A Look Back at USC’s 2013 Running Game Tendencies

First, a big welcome back as Football Season approaches! I think we’re all very excited to see what the 2014 season brings with new HC Sarkisian.

I’m going to start this season with a look back at last season. I’ve been hard at work lately reviewing all the games from last season, primarily looking at the passing game. However, the passing game analysis will take place in the next post. This post is a little bit of a teaser and will do an in depth analysis of the running game.  We will analyze how USC attacked each gap, starting with a quick explanation of running gaps then breaking it down by coach and players.

A Quick Explanation of Gaps

The running game is all about the gaps. The offense is trying to open up gaps while the defense is trying to plug them up. A gap is formed by the space between two offensive blockers, typically offensive linemen. There is a natural naming convention for the gaps, as can be seen below.

2013_Rushing_Gap_Diagram

The gaps are lettered starting from the center and moving outward.  The “A” gap is the space between the Center and the Offensive Guard.  The “B” gap is the space between the Offensive Guard and the Offensive Tackle.  The “C” gap is between the Offensive Tackle and the Tight End (if there is no Tight End, then the “C” gap is the perimeter from the Tackle to the sideline).  The “D” gaps are shown greyed out because they are optionally there based on if there is a Tight End in the formation or not.

Generally, the “A” and “B” gaps are interior runs while the “C” and “D” gaps are perimeter runs.

How USC Attacked Each Gap

Now let’s look at the statistics of last season. Below is a diagram breaking down the number of runs through each gap last season.

2013_RunGaps_By_Gap

 

USC slightly favored the left side when running the ball with 53% of the run going to that side. USC also favored running to the inside rather than the outside (again with 53% of the runs going inside).

In addition to what is shown on the diagram, USC ran the ball towards the strong side of the formation on 48% of running plays and towards the weak side on 28% of running plays (with the remaining 24% having no strength side of the formation, or a balanced formation).

Now let us take a quick look at the average yards gained rushing through each gap.

2013_RunGaps_Gain_By_Gap

The left “B” gap averaged the highest gains.  Other than the left “B” gap, the right side of the line averaged higher gains than the left side.  The left “A” gap yielded the lowest yardage production with only 3.6 yards per carry through that gap.  Strong side runs averaged 4.9 yards per carry while weak side runs averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

How Each USC Coach Attacked Each Gap

Let’s break it down by coach. We’ll use percentage of run plays to normalize against the differing number of games each coach called plays for.  [Update 8/19: It is worth explicitly pointing out that Coach Helton was the Offensive Coordinator during Coach Orgeron's tenure, so he still had a hand in the offensive playcalling during that time.  His sample size is also small for the portion called out here as it is only for one game.]

2013_RunGaps_By_Coach

 

Coach Kiffin tended to favor both “C” gaps as well as the left “A” gap, but had a fairly decent balance across each gap. Coach Kiffin has the lowest percentage of “D” gap runs but the highest percentage of “C” gap runs. This could either signify that Kiffin did not prefer to run to the extreme perimeter, did not utilize the tight end formations as often as the other coaches, or ran towards the weak side of an unbalanced formation utilizing tight ends. My guess is either the first or second explanation as Kiffin ran the ball towards the weak side of the formation only 25% of the time.

Coach Orgeron was fairly balanced between left and right runs (52% to the left, 48% to the right), however when he did run to the right, it would typically go to the right “A” gap. His tendency was to run the ball to the right “A” gap or to the left side of center as we see fewer runs to the right “B”, “C”, and “D” gaps. Coach Orgeron did have the best balance between strongside and weakside of the three USC head coaches with 47% of runs going to the strong aide and 31% going to the weak side.

Coach Helton very much preferred the left “A” gap with 26% of all his runs going through this gap. He had the lowest percentage of runs going through the left “B” gap and the right “C” gap. Coach Helton was also the least balanced with 76% of his runs going to the strong side of the field and only 17% going to the weak side.

How Each USC Player Attacked Each Gap

Now let’s break it down by player rather than coach. Again, these numbers are by percentage to normalize against the number of carries each player had.  The running backs are ordered from left to right in the legend based on the overall number of carries they had last season.

2013_RunGaps_By_Player

Tre Madden had the majority of his runs inside (56%) compared to outside (44%).  Most of those inside runs went through the “A” gaps.  Tre Madden had the lowest percentage of “D” gap runs of all running backs.  45% of Madden’s runs went to the strong side while 23% went to the weak side.

Javorius “Buck” Allen had a similar percentage of inside runs (54%) as Tre Madden.  However, Buck Allen generally had better balance between each gap that he attacked when compared to Madden, including better “D” gap perimeter running.  56% of Allen’s runs went to the strong side while 26% went to the weak side.

Again, Silas Redd had a similar percentage of inside runs (56%) as both Tre Madden and Buck Allen.  However, Silas Redd has an interesting distribution that isn’t quite as balanced as the others.  Redd was sent through the right “A” gap much more than the left “A” gap.  For the “B” and “C” gaps, Redd went through the left side much more often than the right side.  The “D” gaps were really the only balanced gaps for Redd.  Redd had good balance for strength of field with 48% of his runs going strong side and 32% going weak side.

Justin Davis and Ty Issac didn’t get as many carries as the other leading running backs, but it is important to see their role.  Unlike the other main running backs, both Davis and Issac were perimeter runners with 54% of Davis’s runs and 59% of Issac’s runs going to the outside.  Issac had the most “D” gap runs of all backs.  Davis was the most balanced for strength of field with 35% of runs going strong side and 30% going weak side.  This also means he had the most runs within a balanced formation.  Issac was the most unbalanced for strength of field with 56% of his runs going strong side and only 22% going weak side.

Now let’s look at the average number of yards gained by each running back based on the gap.

2013_RunGaps_By_Player_Yardage

Madden had the most success running either to the right “D” gap or running to the left “B” gap.  The right “D” gap was the one that Madden ran the fewest times to, but he averaged 9.2 yards per carry.  When running to the strong side, Madden averaged 4.4 yards per carry compared to 6.1 yards per carry going to the weak side.

Of all the running backs, Buck Allen was the most successful running out of the left “D”, left “B”, and the right “A” gaps.  Surprisingly, given his success in the right “A” gap, Allen had some of the worst production coming out of the left “A” gap.  Allen also had very poor production in the left “C” gap.  Allen averaged 6.7 yards when running to the strong side, but only 3.0 yards when running to the weak side and is the only running back who averaged more yards going to the strong side compared to the weak side.

