Washington at USC Defensive Recap

First, let me start this post out by saying that I am what many would consider a “sunshine pumper” on USC forums/message boards.  I am always highly optimistic about the Trojans and I try to look for the good rather than the faults.  However, I will be first to admit that our defense got steamrolled in this game.  From my initial impressions watching from the Coliseum stands, I will say that this was a worse defensive performance than the Hawaii game.

This is the 2nd game in which our defense allowed 500+ yards this season.  This time, our offense couldn’t keep up in the shootout and lost by a single point.  As someone in the stands behind me mentioned early in the 4th quarter: “Whoever has the ball last is going to win this one…neither team can stop the other from scoring points.”

Anyhow, this post will look at the play calling by Washington.  We will look at 3rd down defense and also look at the yardage allowed Histogram.

Play Calling

Washington’s play calling was pretty balanced throughout the night.  Keep in mind that Locker is a dual threat QB, so some of the runs in the stat sheet by Locker himself can be attributed to broken down pass plays in which he scrambled to make something out of nothing.  First, let us look at the run vs pass play calling by quarter.

Coach Sark tested our secondary early.  And for good reason.  Their receivers were able to get behind our safeties often and pass coverage was spotty.  Our defensive backs may have been too preoccupied with the zone read and the QB keeper to properly cover their zones.  By the 2nd half, it seemed the safeties had begun to lock down the deep routes.  Unfortunately, Jake Locker is a veteran QB and easily picked apart our short pass coverage from that point on.

Now let us look at the play calling by down.

The play calling by Washington on 1st and 2nd down was actually perfectly balanced.  When USC could force them into 3rd downs, they generally relied on their senior QB Locker to make the plays necessary to convert the play.

3rd Down Defense

Officially, Washington had a 50% 3rd down conversion rate.  However, lets take a closer look at some more interesting looks into the 3rd down defense.  USC was able to stop two out of four 3rd and shorts (3 or less yards).  However, one of the stops, Washington went for it on 4th down and converted which eventually lead to a touchdown.  The other stop forced Washington to kick a FG.  On 3rd and medium (4-6 yards to go), Washington was 3 for 3 in conversions, converting on a 3rd and 5 and two 3rd and 6s.

Now here’s the kicker: 3rd and long (7 or more yards to go).  A solid defense must lock down on 3rd and long.  In these situations, the defense can key in on the pass since the major threat of the run dies down quickly from distances greater than 6 yards out.  Additionally, the defense knows that underneath passes are less likely since the offense probably won’t rely so much on yards after catch.  An offense may try a screen or a draw to try to capitalize on defenses keying on the pass beyond the sticks or just to play the field position game, but the defense should have enough time to react and swarm the player before they reach the 1st down marker.  Still, Washington was able to convert on a 3rd and 14 and a 3rd and 18.  Additionally, a 3rd and 10 in which USC’s defense held firm was converted on 4th and 10, keeping Washington’s final drive alive to win the game.  On the flip side and to the defense’s credit, they were able to stop Washington on a 3rd and 8 (and the subsequent 4th and 8 for a turnover on downs), a 3rd and 9 to force a Washington FG, and a 3rd and 10 to force a Washington FG.


Lets take a look at Washington’s histogram.

The passes are what really killed our defense.  The runs were slow and steady and kept drives alive, but the passes really torched us.  It would have been worse had Washington’s WRs not dropped so many passes.  16 passes were completed for 10 or more yards, 8 of which gained more than 15.  Even underneath throws gained at least 7 yards.


USC had great trouble defending the spread offense of Washington.  Locker’s ability to run the zone read or simply to scramble when the play broke down kept our defense on its heels.  This is not a good sign with Oregon only 3 weeks away.  Oregon has better athletes than Washington does and runs the spread offense with the zone read better to boot.  I question if Monte Kiffin has adjusted to defending these types of  “college offenses” as he allowed Hawaii’s Run and Shoot as well as Washington’s spread option zone read to both gain 500+ yards.  The good news is next week’s contest against Stanford features a power run attack.  Monte Kiffin was able to stuff Virginia and Minnesota’s power runs, but Stanford is no Virginia nor Minnesota.  Lets hope the team steps up as I consider Stanford to be a must-win game if only to keep moral up for the upcoming games.

Later this week, I will try to write up a post looking at the end game strategy from a statistics point of view.  Then it will be time to move on and look ahead to playing Stanford.


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