USC vs California Offensive Recap

There was a lot to like offensively in the game against Cal this past Saturday.  I had said in my USC vs Cal Defensive Preview that if USC was able to move the ball well against Cal’s defense, then this is a good offense.  Well, USC was able to move the ball well against Cal’s defense.  I’m talking about 602 yards of total offense and 48 points.  372 of those yards and 42 of those points came in the 1st half.  This puts USC in a good position heading into the bye week to get healthy before playing #1 Oregon.

This post will look at a few different aspects of the game on the offensive side of the ball.  First we’ll look at the play calling based on a number of factors.  Then we will look at play success rate and average gain.  Third we will look at a few drive statistics.  And finally, we will look at the gain histogram.

Play Calling

USC came out throwing the ball.  Overall, USC threw the ball 45 times (56%) and ran the ball 35 times (44%).  However, it is important to note that USC’s play calling changed drastically after halftime when it held a 42-0 lead.  The starters were pulled late in the 3rd quarter as well, which must be taken into account.  Lets take a look at the run vs pass play calling per quarter.

As you can see from the chart, USC passed the ball twice as often as they ran the ball in the 1st half.  However, once we moved into the 2nd half, the play calling changed.  The 3rd quarter featured a much more balanced attack.  The 4th quarter (with the 2nd stringers in) featured twice as many runs as passes.

Now let us take a look at the play calling based on down.  I have broken this chart down between each half.

The interesting thing is 1st down play calling by USC in the 1st half.  On 1st down, USC passed 18 times (78%) and ran 5 times (22%).  Generally, USC tends to be very balanced or tends to run the ball on 1st down.  2nd and 3rd downs stayed fairly similar to both USC’s usual tendency and stayed fairly consistent between the halves.

Finally, let us look at the play calling based on field position.  For ease of reading this data, I will post two charts.  The first chart will be for the entire game.  The second chart will be for only the 1st half.

From the overall game, the main interest comes from when USC was close to scoring.  While in the redzone (within the opponent’s 20 yard line), USC passed the ball 14 times (78%) and ran the ball only 4 times (22%).  While the offense was goal to go, USC went for five passes and no runs at all (Please note that the five passes in “goal to go” are also included in the red zone stats since goal to go is typically within the redzone).  This is against the typical trend of football logic where you run the ball more the closer you get to the goalline since there is much less field to pass too (and thus, many more defenders in the area).

Now lets look at the field position play calling in the 1st half.

As can be seen in this chart, USC threw the ball almost everywhere on the field.  The only time where the run was a significant part of the offense was just past midfield up until the redzone.

Play Success

Cal’s defense has typically held their opponent’s offenses in check.  This was especially prominent in the opponent’s average gain per down.  With that in mind, let us take a look at how USC’s offense performed in average gain per down compared to what Cal had typically held opponent’s to prior to the USC game.

As can be seen, USC performed much better than Cal had typically allowed.  Third downs were a whopping 4.2 more yards gained on average.  Even the “worst” improvement was a 1.8 yard improvement on average on second down.  In great part, this lead to USC converting on 50% of its 3rd downs and four for four on 3rd and shorts.  While USC’s 1st stringers were in, it was an even greater 67% conversion rate on 3rd down.

Drive Success

Much like last week against Stanford, USC’s offense was able to sustain drives and put points on the board.  There was only a single drive which failed to produce a first down and this wasn’t until midway through the 4th quarter.

USC’s average starting field position was their own 32 yard line.  Yet the average drive had 7.27 offensive plays as USC marched down the field.  USC sustained drives so well that 65% of their offensive snaps took place on the Cal side of the field.  Normally, this number hovers slightly below 50%.

USC was also able to capitalize on turnovers.  14 points were scored off of turnovers.  One of these touchdowns occurred just before the half when USC intercepted the ball with only 26 seconds left in the half and two timeouts.  USC was able to march the 26 yards and score with eight seconds to spare.

Gain Histogram

Lets take a quick look at the gain histogram for USC.  The 14 incompletions have been removed from the histogram for ease of reading.

This is a great histogram to see because of the even distribution across the entire spectrum.  Normally, there are peaks in the run game near two or three yards gained and spikes in the passing game at around seven or eight yards gained.  However, the only clear spike in this histogram is a 15+ yard gain on the pass.

Lets break it down further.  For the running game, 11% of USC’s runs went for negative or no gain.  40% of USC’s run unfortunately was held to three yards or less.  However, 26% of USC’s runs gained 10 or more yards, including 9% of runs which were explosive and gained 15+ yards.  For the passing game, 35% of USC’s passes were held to negative yardage or no gain.  If we count only completed passes, this number drops down to 6%.  This includes the sack that Barkley took in the 1st quarter.  42% of USC’s passes gained less than 3 yards (16% if you only count completions).  36% of passes gained 10 or more yards (52% if you count only completed passes), and 20% of passes gained 15+ yards (29% if you only count completions).


USC’s offense continues to progress and put up yards and points on opponents.  This comes at a key time as #1 Oregon comes into town in two weeks.  We will need to go blow for blow against Oregon’s high powered offense to have a chance to win this game.  Barkley continues to impress and improve and his decision making is noticeably better.  If this offense comes out strong, we may just have a chance to take down Oregon.


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