Silas Redd was generally middle of the pack in each gap, but he struggled running the “B” gaps on either side when compared to all the other running backs.  Redd was fairly balanced in terms of strength of field with a 4.3 yards per carry average running to the strong side and a 4.6 yards per carry average running to the weak side.

Davis had much more success running to the left compared to the right.  He had strong success on the left “B” and “C” gaps and was fairly average running through the other gaps.  Surprisingly, Davis averaged only 3.4 yards per carry when running to the strong side but had a group best 12.6 yards per carry running to the weak side.

The exact opposite of Davis, Ty Issac was much more successful running to the right compared to the left.  The left “A”, “C”, and “D” gaps were group worsts with the left “B” gap being group second worst.  However, Issac had a group best by far for both the right “B” and “C” gaps.  The right “D” gap also had great success.  Like Davis, Ty Issac had a low 3.4 yards per carry running to the strong side but a high 9.8 yards per carry running to the weak side.

Coming Up Next…

This concludes my analysis of the 2013 running game.  My next post, which should come closer to this coming weekend, will take an in depth look at the passing game.  We’ll look at the passing heat map for a number of situations.  I hope that after I finish going over the data that I’ve compiled I’ll have some interesting insights to share.  I look forward to finishing that post up!

An Analysis of Coach Sarkisian’s Comparative Statistics at UW

I always like to look at “comparative statistics” to get a better gauge at how a team is doing.  This post will look at Coach Steve Sarkisian’s comparative stats over his years at Washington.  First, we will define what a comparative stat is.  Then, we will look at both offensive and defensive stat categories from year to year, starting in 2008 up until this season.

What is a Comparative Stat?

A lot of basic statistic comparison done in football is the pure numbers.  For instance, USC averaged 392.3 yards per game of total offense, or #79 in the nation.  It is a good basic measure of offensive capability.  However, it doesn’t take into account things such as strength of schedule.  Playing a bunch of bad teams will inherently boost your numbers, making your team look better than it actually is.  On defense, you can also run into a similar issue where playing a couple teams that primarily run the ball causes your pass defense numbers to look better than they actually are (since you are not “allowing” as many passing yards).

A comparative stat takes it a little bit further to normalize these types of situations.  When looking at comparative stats, you will look at how your team did compared to what the opponent typically allows.  For instance, USC gained 192 yards rushing against Hawaii.  Seems reasonable enough on the surface.  However, Hawaii’s rushing defense allows an average of 213.6 rushing yards per game.  This means that in comparative stats, USC had a -21.6 yard margin in rushing offense.  Put another way, USC did below average against Hawaii rushing the ball.  You can then average these numbers over a season and you start to get a better picture on how “good” or “bad” a team is in each category, normalized based on strength of schedule and other factors.

How we’ll look at Sark

What I wanted to do was look at the comparative stats for Washington over all of Coach Sarkisian’s tenure.  Much has been written and dissected about his win-loss record over this time period, but I wanted to see if he generally improved his numbers throughout the years or if they stayed stagnant (similar to his win-loss record).

In the sections below, we will look at a line chart which will depict the comparative stats margin for each category from the 2008 to 2013 seasons.  The reason I included 2008 was to show improvement in the transition from Willingham to Sarkisian. Each chart will have a trend line which shows the overall trend from 2008 to 2013.  I also color code each chart based on Offensive and Defensive Coordinators, so you can tell when notable coaching changes were made.

Offense

Coach Sark is an offensive coach, which is why I was most interested in his offensive comparative stats.  Before we jump in, I want to describe the color code for the offensive charts.  In all offensive charts,  the red segment shows the switch from Willingham at HC and Tim Lappano at OC in 2008 to Sark at HC and Doug Nussmeier at OC.  The blue segment from 2009 to 2011 is Doug Nussmeier’s time at OC before he started coaching at Alabama.  The green segment from 2012 to 2013 is the time period with Eric Kiesau as OC.  It is worthwhile to note the OC during Sark’s tenure, but remember that Sark was calling the plays as the head coach and ultimately had final say in the offensive gameplan.  It is also important to note that Sark completely revamped the UW offense in 2013 to feature a no-huddle spread offense, so keep an eye on how that changes their comparative stat margins.

First, let’s look at rushing offense.  The first chart we’ll look at is rushing offense.

Sark_Comp_Rushing_OffenseAs can be seen here, Sark took a rushing attack that was averaging nearly 32 yards below average and brought it to about average in his first year.  The trend continued improving into 2010.  The rushing attack started to decline over the next two years and fell below average again in 2012.  However, after revamping the offense, UW’s rushing attack gains almost 60 yards more per game than the opposing defense typically allows.

Now let’s look at yards per carry.

Sark_Comp_Rushing_YPCYards per play is an important statistic to look at when looking at no-huddle offenses.  This is because these teams typically get more offensive snaps than average, which leads to inflated yards.  The yards per carry numbers matches up pretty well with curve we saw in the rushing offense chart.

Now let’s look at passing offense.

Sark_Comp_Passing_OffenseIn passing offense, a large gain was made in the first year under Sark.  The second year showed a regression, but this regression was overshadowed by the gains made in the 3rd year.  However, 2012 showed a dramatic drop in passing production as the OC coaching spot was changed.  This drop was mitigated by the change up in offense in 2013.

Now let’s look at yards per attempt, yards per completion, and completion percentage.

Sark_Comp_Passing_YPASark_Comp_Passing_YPCSark_Comp_Passing_CompPercAll these charts are interlinked.  The yards per completion chart is a compilation between the yards per attempt and the completion percentage charts.  One interesting thing to note is 2010, when the completion percentage dropped quite a bit and a corresponding drop in yards per attempt, but yards per completion rose.  This could mean that UW was more aggressive in their passing attack that year, attempting deeper throws and therefore completing fewer of them.

Now let us look at total offense.

Sark_Comp_Total_Offense

Total offense shows a very large jump in Sark’s first year where it generally stayed static before regressing in 2012 under new OC Kiesau.  However, 2013 showed a dramatic boost in offensive production with the installation of the new spread offense.

Time for yards per play on offense.

Sark_Comp_Offense_YPPYards per play shows a similar chart.  However, it is worthwhile to note here that the yards per play between 2011 and 2013 are similar, yet 2013 had many more yards per game (from the last chart).  This illustrates how a no-huddle offense will skew the numbers.

Finally, let’s look at scoring offense.

Sark_Comp_Scoring_OffenseScoring offense follows a similar peaks and valleys as the other charts.  UW’s offense was at its best in 2013, scoring almost 8 more points than the opponent typically allowed.

