Virginia at USC Offensive Recap

The home opener for USC against Virginia was a flip flop from the season opener at Hawaii.  The offense struggled to the tune of 17 points and 329 total yards.  However, the defense played better, at least in terms of points allowed.  They allowed only 14 points but at the same time allowed Virginia to gain 340 yards.  Penalties are still a big problem.

In this post, we will look at the offensive side of the ball for USC.  As always, we’ll look at the run vs pass play calling by new Head Coach Lane Kiffin.  Then we will look at the execution of the gameplan and also look at various stats on yardage gained.

Run vs Pass Play Calling

The play calling itself was pretty standard from USC.  We ran a lot of single back double tight end sets and also I-formation (2 backs and 1-2 Tight Ends).  Very few plays had 3-5 wide receivers.  Overall, USC threw the ball 37 times (54%) and ran 31 times (46%).

First, lets look at the run vs pass play calling by down and distance.

Just looking in terms of play calling by down, USC tended to pass in all downs other than 2nd down.  The same trend follows for play calling by distance to go for the 1st down.  Short yardage situations leaned towards rushing (5 runs vs 2 passes) with USC exclusively running the ball between 2-3 yards for the 1st down.  The two passes with 1 yard to go were probably play action passes.

An interesting look is to see the play calling based on quarter of play.

The 1st and 3rd quarters were balanced, but the 2nd and 4th quarters were unbalanced.  The 2nd quarter heavily favored the pass.  This was influenced due to the fact that USC got the ball after a Virginia touchdown with only 1:14 left on the clock and the drive starting on the USC 24 yard line.  Because of the clock, USC called nine passing plays and only a single run in that drive.  USC marched 76 yards and scored a touchdown with one second to spare.  The play calling for the 2nd quarter prior to that final drive was a very balanced six runs against seven passes.

The 4th quarter favored the run.  At that point in the game, USC was happy to have the lead and was playing to end the game.

Execution Inconsistency

USC struggled with inconsistency on offense and produced only 329 yards of total offense and 17 points.  Lets take a look at the yardage gained per down to see what may have caused these drives to stall.

The first thing that strikes me is that USC averaged only a 3.41 yard gain on 1st down.  Compare this to USC’s showing at Hawaii where they averaged 10.67 yards gained on 1st down.  For additional comparison, the 2009 USC team averaged 6.44 yards gained on 1st down.  Poor 1st down production will definitely affect the ability to sustain drives in the long run.

Penalties also hurt USC’s ability to sustain offensive drives.  Out of the eight drives that resulted in a punt, four of them contained at least one penalty.  One of those drives had four penalties all in a single drive!

While Barkley’s numbers were decent (20/35 passing for 202 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs), he struggled with overthrowing passes.  There were at least a couple of long passes which could have been easy touchdowns if they were not overthrown or underthrown.  One particular pass stands out to me as Ronald Johnson had the defense beat on a post route but Barkley underthrew the ball which ultimately resulted in an incompletion rather than an easy touchdown.

The run game didn’t help too much either.  Marc Tyler averaged 3.7 yards per carry on 18 runs with a long of only 11 yards.  Dillon Baxter played well in my view as he did not fumble the ball.  For a true freshman playing in his first game on a team that doesn’t practice live tackling, I was worried that Baxter would be prone to fumbling given that he isn’t as used to taking hits at college speed yet.  However, from what I remember watching the game, Baxter held the ball high and tight and protected the ball well.  I would rather see good fundamental play by Dillon Baxter than him attempting to rip off the next Reggie Bush style highlight reel.  Baxter averaged 5.4 yards per carry over 9 runs and a long of 17 yards.  He also pulled in 2 receptions for 8 yards.

Yards Gained Overview

With that in mind, let us take a look at the overall gain histogram for the USC team.  For clarity in reading the histogram, I have removed the 15 pass incompletions from the histogram.

The two passes for big losses were both sacks on Matt Barkley (loss of 9 and a loss of 12).  Both happened on USC’s first two drives, but afterward Barkley was able to evade the pressure well.  Barkley later evaded the pass rush and threw an improvised touchdown pass to Brandon Carswell.

As for long passes, Barkley completed a 16 yard pass to Ronald Johnson on play action pass early in the 2nd quarter.  This would later setup a long touchdown pass to Ronald Johnson which was called back due to a holding penalty and unsportsmanlike conduct, forcing USC to punt the ball away.  The very next USC drive, Matt Barkley hit Robert Woods for a 40 yard gain on a play action pass.  This pass was the setup for Barkley’s touchdown pass to get USC on the board.  Overall, there is a pretty good distribution of high yardage passes.  I have logged 11 passes which gained at least 10 yards.

The running side of the game has an interesting distribution as well.  There were only 3 runs which failed to gain positive yards.  However, there is a distinct lack of long runs by the USC offense.  Only 3 runs gained at least 10 yards, one of them being a pass play in which Barkley was flushed out of the pocket and took off for a 20 yard run.

If we look at the yardage gained by quarter, we get an interesting look at the game.

USC gained more yardage in the 2nd quarter than the other three quarters combined.  The 2nd quarter was home to a 55 yard TD drive and a 76 yard TD drive.  Other than those two scoring drives, USC gained 53 yards in the 2nd quarter on its 2 other drives.

The 1st quarter was the worst.  USC had three full drives and part of a fourth drive in that quarter and produced only 20 total yards of offense.  USC’s first two drives were 3 and outs which produced a total of -10 yards due to sacks of -9 and -12 yard gains.  The third and final full drive of the 1st quarter produced only one 1st down and a total of 24 yards.


USC’s offense in its home opener was plagued by penalties, a run game which failed to take off, and untimely incompletions.  These issues will need to be fixed by the time the meat of our schedule hits or else we could be in trouble.

Penalties need to be fixed immediately as we’ve had 24 penalties for 240 yards this season.  In only two games, USC is almost half way to the total penalties and penalty yardage that Lane Kiffin’s 2009 Tennessee team got over 13 games (63 penalties for 516 yards).

We’ll also need to get a consistent run game going.  Look for Marc Tyler to boost his stats back to at least 6 yards per carry for our offense to really turn on the jets once again.  This would not only help us get into short yardage situations, but it would improve our ability to use play action to get large gains through the air.

Look for my upcoming article recapping the defensive performance in our home opener against Virginia.

Click here for the full stat sheet.


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