This week is a different sort of breakdown as I explore...
An Origin of Offenses
The offenses of the California Golden Bears and the USC Trojans share a common ancestor: the BYU offense of LaVell Edwards (I encourage you to read the linked article). In 1972, Edwards has been promoted to BYU's head coach after being an assistant coach there for 10 years. The Cougars were 45-56 during those seasons that Edwards spent as an assistant and he started to formulate a new kind of offense that would let his school be more competitive. About the same time Bill Walsh was experimenting at the Cleveland Browns along the same lines... The two offensive strategies converged on a single idea: use the forward pass in place of the running attack. The premise is that short, high completion percentage passes achieve the same result as a run, except that the receiver can catch the ball in space where the running back has to work to break into that same space.
Here is what the run/pass breakdown in the NFL has looked like over the decades:
This epic article goes in depth about the statistical reason that the NFL has adopted offenses which favor the pass. What I want to illustrate is how heavily run oriented football was in the 1970s (using the NFL as a proxy for all football... of course college offenses are more varied).
In 1976, Bill Walsh became offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers and his close friend Doug Scovil became offensive coordinator at BYU and things began to change. In 1974, BYU quarterback Gary Sheide is second in passing yardage to Steve Bartkowski. In 1976 and 1977, BYU leads the nation in passing. By 1980 Quarterback Jim McMahon starts breaking records only to have his records broken by Steve Young in 1983.
Descent With Modification
In 1982, a few things happen that really start to disseminate the BYU offensive philophosy:
Mike Holmgren is hired as BYU's quarterback coach
Norm Chow is promoted from longtime BYU assistant to primary play caller
Andy Reid becomes a BYU grad assistant
Hal Mumme begins his stint at Offensive Coordinator at WAC rival school UTEP
Mike Leach enters his senior year as an undergrad at BYU
The Edwards-Holmgren-Chow collaboration would reach its pinnacle in 1984 with an undefeated record of 13-0 and a National Championship.
Holmgren left for the 49ers after the 1985 season and was reunited with Steve Young in 1987. He became one of the most successful NFL coaches in history and his NFL coaching tree is legendary.
Andy Reid has become known and criticized in the NFL for his teams' tendency to have a run:pass ratio weighted heavily toward pass, but has still been a NFL head coach for 15 consecutive years (making it into the post-season in 10 of those years).
In 1989, Hal Mumme and Mike Leach began working together and crafted the Air-Raid offense they would unleash on the SEC from the University of Kentucky. In 1997, current Cal offensive coordinator would join that Kentucky staff as running backs coach. Cal head coach Sonny Dykes would spend a year at Kentucky in 1999 before joining Leach at Texas Tech in 2000.
Norm Chow remained the primary play caller for LaVell Edwards until 1999. In 1996, he officially became the offensive coordinator and his quarterback that year was Steve Sarkisian. When he was hired by Pete Carroll to be USC's offensive coordinator he brought Sarkisian along as his quarterbacks coach.
The offense that LaVell Edwards craftedhas taken many forms over the years as each practitioner adapts it. On Thursday night, two descedents will meet.
Steve Sarkisian became USC's offensive coordinator, Washington's head coach and this year USC's head coach. Unlike Mike Leach or Andy Reid, Sarkisian's USC team this year has run the ball 369 times (with 21 sacks) to 305 pass attempts (at Hawaii Norm Chow's run:pass is almost exactly 50:50... 385:389). Cal has 322 rushes to 388 passes close to Tony Franklin's 50:50 goal.
Last year Sarkisian started running plays up tempo, and with passing routes that spread the field from multiple formations the plays start to look familiar.
Vertical routes to stretch the field with a running back outlet short
Quick curl route allowing the receiver to use his athleticism in space.
A combination 2 man route which floods the defensive back's zone leaving both receivers open.
Vertical route down the seam between two deep safeties with a second vertical route to prevent the safeties from converging.
Crossing wide receiver routes shredding the coverage.
(the randomly assigned gyfcat link for this last GIF is just wrong...)
Efficient passing and a punt return for a touchdown by Nelson Agholor buried the Cougars quickly. USC quarterback Cody Kessler has only two interceptions on the year. He rarely makes mistakes that can give away a game. With explosive receivers and the ability to make good reads, you can see in the plays above that given enough time he will find the open man for a big gain. It is no coincidence that the teams USC lost to (BC, ASU, Utah) all have very good pass rushes. Total number of sacks are not important (Utah and ASU only got 2 a piece), but USC cannot be given the time to find the holes in coverage.
If you pick just one of the linked articles to read, pick this one about Hal Mumme and the history & impact of the Air Raid. Mumme gave this interview within the confines of the Alamo, which apparently is full of life lessons for football players (the Alamo mystique is something I will need to get used to as I am moving to San Antonio). If you like the stories about Tony Franklin and Mike Leach, you will enjoy reading this one.