Defense

Now it is time to look at the defensive side of the ball.  In the defensive charts, the red segment shows the switch from Wililngham at HC and Ed Donatell at DC to Sark at HC and Nick Holt as DC.  The blue segment from 2009 to 2011 is the era with Nick Holt as DC.  Nick Holt was fired as DC after the 2011 season and Sark brought in Justin Wilcox, who is represented by the green segment in the 2012 to 2013 seasons.  It is important to note that for defensive comparative stats, more negative is better (meaning you are allowing less yards than your opponent is typically gaining).

First, we’ll look at rushing defense.

Sark_Comp_Rushing_Defense

Rushing defense improved dramatically in Sark’s first year.  Still, that improvement brought UW only to about average, with only 1.6 fewer yards allowed on the ground than average.  The rushing defense progressively got worse under DC Nick Holt, and again improved once Justin Wilcox was brought in (again, only to average).  It stayed as an average rushing defense in Wilcox’s two years.

Let’s look at yards per carry defense.

Sark_Comp_Rushing_YPC_DefenseAgain, it is important to look at yards per play for 2013 with the installation of the no-huddle offense.  When you have a no-huddle offense, it means that the defense is on the field a lot longer which can inflate the yards allowed.  When looking at yards per carry defense, It has been pretty static since Sark has taken over.  UW hovered at around the same spot despite the DC change and despite the switch to the no-huddle offense.

Now let us look at passing defense.

Sark_Comp_Passing_DefenseSurprisingly, UW got worse on passing defense after their winless 2008 season.  All of the years under Nick Holt had worse passing defense than under Willingham.  However, passing defense dramatically improved under DC Justin Wilcox and continued to improve from year 1 to year 2.

Now let’s look at yards per attempt, yards per completion, and completion percentage.

Sark_Comp_Passing_YPA_DefenseSark_Comp_Passing_YPC_DefenseSark_Comp_Passing_CompPerc_DefenseAll of these charts show a steady improvement from below average to above average.  There was spike in 2012 in yards per completion, which is notable.  This may be due to the change in style with DC Justin Wilcox.  It is notable that even though yards per completion rose in 2012, completion percentage dropped dramatically.

Now let’s look at total defense.

Sark_Comp_Total_DefenseTotal defense had a general downward trend as well.  2011 had a large spike, which was the year that DC Nick Holt was fired.  This spike was completely negated by Justin Wilcox coming in and further improving UW’s defensive performance.  It is somewhat surprising to see a total defense improvement in 2013 after the no-huddle offense was implemented.  Typically the total defensive yards suffer under no-huddle since the opposing offense just has more time with the ball which leads to more yards.

Now let’s look at yards per play defense.

Sark_Comp_Offense_YPP_DefenseAgain, UW continued to progress throughout the years, other than 2011.  The defense continued to improve under Justin Wilcox, with UW allowing 1 yard per play less than the opposing offense typically gained in 2013.

Finally, we look at scoring defense.

Sark_Comp_Scoring_DefenseScoring defense improved in Sark’s first year, but then steadily regressed under Nick Holt.  After Nick Holt was replaced with Justin Wilcox, the defense improved vastly and continued to improve from year 1 to year 2.

Conclusions

Coach Sarkisian had a five year run at UW.  During that time, he went through two OCs and two DCs.  Also in those five years, it seemed as if Sark had hit a bit of a ceiling on his season win total.  However, looking at each statistical category, there is a general improvement in the trendline for every single category.  The main areas that UW did not improve very much after Sark was brought in was yards per rush and rushing defense.  It will definitely be interesting to see how much of these stats carry over to Sark’s tenure at USC.

USC vs Stanford ’13 – A Look at Some Statistics

This post will look at some key statistics from the USC vs Stanford game.  We’ll look at the run vs pass play calling from both teams in a variety of angles.  Then we will look at some other interesting statistics for 3rd down conversions, rushing histograms, and yards per drive.

Play Calling

USC came into this game with a very strong running game and a good but somewhat inconsistent passing game.  Overall, USC called running plays 25 times (39%) and passing plays 39 times (61%) [Please note that I consider sack plays as passes, unlike the NCAA which considers it a run].  In the five games prior to Stanford that Coach Helton has been calling the plays, there were 169 runs (53%) and 148 passes (47%).  We passed the ball a lot more against Stanford than we typically have done.

First, let’s break down the play calling by USC based on down.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_RunVsPass_DownUSC ran the ball on 59% of their first downs.  This is a slight tick down from Helton’s previous games where he ran the ball on 70% of first downs.  From there, USC became very pass heavy.  Second down had nearly twice as many passes and runs and third down was almost exclusively passing plays.  In fact, our only “running” play on 3rd down was on the 3rd and 19 just before our game winning field goal.  This  was a designed Cody Kessler run which was called primary to center the ball.  For all intents and purposes, USC passed the ball exclusively on 3rd down.  This included passing on a 3rd and 1 and a 3rd and 3 (both incomplete).

For comparison’s sake, Helton has been exactly 50/50 on runs and passes on 2nd down prior to this game.  On third down, he has run the ball 22% of the time and passed 78% of the time.  For any third down that has been longer than a single yard, Helton has come out typically throwing (generally 70% or more passing plays).  This means that overall, Helton threw the ball more on every down compared to his usual tendencies.

Now let’s look at USC’s play calling by field position.  Please note that in the chart below, all “Goal to Go” plays are also counted in “Red Zone.”

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_RunVsPass_FieldPosUSC had the greatest discrepancy between runs and passes behind the 50 yard line.  With lots of room to work with and early in drives, USC would have more than double the amount of passes compared to runs.  Once we crossed midfield, USC began to run the ball more.  This is actually a bit opposite from what was typical of Helton.  Typically, Helton has a slight edge towards running behind midfield (56% running, 44% passing) and opens up the passing between midfield and the redzone (44% running, 56% passing).  The redzone and goal to go categories lined up generally with Helton’s tendencies with around 71% running in the redzone and 78% with goal to go.

Finally, let us look at the play calling based on quarter.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_RunVsPass_QuarterAs can be seen here, USC started and ended the game with a pretty good amount of balance.  Even the second quarter was pretty balanced as well.  The third quarter was when USC started flinging the ball around with nearly three times as many passes as runs.  For comparison’s sake, Helton has typically been very balanced in every quarter except with a lean towards the run in the 4th (likely to close out a game that we are winning).

Conversions

USC had a 3rd down conversion rate of 29%.    Remove the 3rd down dive that Kesser took to center the ball for the game winning FG and we’re looking at 31%.  This is slightly under, but statistically in line with, Stanford’s average 3rd down defense this season which is 33%.

This becomes more interesting when we break up the 3rd downs based on distance.  USC was 0 for 2 on 3rd and short (three yards or less) and also 0 for 2 on 3rd and medium (four to six yards).  All of USC’s 3rd down conversions came on plays with seven or more yards to go.  In this category, USC was 4 for 10.  Remember that USC exclusively threw the ball on 3rd downs.  This hurt the ability to convert the short yardage situations consistently.  I don’t blame Helton for making this call as USC averaged only 0.9 yards per carry  in this game (remove the sacks and it increases to 1.6 yards per carry, which still isn’t great).  It is also worthwhile to note that 40% of USC’s runs were stopped for either no yards gained or negative yards.

On the flip side, Stanford had a 33% 3rd down conversion rate.  This included converting only 1 out of 3 on 3rd and short situations.  You would expect that Stanford, with their power run game, would dominate the 3rd and short conversions.  This is a testament to the strength of our defensive front as well as the aggressive pressure that DC Pendergast put (USC was often loading the line of scrimmage with up to six guys who were backed up by two or three linebackers.  This left single coverage on the receivers and only a single high safety up top).  More on this later.

Stanford was the most successful on 3rd and medium, with 2 out of 3 successful conversions.  This can be a funny distance to defend as there is the threat of both the run and the pass.  However, when USC was able to back Stanford up to 3rd and long, Stanford was 1 for 6 (17%).  USC was easily able to defend the clear passing situations by Stanford.

Other Notes

First let’s look at USC’s average distance to go versus average gain based on down.  [For this chart, I only included the 4th down attempt for 4th downs.  If you consider all 4th downs, the average distance to go was 7.78 yards.]

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_SCAvgDistVsGainThe interesting thing to note here is how much lower 2nd down is in terms of average gain.  I don’t really know why this is the case, but it was interesting to see.

For comparison, here is Stanford’s chart.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_StanAvgDistVsGainStanford had a great 2nd down push, but had a poor 3rd down push.  In fact, Stanford converted more 2nd downs (35%) than they did 3rd downs (33%).  If I were to guess, this is likely due to how USC played on defense.  So much emphasis was put on bottling up the power run game that runs would either be stopped for very little gain or would break through to the second level and gain chunks of yards (enough to convert).  In the former case, the stop would potentially leave Stanford in a 3rd and long situation that USC would excel at defending.  To illustrate this, let us look at Stanford’s rushing histogram.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_StanfordRushingHistogram

As you can see here, Stanford had a lot of runs clumped in the 0-4 yards gained range.  However, there is a definite dip  in the 5-8 yard range before another grouping between 9-12 yards.  Finally, there were five runs which broke for 15+ yards.  I believe USC’s gameplan was built around a front line defense which would limit Stanford’s runs to around three yards with not much second line to help until they gained quite a bit.

There was one final statistic that I found quite interesting when breaking down this game.  7 out of 12 (58%) drives for Stanford failed to gain a single first down. (6 out of 11, or 55%, if you don’t count the final desperation play of the game).  This includes 5 out of 7 (71%) of their 2nd half drives (67% if you don’t count the last play drive).  Other than the initial TD drive to start the 2nd half, Pendergast adjusted well to the Stanford attack.  Here is a line chart showing the yards gained on each Stanford drive.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_StanfordDrivesNotice the downward trend line as the game progressed.  It is also worthwhile to mention that drive #9, the final spike for Stanford’s offense, ended in the interception by Bailey.

Conclusions

This game was definitely an interesting one to look at statistically.  You could see how OC Helton adjusted his gameplan to try to mitigate Stanford’s defensive strengths by going to the air (Stanford is ranked #3 in rushing defense, but #98 in passing defense).  You can also see how USC’s aggressive gameplan to stop the run at the line caused a decent amount of disruption, leading to 3rd and longs.  Both of these gameplans paid off in the end as they helped limit Stanford and ultimately win the game.

USC vs Stanford ’13 – Analysis of Key Plays

This post will look at a few of the key plays in the big win over Stanford.  We will look at USC’s two touchdowns, the two point conversion, the first interception by USC, and the 4th and 2 play.  I did not look at the 2nd interception by USC as it was mostly just chaos and didn’t have much I could write about.  I also didn’t look at the blocked FG (looking back, that was huge) since it was mostly straightforward.

USC Touchdown #1

The situation: 8:52 left in the 1st quarter.  Tied 0-0.  2nd and Goal on the Stanford 1 yard line.

Click here to view the video of the play

ABC’s crew had a pretty good explanation what occurred, so I will mostly concentrate on things they didn’t mention.  First, let us look at the formation that USC lined up in.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD1_1_Formations

USC lined up in a power run I-formation with two tight ends.  Both tight ends are lined up on the left side towards the field.  I want to point out that USC is lined up very tight.  Not only do they line up with two TEs and a FB as a lead blocker, but the OL is lined up very tight to each other.  Here is an overhead view.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD1_2.5_Splits

These OL splits are what are sometimes referred to as toe-to-toe splits.  This makes it so that there are essentially no gaps and implies that USC intends to go for a large push up front and get the TD right up the middle behind that push, rather than trying to create a running lane.  This is important as it provides a key misdirection in the play.  Here is the defensive play call:

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD1_3_Defensive_Playcall

There wasn’t much to the defense’s play call.  They intended to crash the middle of the field because of how USC lined up.  Their interior defensive linemen came in hard and came in low, intending to create a pile which would make running up the gut difficult.  The linebackers would spy and react to which direction the running back went towards.  They had good perimeter coverage in case the running back attempted to avoid the pileup by going around it and had good interior coverage in case he tried to go airborne.  Man coverage on the outside to our only WR.  The linebacker who is circled would pick up the FB who leaked out on this play.

Now for the offense’s play call, as was well explained by the ABC crew:

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD1_4_Offensive_Playcall

USC would play action on the interior run.  The fullback fakes like he intends to block the edge rush to the boundary.  Instead, he leaks out to the flats, where the linebacker attempts to pick him up.  However, the WR runs a pick and prevents the linebacker from being able to defend the flats.  This brings the corner out of the play as he is following the WR and moving in the wrong direction to defend the flats.  The running back picks up the edge rush that the FB fake blocked.

Let’s see it in action.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD1_5

Here’s the play action.  Notice the pile that Stanford had created.  They expected the interior run and their linebackers are now moving into position to tackle the running back no matter where he goes.  The fullback moves towards the edge rusher.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD1_6

Here’s the fake handoff.  The linebackers have creeped forward more and move towards the boundary side, which would be the direction that the running back would go towards if this were a run.  The fullback does not engage with the edge rush and starts to leak outside.  The WR makes his inward cut and now looks for his pick move.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD1_7_KeyBlock

The defense reacts to the fake handoff and starts to go into pass coverage.  The running back picks up the edge blocker here.  The WR sees the linebacker reacting towards the FB leaking out to the flats and goes in for the key block (circled).

