New Grantland: Matt Barkley’s Favorite Play — the West Coast Offense Classic, “Sluggo Seam”

My breakdown of west coast offense staple — and Matt Barkley’s favorite play — is now up over at Grantland:

To understand Barkley’s answer, it’s necessary to understand USC’s offense. When Pete Carroll took the head-coaching job at USC, he hired longtime BYU assistant coach Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator. Carroll wanted the vaunted passing offense the Cougars had used for decades to topple superior foes and develop future NFL quarterbacks like Jim McMahon and Steve Young. To go along with that philosophy, Carroll also wanted to incorporate some of the latest NFL schemes, and his two young offensive assistants — former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian and a young Lane Kiffin — were assigned the job of bringing those ideas to USC.

Kiffin in particular relished this task, spending long hours in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers film room with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden was a student of the West Coast offense, the pass-first, timing-based offense designed by former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. Kiffin absorbed everything he could about Gruden’s brand of the West Coast offense, and quickly USC’s coaches began meshing some of the latest NFL concepts with the core of their offense.

Read the whole thing.

Of course, “Sluggo Seam” is not a secret play unique to Southern Cal. It’s got a long history, but maybe the best Sluggo-Seam-stopper of all time might be the guy who orchestrates the USC’s defense.

The most famous Sluggo Seam did not result in a touchdown pass or big play for the offense at all, but instead an interception. In 2003, the Tampa Bay routed the Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII, 48-21. The game pitted Jon Gruden’s old team, the Raiders, running his old offense, against his new team, the Buccaneers. And the storyline of the game was the domination by Tampa Bay’s defense, which sacked Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon five times and intercepted five passes. And much of that defensive success was because Tampa Bay understood Oakland’s offense so well.

Early in the second quarter, Tampa Bay safety John Lynch began shouting to his teammates an emphatic, film-study fueled warning: “Sluggo Seam! Sluggo Seam!” Lynch had identified Oakland’s tactic, and his exaltation was less of a warning than it was a diagnosis. Gannon dropped back, pump-faked to his left, reset his feet and lofted the ball back to his right — where it was intercepted by Bucs safety Dexter Jackson. Tampa Bay’s defensive performance that day — with that interception as Exhibit A — was one of the greatest in Super Bowl history. Talent, effort and preparation can always be applied to defend any offensive scheme, even when it’s Lane Kiffin’s West Coast infused Sluggo Seam, operated by the best quarterback in the country.

Fortunately for USC, however, there are no John Lynch’s roaming the Pac-12 this season. And even more fortunately, the mastermind of the Buc’s defense that day – the man who taught his defenders not only how to identify Sluggo Seam but how to react and snuff it out on the fly – will be coaching in the Pac-12 this fall. It’s just that he’ll be doing it from the USC sideline. Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator that day was Lane father, Monte Kiffin, who now heads up the Trojans’ defense. And if Barkley wins more than the Heisman, it’ll be both because USC completed a few Sluggo Seams, and because they stopped a few of them along the way too.

  • Besides formation and situational tendencies, what would a safety like John Lynch be looking for to diagnose a Sluggo Seam? Is there anything about the WRs’ splits that might tip him off?

  • Great Article. Always enjoy your stuff.

  • The personnel was key. Porter was tall and fast, the best player to run up the field vs. leverage. If he was in slot, he was doubled, and the coverages that night had more in common with the Tom Bass deep zones of old Tampa teams from the coach McKay days, at least up top. Barkley’s play call looks like the old one back clinic tapes for the far outside route, simple bringing it back on a hitch(“Mirer’s favorite route”). Might help against pattern read, the outside guy stops and the safety might widen on the inside guy climbing his route, expecting the corner/smash.

  • Good stuff as always, though the guys at Fishduck seem to think the short passing game made more of a difference against Oregon’s D: