Look, there are not really many words I can add to my “Steve Sarkisian isn’t the right guy to lead USC to the next level” column following the Stanford loss. However, numbers never lie.
Statistics for the five areas over the past 18 games for USC have defined the team under Sark. Those statistics fall under three main categories or faults: underachievement, consistency and adjustments.
Recruits. USC has 11 Scout five-star recruits on its roster from its three previous recruiting classes. A 12th, Ty Isaac, transferred to Michigan. The 11 five stars are by far the most in the Pac-12 over that three-year span.
One of Sark’s biggest strengths is also one of the biggest reasons for his demise. His teams wouldn’t have these high expectations if he wasn’t consistently bringing in blue chip recruits year after year.
Since 2014, USC has lost four games as a double-digit favorite, the most in college football.
And it’s not like Sark’s top recruits haven’t developed under him. His three 2014 five stars are all starters. Two of them, Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, are two of the most exciting players in college football.
It’s just been rather disappointing that despite having all of this high-end talent, that USC keeps losing to inferior teams. Which leads to the next statistic…
Point Spreads. Since 2014, USC has lost four games as a double-digit favorite, the most in college football. That’s right, in four of Sarkisian’s 18 games, USC has managed to squander a game as a massive favorite.
If you think that’s high, well it is. That’s the most in college football since 2014. Under Lane Kiffin, USC lost three times as a double-digit favorite in 43 games. So USC already has more monumental upsets suffered under Sark in 25 fewer games than Kiffin.
Vegas is the best in the business at figuring out how much better one team is over another. The analytics models sports books use to create lines are arguably the most advanced in the country. Yet, Sarkisian-led USC teams continue to prove these models wrong.
Streaks. Maybe the most positive statistic under Sarkisian is that USC is 5-0 after a loss. It seems that USC plays with its most urgency following a disappointing result the previous game. But the bigger question is: why don’t the Trojans play like that following a win?
In 18 games under Sarkisian, USC has not had a single-season three-game winning streak. Before last year, the last season the Trojans failed to win three straight games in a regular season was 1997.
USC does not have a three-game winning streak this season either. Given its remaining schedule, it’s certainly a possibility the Trojans finish this season as well without a three-game winning streak. If that were to happen, it would be the first time since 1950 that USC went two straight years without a single-season three-game winning streak.
Oct 8, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian reacts after a 17-12 loss to the the Washington Huskies at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
USC has simply not developed consistency under Sarkisian. If something’s working, this coach staff has not taken advantage of it frequently. Like in last night’s loss vs. Washington, it was clear the rushing attack was superior. USC averaged 6.3 yards per carry versus 3.9 yards per pass. Yet, USC attempted 34 runs… and 34 passes. And the Trojans kept throwing the ball late in the game.
Not only has there been a lack of in-game consistency, there has been a lack of game-to-game consistency with this team. Which is why USC has not been able to string together a three-game winning streak under Sark so far in a single season.
Scoring in Halves. Before last night, USC had scored a first quarter touchdown in all 17 games under Sarkisian. It’s been a common trend lately, USC is rather good at starting off on the right foot. Since 2014, only Baylor and TCU have scored more first quarter points than USC.
Due to those gaudy first quarter statistics, it’s not a surprise to see USC outscoring its opponents by a large amount in the first half under Sarkisian. In total, the Trojans have scored 412 first-half points in those 18 games, while opponents have only mustered 179. That’s an average score of 22.9 to 9.9.
The second half has been a different story.
Many people have criticized this coaching staff for a lack of adjustments following halftime. Based on the second half point totals, USC has certainly been much easier to play against in the final 30 minutes.
USC has only scored 18 more second-half points (253 to 235) in those 18 games, for an average score of 14.1 to 13.1. On average against Power 5 competition, USC has actually been outscored 15 to 12.1 in the second half. In fact, in its last five conference games, USC has been outscored by at least seven points in the second half versus its Pac-12 opponents.
This consistent lack of second half preparation and execution mostly falls on the coaching staff at this point.
Comebacks. USC’s biggest comeback win under Sark was a 45-42 victory over Nebraska when it trailed by seven points in the first quarter. With Sark at the helm, USC is 0-5 when it has trailed by eight or more points at any point in a game.
It’s almost like USC panics and doesn’t play to its strengths when the team is down by more than a touchdown. The last time the Trojans won a game in which they trailed by 10 or more points was against Utah in 2012.
Under Sark, USC is a team that when it gets punched first, it doesn’t have enough fight to retaliate. That adopted personality falls on its coach.
Simply put, USC has developed into a perennial underachiever under its perennial underachiever.
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