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD1_8

Easy touchdown with noone there to defend the FB.

USC Touchdown #2

The situation: 2:42 left in the 1st quarter.  Stanford lead 7-6.  1st and Goal on the Stanford 1 yard line.

Click here to view the video of the play

USC again lines up in a power running formation.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD2_1_Formations

This time, we have two tight ends and an H-back lined up on the boundary side of the play to the top of the screen.  Xavier Grimble (another TE) is lined up to the field side on the bottom of the screen slightly wide.  USC is showing a potential for a power run to the right.  Let’s look at USC’s play call.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD2_2_Offensive_Playcall

USC fakes the run to the right with their run blocking.  The offensive line blocks more or less man up with the center breaking into the second level.  The right tackle pulls to the right, again faking the run to the right.  The H-back also moves in that direction.  Both TEs key in on a linebacker in the second level.  The running back takes one step to the right before running counter and going to the left for the pitch.  Grimble delays on the bottom of the screen before blocking the LB in front of him.

Let’s see the play in action.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD2_3_Counter

Here we have the one step fake to the right by the RB.  The tackle has pulled and the H-back moves to the right.   The three linebackers all bite on the misdirection by USC and all flow towards that side of the field.  Grimble stands there as if he isn’t necessarily needed as a backside blocker since the outside linebacker isn’t rushing in.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD2_4_Pitch

The RB changes direction and a pitch is made to him going to the left.  Grimble engages his block on the LB.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD2_5

Great blocking by Xavier Grimble here.  He had to engage that block for a long time as Buck Allen stretched the play to the sidelines.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_TD2_6Because of the misdirection, there is noone on the Stanford defense who is in position to make a play.  Touchdown.

USC Two-Point Conversion

The situation: 2:34 left in the 1st quarter.  USC leads 12-7 after scoring a touchdown.  This is the two-point conversion attempt that USC made due to missing the PAT on the initial TD.

Click here to view the video of the play

USC lines up in Shotgun which signals a passing play (USC has rarely run out of Shotgun this season).

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_2Pt_1_PreMotionAgholor initially lines up in the slot on the left side, but we motion him across the field.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_2Pt_2_FormationBased on the defense’s general lack of reaction to the motion, USC can read that Stanford is likely playing a zone defense to cover the goal line.  Here’s USC’s play call.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_2Pt_3_OffensivePlaycallUSC rolls Kessler out to the wide side of the field on the right.  The offensive line and running backs all move with him to provide pass protection.  This renders the TE lined up wide to the left as somewhat inconsequential, as the ball isn’t going to him on that type of rollout.  Because of the TV angle, I also could not see what type of route this TE runs.  Both Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor run out routes to the sideline, with Lee running the deeper route.  This creates a simple high-low read for Kessler.  In this type of read, the QB will watch where the zone defenders move to and hopefully catch them in a situation where there is one defender trying to defend both receivers.  The running back to the right initially is in pass protection but leaks out once he perceives that there is no threats.  My guess is that his route is to read the defenders and just find an empty spot to sit in as the checkdown.

Let’s look at the action.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_2Pt_4Kessler rolls out to the right.  The pass protection is good and USC has sealed off the back side.  Agholor runs his short out route, initially 2 yards shy of the endzone (he later cuts up a little bit to be on the goalline).  Lee is still running forward into the endzone.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_2Pt_5The Stanford defense picks up the routes well.  Both high-low receivers are covered and quickly running out of real estate.  Vainuku leaks out on a route, trying to find space to get open.  Kessler fires here to Lee since he has a slight step on the defender and is the best option at this point in time.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_2Pt_6Marqise Lee does what he does and makes a spectacular catch on the sidelines and drags both feet in bounds for a two point conversion.

USC’s 1st Interception

The situation: 10:48 left in the 3rd quarter.  Tied 17-17.  3rd and Goal on the USC 10 yard line.

Click here to view the video of the play

Stanford lines up in Shotgun formation with four wide receivers, trips to the right.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_Int1_1_FormationUSC lines up in their Nickel package with two down linemen, two stand-up defensive ends and two linebackers.  Most of the receivers are covered loosely by the secondary.  Here is Stanford’s play call.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_Int1_2_Offensive_PlaycallStanford sends three receivers on go routes and runs a short slant underneath.  This is an attempt to vacate the underneath areas and catch the defenders backpedaling.  If the slant isn’t open, Stanford likely finds a favorable one on one matchup on the streak and takes a shot at the endzone.

Here is USC’s defensive playcall.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_Int1_3_Defensive_PlaycallThe commentators thought that Bailey faked man coverage but was actually playing a zone.  However, my interpretation in rewatching the play was that USC was in a base Cover-2 man defense the entire time.  We will go more into Bailey’s actions in a bit.  Bailey is initially covering the slot receiver (2nd one in from the top of the screen).

Let’s take a look at how this play unfolds.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_Int1_4The play begins and the receivers start their go routes.  At this point, it could very easily be a 4 verticals play.  Highlighted here are Bailey and who I believe is Josh Shaw.  Bailey is man to man on the inside player and Shaw on the outside.  At this point, the Stanford QB has already made his decision to throw to the slant since he has read man coverage and sees the depth that Shaw is playing the slant.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_Int1_5Here is the play as the outside receiver makes his break on the slant.  Bailey and Shaw read this and do a coverage switch.  Bailey also uses this opportunity to take a peek at the QB since he has some cushion for the slant receiver to get to him.  It is important to note why this switch can be made.  By reading the hips of both the inside and outside receivers, you can see what types of breaks they are making for their routes.  The outside receiver has made a break on the slant while the inside receiver has not made a break.  Based on the route tree, the next break that the inside receiver may make won’t be until he is 12-15 yards deep (basically once he reaches the endzone).  (Read here for more on the route tree).  Knowing this, the switch can safely be made for Bailey to cover the slant and Shaw to cover the deeper route.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_Int1_6

The QB does not anticipate this switch and fires the ball to the slant.  Bailey easily reads this since he peeked at the QB and saw the throw.  Easy interception for Bailey.

USC’s 4th and 2

The situation: 1:23 left in the 4th quarter.  Tied 17-17.  4th and 2 on the Stanford 48 yard line.

