Virginia at USC Defensive Recap

Defensively, the USC team played much better against Virginia than it did against Hawaii.  The tackling seemed much more solid with only a couple of blatantly missed tackles.  USC was able to hold Virginia to only 14 points (7 of which were scored in the final seconds of the game when it was basically out of reach).

In this post, I will first look at the yardage allowed by our USC Defense.  I will then look at the yardage allowed by down and by quarter.

Yardage Allowed

USC allowed Virginia to gain 340 yards of total offense.  For comparisons sake, here is the yardage allowed by USC’s defense compared to other various baselines.

The 2009 Virginia offense was one of the worst in the NCAA, ranking #118 in the country with only 269.58 yards per game on offense.  However, under new Head Coach Mike London, the 2010 Virginia offense switched from the spread to the Pro offense.  Under London, Virginia gained 488 yards against FCS opponent Richmond and 340 yards against USC.  It is unclear how good the Virginia offense actually is at this point in the season and it will be interesting to see how they end up ranked nationally when all games have been played.  USC was able to hold them under the 2009 and 2008 NCAA averages of 376.56 yards and 370.21 yards per game respectively.  USC was also able to keep pace with the 2009 USC Defense which allowed 340.46 yards per game allowed.

Here is a look at the yards allowed histogram.  For clarity of reading the graph, I have removed the 19 incomplete passes from the histogram.

In general, Virginia had a very similar gain histogram as USC.  USC’s defense was able to hold the run relatively well.  Four runs were for 10 or more yards, but USC was able to hold 17 runs to 3 or less yardage.  The secondary was able to hold Virginia to a 47.2% completion rate but still allowed a decent amount of long pass completions.  Nine passes went for 10 or more yards, including five which gained 15 or more.  USC’s underneath coverage performed well with only seven completions for under 10 yards gained each.  Our safeties need additional work in not allowing the longer completions.  The bright side is that the safeties did not let the receivers to get behind them as they did at the Hawaii game.

Yards Allowed by Down

First, let us look at the play calling by down by the Virginia offense.

The overall offense from Virginia was very balanced (34 runs vs 38 passes).  1st and 2nd down were balanced with a very slight favoring to run rather than pass.  3rd down, however, heavily favored the pass.  So lets look at the yardage gained with this play calling.

The surprising thing right here is 3rd down.  USC’s defense actually pushed the Virginia offense backwards 0.33 yards on average on 3rd down.  With Virginia passing the ball 73% of the time on 3rd down, many of these 3rd down passes were likely incomplete.

Yards Allowed by Quarter

First, let us look at the play calling by quarter by the Virginia offense.

The play calling by quarter is interesting to see how the dynamic changed throughout the game.  The 1st quarter was very balanced.  The 2nd quarter heavily favored the run.  In one drive, Virginia called six runs and only a single pass.  However, their scoring drive in the 2nd quarter was very balanced (3 runs and 3 passes).  The 3rd quarter was fairly balanced with a slight tendency towards the run.  However, the 4th quarter is when the clock started to work against Virginia.  Down by 10 and time running out, Virginia threw the ball nearly three times as often as they ran the ball.  On their final touchdown drive, Virginia threw the ball 13 times and ran only once.  Lets take a look at the yardage gained with this play calling.

Just like the USC offense, the Virginia team struggled to move the ball effectively on 1st and 3rd quarters but moved the ball rather well in the 2nd and 4th quarters.  To me, the 4th quarter is the interesting one.  Up by 10 points with 2:35 left in the game, I think the defensive endgame strategy shifts for USC.  The priority for the defense is no longer to stop a score, but to effectively use the clock against the opposing offense.  Ideally, you stop the score and end the game.  However this is no longer the end-all goal for the defense, unlike prior drives.  On some plays, we rushed four defensive linemen, but the linebackers were playing 10 yards or so off the line of scrimmage.  The defensive scheme was designed to keep the ball away from the sidelines.  Allow for the short middle passes to be completed, but don’t let them stop the clock.  At this point in the game, the clock becomes the defense’s greatest asset.  In this sense, the defense succeeded even though Virginia scored a touchdown.  The reason it was successful was that by the time the touchdown was scored, only four seconds remained in the game.  At that point, even if Virginia were to recover the onside kick, there would be very little chance at them being able to do anything in order to win the game.


After last week’s performance at Hawaii, our defense needed to show that it had the potential to return to form.  In that sense, they succeeded by holding Virginia to 14 points.  However, there are still areas of concern.  The defense allowed two long scoring drives and plenty of long gains by Virginia.  The good news is the safeties played better in that they didn’t allow the Virginia players to get behind them for easy touchdowns like they did at Hawaii.  Penalties are still as much of a concern as last week, if not more so.  The good news is that there is still time in our schedule to tweak and fix the issues that plague the team.

Look for my upcoming preview of the Minnesota game in the next few days.

Click here for the full stat sheet.


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