A USC football program long synonymous with a traditional offensive scheme that includes huddles and a quarterback under center is embracing a more modern, uptempo philosophy. And in redshirt freshman Max Browne, the Trojans have their quarterback for the future.
Browne arrived at USC in 2013 boasting a pedigree befitting a traditional USC quarterback: tall, savvy pocket presence, precise passing touch and the nation's No. 1-ranked pro-style prospect.
Entering his second spring season with USC, Browne has a calendar year's worth of experience learning the nuances of the traditional, pro-style offense, applying the repertoire that made him the nation's top recruit at his position a year ago into a system that produced three first-round NFL draft picks and two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in the previous decade.
New USC head coach Steve Sarkisian contributed to the program's quarterback success in the 2000s as a position coach and later as the offensive coordinator. He didn't stray from his roots implementing the system at Washington.
On the contrary, Sarkisian told The Seattle Times's Adam Jude last September he laments what could have been had he integrated it into USC's game plan in 2005.
"Ten years ago, I probably should've been running this. That would've gotten Reggie [Bush] and LenDale [White] and Matt [Leinart] more chances to score more points. I think this is great," he said.
Indeed, many of the principles Browne spent the last season learning in his first year at USC will remain central to the Trojans attack in the coming years.
Sarkisian noted in his introductory press conference last December that he will "strive for balance" and that USC will remain a "run-first team."
In a backfield that includes ball-carriers Buck Allen and Tre Madden, going to the ground as option No. 1 is hardly a bad decision. With Ty Isaac and Justin Davis behind them, the corps of talented Trojans running backs promises to extend well beyond 2014, into Browne's years as a seasoned veteran.
However, that doesn't mean the Trojans need a designated hand-off man simply facilitating the backs' carries. More snaps means more plays, which obviously means more and quicker passes.
How points are scored is less important than the volume produced. To that end, the hurry-up offensive philosophy Sarkisian is introducing at USC is about reading and reacting to the defense. When the run-first approach forces defenses to stack the box, the field opens outside the hash marks for quick passing routes and deep routes.
Browne had the opportunity to read defenses at the line and adjust accordingly when he ran a no-huddle offense at Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline High School.
The Spartans scheme featured multiple wide receivers and a more vertical attack, but Browne called plays at the line and operated out of a shotgun set. His success running an offense in this fashion culminated with a 49-24 win in the Washington State 4-A championship game in 2012, a performance in which Skyline head coach Mat Taylor credited Browne's ability to adjust to Bellarmine Prep's gambles, per The News Tribune's Todd Milles.
Browne's familiarity with the quarterback's responsibilities in a no-huddle offense will come into play during the impending competition he faces with 2013 starter Cody Kessler this spring.
Kessler evolved into a capable game manager throughout the season, and the Trojans offense scored 30-plus points in four of their final six games. But the goal of Sarkisian's philosophy is less managing the game flow and more dictating it, and the quarterback competition will ultimately be decided by each player's progress in adjusting to the new play-calling methods.
Both Browne and Kessler will have a fighting chance.
"I think it suits me and all of the quarterbacks," Browne told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times last December.
An assessment brief and to the point—much like the hurry-up offense.
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