Click here to view the video of the play

This was a pivotal play for USC as it would either win or lose the game for USC.  With the way that Stanford was driving the ball in the 2nd half, they likely could have marched to field goal range if USC does not convert this 4th down.  I don’t think punting the ball was considered very much as that would play right into how Stanford likes it: them with the ball and control of the clock in a tight game. Furthermore, overtime is always a concern when you have a depleted roster.  Coach O wanted to win this game on his terms.  There was no question Stanford knew USC would go for it as well.  During the timeout, it was OC Helton gathering the offense around him, not Special Teams Coach Baxter gathering the punt coverage unit.  It is worthwhile to mention that a couple plays earlier, Marqise Lee came off the field injured and hobbling.  He would leave this play hobbling as well.  This shows the character and devotion that Marqise Lee had to this team and this game.

USC came out of the timeout in Shotgun, again signalling a pass.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_4and2_1_PreMotionMarqise Lee initially lined up on the left side of the field in the H-back position, but motioned to the right.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_4and2_2_FormationBased on the defense’s initial set (how they pointed and lined up pre-motion) and also their reaction to the motion, USC could read that the defense was likely in man-to-man coverage.

Here is USC’s play call.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_4and2_3_Offensive_PlaycallUSC dialed up an all-slants play call.  It appeared that the inside slants were the primary reads.

Let’s take a look at the moment that the slants break.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_4and2_4_LeverageHere is the moment that the slants break.  Circled is Marqise Lee and his counterpart defender.  At this moment, the play is essentially successful due to leverage.  Coach Carroll has been known to say that a defender can pick either inside or outside coverage, but cannot possibly cover both.  As a coach, if your defender is going to take inside or outside leverage, you must scheme to have something cover the opposite coverage (for example, having inside safety support or utilizing the sideline as outside leverage support etc).  Here, the defender on Marqise Lee has picked outside leverage.  His body is positioned slightly to the outside of Marqise’s, but more importantly his hips give away the direction he intends to cover (hips turned away towards the sideline).  The reason the defender has likely picked outside leverage is due to the middle linebacker having short middle coverage.  The defender is hoping that the linebacker will help him on any inside breaking routes.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_4and2_5_CutHere, Marqise makes his move and breaks inside as the defender attempts to react.  Kessler has already made his decision to pass to Marqise as he sees that Marqise will have a step on the defender.  The timing is very key here.  Hesitate at all and it allows the middle linebacker to react and jump the route.

2013_USC_vs_Stanford_USC_4and2_6Kessler hits Marqise Lee right where he needed to and the ball arrives before the middle linebacker has time to react.

Conclusions

This was a big win for USC.  A lot of key plays helped USC pull off the upset, many which we have analyzed here.  There were a couple other key plays in this game, such as Stanford’s two TDs, the blocked FG, the second interception, Stanford’s sack caused fumble, etc, but these were all fairly straightforward and I didn’t feel like they warranted much analysis.  I will hopefully have time to do a bit of statistical analysis of the Stanford game throughout this week.  It was an exciting game, so I want to get as much information down as possible.

USC at Oregon St Interceptions

This post will look at the interceptions by both USC and Oregon State in the day-after-Halloween game up in Corvallis.  These turnovers helped swing the momentum of the game in either direction and really set the tone.  Let us take a look at each interception in terms of the offensive and defensive playcall as well as what transpired on the field.

Oregon St. Interception #1

The situation: 12:25 left in the 2nd Quarter, USC up 14-0.  1st and 10 on the USC 16 yardline.

Click here to view the video of this interception

The offensive Playcall:

Oregon State's playcall

Oregon State’s playcall

Oregon State comes out in a single back, balanced two tight end set with both receivers lined up towards the boundary side of the field.  The boundary wide receiver goes into motion presnap as Oregon State called a double play action fake in this play.  They faked the fly sweep motion and also faked the off tackle handoff to the running back.  They expected the combination of these two actions to stretch our defense out horizontally and strain the defense.  The slot receiver would take the safety away by running a post route.  This left the tight end on the left side, who would sell the run block for the off tackle run but would then leak out and wheel out into the area vacated by the slot receiver.  It is actually a pretty well designed play.

The defensive playcall:

USC's playcall

USC’s playcall

USC comes out in their base 5-2 defense.  Because of the WR in motion, our safety and corner make a switch with Josh Shaw now covering the deep zone and the safety coming down hard on the potential fly sweep.  The corner on the top of the screen also helps on the fly sweep.  The slot receiver is covered man to man.  The outside and inside linebacker to our defense’s right (bottom of the screen) cover the flats.  The defensive end on that side starts with a pass rush but eventually also drops into the flats.  The inside linebacker on the far side of the field does a delayed blitz.

The play unfolds:

The play at the point of play action.

The play at the point of play action.

Here is the play as it is at the point of the play action.  The fly sweep is well defended with the safety and corner both there to contain and make the tackle.  Three linebackers are ready to take on the off tackle run (the outside linebacker would take on the block by the TE and be the contain man, forcing the running back towards the two other inside linebackers).

Secondary moves on both sides happen after a delay.

Secondary moves on both sides happen after a delay.

After a delay, the secondary moves activate for each side.  On Oregon State’s side, the Tight End leaks out into a passing route (unfortunately for him, USC didn’t send any rushers into his zone, which makes it harder for him to fake the block before leaking out).  On USC’s side, the inside linebacker goes in on a delayed blitz now that the pass blocking assignments are already set in, giving him a clear rushing lane at the QB.

All routes are well defended.

All routes are well defended.

At this point, USC has the play well defended.  The TE who has leaked out already has two potential defenders on him (yellow lines).  One of those defenders also has a good angle on the running back in the flats should the QB decide to checkdown.

Throw is made to the TE

Throw is made to the TE

The post is well defended and the QB believes that Josh Shaw has also followed the post receiver.  The throw is made to the TE.  However, Shaw reads this well and makes a break on the pass, easily getting over the top of the TE.

The interception

The interception

Easy interception for Shaw in the endzone since the ball is overthrown.  Had the ball been properly thrown, I still believe Shaw would have the angle to intercept it or at least bat it down.

USC Interception

The situation: 9:43 left in the 2nd Quarter, USC up 14-7, first play after an OSU score.  1st and 10 on the USC 25 yardline.

Click here to view the video of this interception

The offensive playcall:

USC's playcall

USC’s playcall

USC came out in a weak offset I with one receiver on either side.  Playaction was called on an off tackle run.  The receiver to the top of the screen would run a deep out.  The receiver on the bottom of the screen runs some unknown deep route (not seen on the camera angle).

The defensive playcall:

2 Defense Play Diagram

Oregon State’s playcall

Oregon State bites pretty hard on the play action with all of their linebackers moving in the direction of the fake run.  The safety on the bottom of the screen also bites.  Both corners are playing man coverage on the receivers (yellow dotted line), but the corner on the top of the screen bites on the play action.  The safety at the top of the screen moves into deep coverage.

