USC at Minnesota Defensive Recap

Time to take a look at the defensive side of the ball. Up until late in the 4th quarter, USC held Minnesota to 14 points.  USC had a commanding 32-14 point lead with 8:32 left in the ball game and held that lead until there were only 11 seconds left in the game.  The defense also forced three turnovers.

This post will first look at the play calling by Minnesota.  It will then break down the yardage allowed.  Then we’ll take a peek at the points allowed off of turnovers in comparison to USC.

Play Calling

Overall, Minnesota ran the ball 36 times (54%) and threw the ball 31 times (46%).  However, their play calling needs to be much more closely examined to see exactly what happened.  Coming into the game, Minnesota would run the ball twice as often as they would pass.  They enjoy doing the Power run play with a pulling guard.  Some USC fans still have nightmares of Stanford using the Power run at will against USC last year.  So it was expected that Minnesota would test USC early with the run.  Lets look at the run vs pass by quarter first to get a good idea what Minnesota threw at USC.

Notice the drastic play calling change in the 4th quarter. Up to the 4th quarter Minnesota was running the ball 34 times (76%) and only passed 11 times (24%).  However, once the 4th quarter hit, they ran only 9% of the time and passed 91%.  This drastic play calling change happened because USC jumped to a 26-14 lead early in the 4th quarter.  Minnesota’s next drive featured 3 passes and a run but resulted in a punt.  USC responded to this by tacking on another six points to make it 32-14.  Minnesota’s only run for the rest of the game was on a 3rd and 2 to gain 4 yards and continue the drive.  Other than that run to get a 1st down, Minnesota played out of its element by passing constantly.

Let us now look at the run vs pass play calling by down prior to the 4th quarter.  This shows the gameplan that Minnesota wished to use against USC.

As we can see, a run heavy game was utilized by Minnesota.  Their offense consisted of heavy rushing attacks on 1st and 2nd downs.  3rd downs they were forced to pass more often to attempt to convert a new 1st down.  Out of the 13 3rd downs that Minnesota faced, only two of them were 3rd and short (3 yards or less to go).  In fact, the average distance to go on 3rd down for Minnesota was 7.23 yards which was too much yardage to consistently gain on the ground.  This shows the great defense that USC played on the early downs to stall the Minnesota drives.

Yardage Allowed

USC was actually able to contain Minnesota’s ground attack very well.  USC held the Minnesota to 83 rushing yards in the game  on 37 carries  (2.2 yards per carry).  If we remove the yardage lost in the two sacks from the rushing yardage since they were actually passing plays, USC still held Minnesota to 102 yards on the ground on 35 carries (2.9 yards per carry).  That’s great run defense from the Trojans.

USC also only allowed three long runs of over 10 yards.  One of those was a QB Scramble for 12 yards.  On the flip side, USC was able to stop 10 runs for negative or no yardage gained. Here is a look at the histogram of yardage allowed by the defense.

Notice how most of the runs are clustered on the left.  Monte Kiffin dialed in a great scheme to prevent any large gains by the Minnesota power rushing attack.  Almost all of Minnesota’s runs gained four or less yards.  In fact, only five runs gained more than four yards.  On the flip side, however, is the amount of high yardage passes allowed.  A whopping eight passes gained at least 15 yards.  Maybe this is expected when your defense is so committed to stopping the run.  It is worth noting that 122 of Minnesota’s passing yardage came in the 4th quarter when USC held a significant lead.  This includes five of the eight explosive passes for 15+ yards.  It’d be interesting to know how many of these passes came against our second string defense.  Here is a look at the yards allowed by quarter.

Points off of Turnovers

Both teams’ defenses were able to snatch three turnovers each.  However, USC’s offense was unable to make a move off of the momentum of a turnover and produce points.  In fact, USC scored no points off of turnovers against Minnesota, which is unfortunate.  Minnesota, on the other hand, was able to score 14 of their 21 points off of turnovers.  Minnesota was able to play off of the momentum and score points.

Conclusion

It is interesting to see that our defense was able to play so well against the power running attack of Minnesota.  The Gophers came in hoping to stick the ball right to us right up the gut but were unsuccessful.  Instead, our defense held them off until it was too late for them to really come back.  The defense bailed the offense out a little bit by retrieving the ball three times to match the number that the offense gave up.  However, I’m hoping to see the offense capitalize on this by scoring points when the defense gets the ball back for them.

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