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Is Sark The Latest Failure Of Pete Carroll's Coaching Tree?

Max Meyer |
November 22, 2014 | 10:57 p.m. PST

Senior Sports Editor

Steve Sarkisian (Jeremy Bergman, Neon Tommy)
Steve Sarkisian (Jeremy Bergman, Neon Tommy)
"I'll say it, UCLA runs L.A.," said UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley after the Bruins 38-20 trouncing of USC. And you know what? Right now, he's absolutely right.

UCLA has beaten USC in each of the past three meetings in this historic rivalry, and all three of them have been by double-digits. Not counting USC's two vacated wins in 2004 and 2005, the Trojans had won 10 of the previous 11 games vs. UCLA before that. USC's record all-time against UCLA is 44-31-7.

Usually, there's one dominant team in a rivalry, and fans use their team's performance against rivals as the benchmark of how the team has performed that season. 

USC beating UCLA 50-0 to end the 2011 season was the last time the Trojans won a big game when they were perceived as the superior team. Since then, the team has been embroiled in mediocrity.

The reason? As I wrote in a column this past offseason, USC's reluctance to move on from the Pete Carroll era has set the program back. 

Hiring Steve Sarkisian was the safest move Pat Haden could have pulled. It was also the wrong one. 

For years at Washington, Sark never established himself as a top-tier coach in college football. In fact, the Washington fan base didn't seem sorry at all once he left.

Yet, Haden hired him for one reason, and one reason only: he was on Carroll's staff during the glory days and Haden thought the easiest way to recapture that magic was to bring someone who was a part of the program at that time. 

That formula hasn't worked.

Five coaches on Pete Carroll's USC staff went on to become head coaches at the collegiate level. Those five are Ed Orgeron, Nick Holt, Norm Chow, Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. Their combined record as head coaches is 105-127. 

Sark's in-game coaching this season has been spotty at best. There were a few examples in tonight's loss of this.

On USC's third offensive drive with the game tied at seven, the Trojans were near midfield. On third down, the offense was two yards away from moving the chains. So what does Sark call? A run by fullback Soma Vainuku. The same fullback that did not have a single carry since September. Instead of running the ball with star running back Buck Allen, Vainuku gained zero yards and USC was forced to punt.

Then, in one of the most pivotal moments of the game, USC faced a 4th and 2 from UCLA's five-yard line. USC lined up in a shotgun formation, and ran the ball with Allen. UCLA stopped Allen for no gain, and the Bruins kept the score tied at seven. 

Sark has called many runs from the shotgun formation in short yardage situations this season, and quite a few have failed. By running the ball in the shotgun, the running back needs to gain more yards since he is lined up further away from the line of scrimmage. 

It's like watching Charlie Brown going to kick the football and Lucy repeatedly tricking him into falling down and missing the kick. Except Sark is Charlie Brown and Lucy is coaching situations. Sark's failure to adjust when presented the same scenario over and over again has arguably cost USC the season.

The final example came when the game was out of hand, but nonetheless shows how overwhelmed Sark has been this season. After a touchdown to cut UCLA's lead to 38-20, Sark wisely called for a two-point conversion. USC's first attempt failed, but UCLA was called for a personal foul penalty. Then, the refs called for a replay review to see if USC's first attempt crossed the plane. After the original ruling was upheld, USC had the ball on the one-yard line for a second chance because of the penalty, and called a timeout. 

So, when USC was losing late in the game, Sark used a timeout on a two-point conversion from the one-yard line after a replay review of the two-point conversion before that. 

The fact that USC wasn't prepared to gain one yard after having ample time because of the replay review was astonishing. Sark using a timeout either signaled that he didn't realize how valuable the timeout was or he was ready to wave the white flag. Considering that it looked like the team quit early in the second half, maybe the latter isn't that unreasonable.

In USC's biggest game of the season, the team simply did not looked prepared or well-coached at all. In Jim Mora's three seasons as UCLA's coach, UCLA has outscored the Trojans 111-56. The three USC coaches he faced were three of those Pete Carroll disciples: Kiffin, Orgeron and Sarkisian. 

In Carroll's seven non-vacated games against UCLA, he finished with a 6-1 record and USC outscored the Bruins 215-77.

So yeah, maybe the apples do fall far from the tree.

Reach Senior Sports Editor Max Meyer by email.

Follow @TheMaxMeyer



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