The play unfolds:

Oregon State bites on the play action

Oregon State bites on the play action

This shot shows the point of the play action.  All three linebackers and the cornerback to that side bite on the play action.  This leaves the receiver on that side of the field one on one with loose coverage by the safety.

Oregon State's defenders react to the play action.

Oregon State’s defenders react to the play action.

Oregon State’s defenders realize the fake and react accordingly.  The corner and one of the linebackers drop back to defend the receiver and the two other linebackers blitz in.

Kessler's pass

Kessler’s pass

Kessler throws the ball to the receiver on the deep out.  I believe Kessler threw the ball a bit late and gave the corner too much time to react and get back on the route.  This allowed him to sit, read, and intercept the ball easily.

The deep out is a very tough throw to make.  You need a lot of arm strength to get the ball out there before the defense can react (and before your receiver hits the sidelines).  In this case, the throw probably should have been made before the receiver even made his cut.  The throw comes out late, the corner has time to recover from the play action,makes a play on the ball, and runs it back for a TD.

Oregon State Interception #2

The situation: 12:51 left in the 4th Quarter, USC up 31-14.  1st and Goal on the USC 5 yardline.

Click here to view the video of this interception

The offensive playcall:

Oregon State's playcall

Oregon State’s playcall

Oregon State lines up in a a strong I formation with both TEs on the same side of the field  and calls another play action pass.  This play is similar in design to the first interception.  The receiver runs a post route to draw off the safety.  The TE fakes the block for the play action and then leaks out to the area vacated by the post route.  The fullback is in the flats as the checkdown and the running back stays in to block.

The defensive playcall:

USC's playcall

USC’s playcall

USC’s playcall is pretty simple.  The cornerback and the safety are both playing the wide receiver.  The corner plays outside leverage as he knows the safety has inside coverage against the post or dig routes.  The inside linebackers are in man to man coverage against the running back and fullback.  Dion Bailey has man coverage on the tight end who leaks out.

The play unfolds:

The point of the play action.

The point of the play action.

Here is the play at the point of play action.  There is good outside contain defense against the run which would have forced the running back inside.  The corner establishes his outside leverage against the receiver with the safety helping inside.

USC's pass coverage

USC’s pass coverage

Oregon State sets up to pass and does not have much.  The fullback is now double covered out in the flats.  The post route is also double covered.  Dion Bailey has already sniffed out the leaking TE and is in coverage against him.  The running back is also covered (although he is not going out for a route but instead tries to cut block one of the pass rushers).  Also at this point, the defensive front is starting to make their penetration moves and get through the blocks.

Dion Bailey has eyes on the QB.

Dion Bailey has eyes on the QB.

This frame is pretty key to the interception.  As you can see here, Dion Bailey is in tight coverage against the TE.  He has his hand touching the TE to better establish the position of the TE which allows his eyes to be on the QB.  This allows Bailey to easily see the pass being made and jump the route.

Bailey jumps the route

Bailey jumps the route

Here, you see Dion Bailey jumping the route.  The cornerback also had eyes on the QB and provides help over the top (since the post is now covered by the safety).

Oregon State Interception #3

The situation: 4:16 left in the 4th Quarter, USC up 31-14.  1st and 10 on the USC 30 yardline.

Click here to view the video of this interception

The offensive playcall:

Oregon State's playcall

Oregon State’s playcall

Oregon State comes out in the I formation with a receiver on either side.  The receiver who is just out of the frame on the top runs a go route.  The receiver on the bottom of the screen runs a deep in route (dig route).  The TE does a shallow in route, creating a high-low with the receiver on the bottom of the screen.  Both running backs run shallow routes, one going in each direction.

The defensive playcall:

USC's playcall

USC’s playcall

After showing blitz, USC is in a pretty simple Cover-2 man.  The two safeties who are off the screen to the right are playing half field deep zone coverage.  The linebacker with the red arrow may be playing a shallow zone as well and picks up the crossing TE.

The play unfolds:

The point of the play action

The point of the play action

USC does not bite whatsoever on the playaction.  The linebackers don’t react at all and the corners cover their man.

Defenders bracket the receivers.

Defenders bracket the receivers.

The TE has crossed the field and is now bracketed by two linebackers.  Just off the screen, the receiver on the dig route is also bracketed by the corner and safety.  The fullback (guy on the yardline running towards the top of the screen) has been picked up by a linebacker.

The throw is made to the dig route

The throw is made to the dig route

The ball is thrown to the dig route.  You can clearly see the TE (bottom center of the screen) and the dig route receiver being bracketed here.  On the top right corner you can see the corner covering the go route receiver and the other safety should have been on top of that, also bracketing that receiver.  The fullback is defended on the top left of the screen.  However, this left the running back completely wide open on the center left of the screen (circled).  Had the QB been more patient, that is an easy completion instead of forcing the ball into double coverage.

Conclusions

USC played strong defense and was able to react well to the play action passes by Oregon State.  By taking away both the run and the screen, play action stood little chance.  This lead to three timely interceptions by USC’s defense which helped preserve the lead and come home from a tough road game with a W.

Kiffin vs Helton Playcalling Comparison

USC fired head coach and play caller Lane Kiffin after five games this season.  This past Thursday, OC Clay Helton got his first chance to call the plays for the USC offense.  This post will just be a stats driven comparison between Lane Kiffin’s playcalling and Clay Helton.  This post will deal mostly with just high level runs vs passes.

In the first five games this season, Kiffin called a running play 58% of the time.  Against Arizona, Helton called 60% run plays.  Overall, they are pretty close. Let us break this down further in a number of different viewpoints: by down, by field position, and by quarter.  All graphs in this post look at the percentage of plays that were running plays (so, if you want the percentage of passing plays, it would be the inverse).

Play Calling by Down

First, let us take a look at the play calling by down.

2013_KiffinVsHelton_RunsByDown

Helton overall relied much more on the run on 1st down.  Many OCs like to do this as it helps keep 2nd and 3rd downs manageable.  Kiffin and Helton were more or less the same on 2nd down.  For 3rd down, Helton relied almost solely on the pass (more on this later)

Let’s add a few notes based on the distances to go for each down type.

On first downs just after a penalty (1st and 15+ yards to go), Kiffin called a running play on six out of seven instances (86%).  In three instances against Arizona, Helton called a running play only once (33%).  Helton was much more aggressive in attempting to get those yards from penalties back through the air.

