USC vs California Defensive Recap

USC’s defense was able to bottle up Cal fairly well.  USC held Cal to 245 yards, which is 133 yards below what they average in a game.  Cal was held to 52 yards rushing over 20 attempts (2.6 yards per carry).  USC was able to hold on 3rd downs and stop Cal drives, forcing them to punt.  Two interceptions were also grabbed which lead to an additional 14 points by USC.

This post will look at the play calling by Cal.  It will then look at conversion percentages.  We’ll take a brief look at the drive statistics, then look at the gain histograms.

Play Calling

Prior to the game, Cal tended to run more than they passed.  However, Cal came out with a fairly balanced offensive attack against USC.  Unfortunately, none of it was working.  First lets look at the play calling per quarter.

Cal stayed fairly balanced throughout the 1st half.  Once the 3rd quarter hit, their offensive game plan started going towards the air more often.  Lets take a look at the play calling by down.

I was thinking of analyzing this between the 1st half and the 2nd half, but the numbers stayed fairly consistent throughout.  1st down was the most balanced whereas 2nd and 3rd downs tended to shift more towards the pass.  4th down was entirely passing.  This will become more clear as we look at some of the conversion stats.


USC’s defense was able to stuff Cal early and often.  Cal’s first four drives were all 3 and outs.  It wasn’t until the 2nd quarter when Cal was able to get its first 1st down.  First, lets take a look at the conversion percentages by Cal.

Cal’s 3rd down conversions were horrendous.  They were more likely to convert on 1st or 2nd down than on 3rd down, which is pretty sad.  How did they get into this situation?  Let us look at the average distance to go and the average gain for Cal.

Cal gained a healthy 5.3 yards on 1st down and an even better 6.9 yards on 2nd down.  However, their 3rd downs gained an average of 2 yards.  Cal couldn’t even convert their only 3rd and short of the game.  But notice the average distance to go for Cal.  Every single down averaged over eight yards to convert.  Ideally, this number would be at around seven for 2nd down and six for 3rd down.  These long-to-go situations are the reason why Cal was forced to pass the ball more on 2nd and 3rd downs.

Drive Stats

Cal’s average starting position was their own 24 yard line.  Their drives lasted only 4.08 offensive plays on average.  USC’s defense was able to stuff them early and often, forcing six drives which failed to produce a single first down (50% of Cal’s total drives).  Cal’s inability to move the ball helped USC win the field position battle easily, which lead to a shorter field for USC and ultimately more points.    In fact, only 31% of Cal’s offensive snaps were taken on the USC side of the field compared to USC’s 65%.

With that in mind, lets take a look at the yards allowed by our defense per quarter.

That’s right folks.  USC held Cal to -8 yards in the first quarter.  Two sacks and a big stop on Vereen for a four yard loss helped make this quarter a nightmare for Cal.  If you take USC’s 2nd quarter production (249 yards total offense), it actually tops Cal’s total offense for the entire game (245 yards).  Lets give it up to our defense on this one.

Yards Allowed Histograms

First, let us look at the overall histogram for yardage allowed between passing and rushing.  The 12 incompletions have been removed for ease of reading the chart.

Cal had low production with generally only single hits in the upper end of the spectrum of the histogram.  Four plays gained nine yards and there were a total of six explosive 15+ yard gains by Cal, but the rest was generally bottled up.  13 total plays gained nine or more yards, but 19 plays failed to gain more than three yards.

Lets take a look at Shane Vereen’s histogram, since many people believed that stopping Vereen would be the key to winning this game defensively.

Vereen had six runs (60%) which failed to produce more than 3 yards.  Other than that, he had a pair of explosive runs of 15 and 16 yards and a modest gain of 6 yards on another run.  On the passing front, Vereen brought in 3 receptions.  There was a short pass brought in for 4 yards, a reception of 10 yards, and a 31 yard touchdown reception.  Generally, USC kept Vereen in check.  His running was also limited because of the score differential which caused Cal to pass the ball more often.


USC’s defense bottled up Cal well.  The question is if this is an anomaly or if the Defense has taken a major step to becoming better.  We won’t know much after the Oregon game, as the Ducks will put up yards and points against almost anybody.  It’ll be interesting to see how USC attempts to slow the Ducks down and how the defense performs in future contests.

Check back later this week and next as I will be providing mid-season statistical analysis for the USC Trojans.  I will do more in depth comparative stats which I believe will give a better insight into the team and how good or bad it is in various areas.


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