of the job while getting the most out of his players. If that guy is Sumlin or Briles or whatever spread-style coach, then I don’t think switching schemes would be a disaster.

        • Alicia de Artola

          Having said that, USC is one of the few schools who should be able to consistently recruit top level offensive lineman. That means, like Alabama, USC should have all the tools to field an elite level offense without having to worry about covering for offensive line deficiencies. USC’s offense was pretty darn potent with Matt Kalil leading the line.

          • GoJoeBruinUCLA

            While that’s true, having a potent offensive line goes beyond having talented offensive linemen. That unit by far requires the most cohesion of any unit on the field. An injury that throws a sophomore who was a five-star OL out of high school but has yet to start in college could throw off the entire line. In that event, getting the ball out quickly is going to be advantageous. Again, it’s just that the spread provides a lot of flexibility.

            Either way, yes, it’s the coach they hire. USC won’t be screwed over if it hires Doug Nussmeier, OC at Alabama.

            (Side note: That dude is a sneaky home-run hire. Led that really solid Fresno State offense in 2008, developed Keith Price pre-injury up to 2011 and built UW’s offense from 09-11, and has been behind the development of AJ McCarron at Alabama both last year and this year.)

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  • Ben Factor

    I think that Alicia’s comments are the most compelling.

    Right now, the team has to adjust its style to its roster, because of the sanctions. Over the longer term, there is more leeway to recruit with a system in mind.

    As Alicia asserts, pro-style is not limited to Kiffin style. The Patriots, Broncos, Saints and others run a lot of no-huddle offense. Brady and Manning are not running QBs. Brees is more improvisational, but not a running QB. No-huddle adds pressure, inhibits substitution, increases fatigue. You don’t have to run a spread to gain many of the benefits that Oregon enjoys. Bill Belichick saw the potential, brought Chip Kelly into to teach him the basics, and then appropriated a some elements from Kelly to add to his two tight end concepts. If you hire a coach who borrows good ideas from others to add to his own ideas, you’re well on the way to success.

    As Alicia adds in the comments, it doesn’t make sense to rule out a spread-system coach. Talk to all interested parties, and see if factors other than system stand out as more important, given who is interested.

    Finally, there are important differences between college football and pro football. No draft, so more potential disparity in athletic talent. Young players who are not full-time football players need more rudimentary teaching, more repetition in practice, and more simplicity of scheme. These differences have consequences. First, when you have better athletes in 8 of 12 games, scheme is less important than effectively exploiting that athletic disparity. Second, it’s great to have athletic superiority, but only if you have provided the rudimentary teaching, repetition, and simplicity so your better athletes can perform to potential. The upshot is to select a coach who, first and foremost, can continue USC’s athletic superiority, AND coach those athletes to full potential. Lane Kiffin was better at the former than the latter. John McKay, John Robinson I, and Pete Carroll were very good at both.