On 2nd and 7-10 yards to go, Kiffin called a running play 62% of the time.  Helton called a running play 42% of the time.  2nd and 7-10 yards to go is a situation where the run is still a major threat and is very useful to get yourself into 3rd and medium (or hopefully, 3rd and short).  Helton again was much more aggressive in trying to straight up convert the 2nd and longs or gain the yardage through the air.  If it was 2nd and 11+ the threat of the run is not as prominent, and Kiffin and Helton had very similar numbers.

Helton did not have any 3rd and shorts in his game against Arizona (his tendency to throw on 2nd and 7-10 may be a factor here).  For 3rd and longs, Kiffin ran the ball 28% of the time.  Helton ran the ball 20% of the time in this situation.  However, it is worthwhile to note that one of Helton’s “runs” on 3rd and long against Arizona was a called pass play in which Cody Kessler took off when the play broke down and gained 34 yards on the ground.  The only other run on 3rd and long was the last true running play of the Arizona game where Silas Redd converted a 3rd and 8 to get 1st down and effectively run out the clock with two QB kneels.

Play Calling by Field Position

Now let us look at the play calling by field position.  Note that “Red Zone” plays in the chart below also include anything that is in the “Goal to Go” category.

2013_KiffinVsHelton_RunsByFieldPos

As can be seen here, Helton relied more on the run when we were on our own side of the field.  He also relied much more on the run when in the red zone.  However, when just inside the opponent’s side of the field, Helton threw the ball much more than Kiffin did.  Many of these plays were those deep passes towards the endzone that we saw attempted against Arizona.  This is a fairly safe area to open up the playbook as you have already flipped the field (if you have to punt, you can easily pin the opponents back against their own endzone).

Play Calling by Quarter

Finally, let us look at the play calling by quarter.

2013_KiffinVsHelton_RunsByQuarter

As can be seen in this graph, Helton passed the ball much more in the 1st and 3rd quarters than Kiffin did.  Conversely, Helton ran the ball much more than Kiffin did in the 2nd and 4th quarters.  The 4th quarter could easily be explained with the circumstances of the Arizona game.  We had a big lead and were more interested in running out the clock than throwing the ball.

Conclusions

It is worthwhile to note that being more aggressive and passing the ball more is not necessarily the “correct” thing to do.  It is all based on the circumstances of the situation.  Kiffin was often overly conservative and played possession football to try to control the clock.  Helton wanted to test Arizona deep and it was successful for him.  It will definitely be very interesting to watch how Helton calls plays for the remainder of the season and we can revisit this topic with a much larger sample size for OC Helton.

ASU – A look back

This post will be more of a stream of consciousness and notes that I took in a quick rewatching of the USC at ASU game this past weekend.  I won’t have in detailed analysis of specific plays, but look at some overall trends and strategy of the game.

As all of you know by now, USC got beat up bad enough by ASU to cause AD Pat Haden to fire HC Lane Kiffin.  I felt that Kiffin called a good enough game on offense (41 points, 542 yards total offense), but a lot of things went wrong to cause what happened last Saturday.  We’ll take a quick look at the offensive side of the ball, but most of this post will look at the defensive side.

Offense

Some quick notes on the offensive side of the ball.  Again, USC was able to run the ball effectively.  37 rush attempts for 247 yards (6.7 yards per carry).  Take out the sacks, and we’re looking at 33 rush attempts for 265 yards (8.0 yards per carry).

Unfortunately, I believe our entire gameplan was predicated on the running game.  Given USC’s success running the ball early in the season as well as ASU’s porous run defense, it made sense as a gameplan.  However, once the game started swinging in ASU’s direction, the running game was not going to be enough to jolt life back into our offense and get us in a position to really win the game.  Add on top of this the fact that we are not deep, especially in the wide receiver position, and you start to see that our offense is not built to come back from any significant margin.

As the game went on (and the score margin grew), ASU was less occupied with defending the run even though we were continuing to run the ball.  Play action, which was effective early in the game, began to dwindle.

Pass protection again posed a problem.  Generally, our pass protection holes came on the edges at both tackle spots.  This lead to Kessler being rushed often and also sustaining four sacks.  I saw significant missed blocks from the Right Guard, Right Tackle, an edge rush that the Running Back did not properly pick up, a play where both the tackles missed their blocks causing Kessler to be pinched, the Right Tackle, and one play where both the Left Guard and Tackle botched.

Defense

ASU’s offense was able to effectively change up their point of attack quickly throughout the game.  Early in the game, they attacked with their tight ends in the seams.

Click here to see three plays that attacked the TEs

The first two plays happened on the same drive.  The last play happened early in the 3rd quarter.

On the second and third plays, ASU was able to catch USC in a cover-2 shell.  The last play in particular happened almost exactly like what USC did against Utah State the week before (which I analyzed here).  In both these situations, our safeties are covering half of the field and are preoccupied with other wide receivers on the edges.  Once the TE breaks past the middle short zone, it is wide open right up the middle seam.

Once they established attacking the middle of the field, they attacked the sidelines pretty hard on fades, fade-stops, and wheel routes.

Click here to see the sideline plays

Notice that the plays weren’t poorly defended, as in there were corners right there with the receivers on most plays.  The majority of these plays came against man-to-man coverage.  Also, the majority of these plays came with our cornerbacks playing press coverage on the receiver.  There was no safety support on these plays and the defenders played with inside leverage over the top (makes sense when you have the sideline to help as an “extra defender”).  Overall, good throws and catches by their QB and receivers, as these sideline passes can be somewhat difficult to execute because of reduced margin of error due to the sidelines.

As the game progressed, USC’s defense shifted to drop more defenders into pass coverage.  We started the game often rushing five, as is normal in a Pendergast defense.  However, late in the game we started only rushing four and dropping seven into pass coverage.  ASU responded to this by shifting their point of attack to perimeter runs.  There were many fly sweeps and QB keepers to the edge in the 3rd and 4th quarters.  By this point, our defensive front was pretty gassed and these runs were able to get to the edges easily.  This caused our pass rush to diminish significantly as our front line was more preoccupied with establishing contain rather than pass rushing.  ASU also utilized QB rollouts, swing passes, and TEs releasing into the flats effectively to keep the QB pressure down in the 2nd half, which really helped them open things up.

One final note on the defense is that they uncharacteristically were making arm tackles often throughout the game.  This lead to a lot of missed tackles early in the game which helped ASU break through for larger gains.  Up to this point, USC’s defense had fairly strong fundamentals in tackling and would avoid the arm tackles.  I had often credited this to increased tackling in practice.  However, old habits die hard and for whatever reason, our defense was not wrapping up properly against ASU all game long.