LOS ANGELES — How successful was Steve Sarkisian in his debut as the Southern California football coach?
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being something similar to Lane Kiffin and 10 being a freaking genius, it's tempting to give Sarkisian an 11.
Except that it was really more like a 12.
USC 52, Fresno State 13 doesn't begin to adequately convey what a good day and night in L.A. it was for Sarkisian and his Trojans.
BOX SCORE: USC 52, Fresno State 13
Sark, as he's being called around town now because he's just so likeable (and undefeated), had enough on his plate just to convince some of the, ahem, older Trojans fans that a hurry-up, no-huddle offense could be a good thing, even if John McKay, John Robinson and Pete Carroll didn't need it to win their national championships at USC.
Then, last week, one of his best players, senior cornerback and defensive co-captain Josh Shaw, threatened to overshadow the opening of a promising season with one of the more embarrassing shenanigans in USC football history, somehow injuring himself and, in an effort to avoid telling the truth about his injury, making up a story about him rescuing a kid from drowning in a swimming pool.
Sarkisian dealt with the Shaw mess about as well as he could, accepting responsibility for taking part in the athletic department's decision to publish Shaw's lie in the form of a press release, and then vowing to do better and be more circumspect in the future. (As if every week or so one of his best players could be expected to get hurt in mysterious circumstances and make up a story about him being injured while performing heroic deeds.)
"There's nowhere in the coaching manual where you go to section 13.2 and it tells you how to handle what we went through this week," Sarkisian said Saturday night in the afterglow of triumph. "We handled it the way we handled it, then we went out and played a football game and it went well."
Sarkisian said he downplayed the events with his team, which seemed so focused and ready to play that he didn't feel it was necessary to dwell on a negative.
"I maybe brought it up twice all week to the team," Sarkisian said. "It just wasn't going to be a factor for us."
Sarkisian said he also leaned on the fact that he knew the chaotic and emotional events of last year — Kiffin's midnight firing after the fifth game, the resurgence under interim coach Ed Orgeron, then athletic director Pat Haden's decision to hire Sarkisian from Washington instead of giving the job to the wildly popular Orgeron — had forged a strong brotherhood among USC's veterans.
"This team had to cling to each other, and that produced great leadership," he said. "There's a lot of maturity. They've been through a lot."
Fourth-year junior quarterback Cody Kessler has embraced a leadership role but said Saturday night he never felt it was necessary for him to do or say anything in response to the Shaw story.
"This group is so close," he said. "The guys stayed focused, and they showed it out there on the field."
Junior cornerback Kevon Seymour said the Shaw stuff "had nothing to do with how we practiced and how we played."
Freshman Adoree' Jackson, who looks like a future star the way he handled two positions — cornerback and wide receiver — noted that Sarkisian said all he needed to hear when he told the team, "Forget about that (Shaw). Come play ball. Play like Trojans."
Nevertheless, the events of last week put even more pressure on Sarkisian's decision to overhaul USC's offense.
What if it flopped? Sarkisian would have been blamed for both being a bad coach with a bad system and for not being able to guide the players through the adversity of the Shaw misadventure.
Instead, Sarkisian in his debut became, well, a hero.
Sarkisian's offense, which presents power, pro-style football in a fast-paced, no-huddle package, was absolutely stunning in its near-perfection.
The first three times the Trojans offense touched the ball, they produced 21 points, 238 yards and no huddles.
There were so many good plays by so many wide receivers that it looked more like a 7-for-7 passing league. Kessler pitched his way to 394 yards and four touchdowns and put his name on some Heisman Trophy candidate lists, perhaps above the name of his much-more-hyped crosstown rival, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
The Trojans made first down after first down, 37 in all, and scurried back to the line of scrimmage fast enough to ultimately run 105 plays — a Pac-12 record. They piled up 701 yards of total offense.
The philosophy is that if you have great offensive players, the more plays you run, the better are your chances of outscoring your opponent.
If any Trojans fans in the rocking, rolling Coliseum complained Saturday that this wasn't the way O.J. Simpson and Pat Haden and Reggie Bush ground out victories in this venerable memory-filled edifice, well, they were drowned out by all the cheers for Kessler, veteran star receiver Nelson Agholor, budding stars Jackson and fellow freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith and the many others who contributed to the rousing victory.
Now that Sarkisian and the 2014 Trojans have introduced themselves as a contender, they get down to more difficult work. This week, they travel to No.11 Stanford, and they know Stanford will be looking for payback.
Last season Stanford had just handled No. 2 Oregon and had climbed to 8-1 and a No. 5 ranking only to come to L.A. and find themselves as a target for the USC/Orgeron buzz saw, and the Trojans pulled off a 20-17 upset on the way to saving their season.
A loss won't eliminate either team from continuing to contend for meaningful stuff at the end of the season.
But a victory will put one of them in a great early position in the Pac-12 race.
GALLERY: HIGHLIGHTS FROM WEEK 1