This post will look at the defensive side of the ball for USC when they played ASU. First we will look at the play calling by ASU. Then we will look at USC’s 1st down defense, which was particularly bad this game and look at how it affected other downs. Finally, we will look at the yards and points per quarter allowed.
First let us look at the play calling per quarter by ASU.
As mentioned in the ASU offensive preview, ASU likes to throw the ball in almost every situation. As can be seen in the graph, this hasn’t changed much when they played USC. They did run the ball more in the 3rd quarter, but they typically relied on the pass. It should be worth noting, however, that ASU used a ton of swing passes especially late in the game. These plays were met with great success for ASU. In some respects, a swing pass can be used similarly to an outside run play, like a sweep. If I get a chance to re-watch the game, I will try to track how many times ASU used the swing pass against USC.
Now let us look at the play calling by field position.
This actually shows a different look at the play calling. ASU showed a semblance of balance in various field positions other than between their own 25 yard line and midfield. However, this was actually where the majority of ASU’s snaps took place. ASU’s starting field position was their own 36 yard line, and ASU only took 29% of their snaps on the USC side of the field.
Now for the most interesting look at ASU’s run vs pass: the play calling by down.
The thing that strikes me is 3rd down. ASU did not run the ball once on 3rd down. As I noted in the ASU offensive preview post, ASU tended to pass the ball even on 3rd and short situations. However, they always had some sort of running attack, even if it was minimal. A closer look at the 3rd down situations that ASU faced shows that there were three 3rd and shorts (23%), two 3rd and mediums (15%), and eight 3rd and longs (62%). In every single one of those situations, ASU passed the ball against USC.
1st Down Defense
USC struggled at defending the 1st down. Let’s take a look at the graph for average distance to go vs. the average gain allowed.
ASU was able to gain 7.7 yards on average on 1st down. USC did somewhat better on 2nd and 3rd downs, allowing an average of about four yards. Let us take a closer look at the gains allowed on 1st down.
Of the 33 total first down offensive plays taken by ASU, 15 were runs (45%) and 18 were passes (55%). The runs averaged 5.4 yards per carry, but included run gains of 12, 13, and 16 yards. The passes, however, averaged 9.7 yards per attempt and 13.2 yards per completion. This included a 15 yard completion, a 54 yard completion off of a trick play to start the game, a nine yard touchdown, and a 21 yard touchdown. On the bright side, 1st down did also include a sack for a loss of 6 yards and an interception returned for a touchdown.
Overall, 18 plays on 1st down (55%) resulted in a gain of seven or more yards. This is absolutely unacceptable. Six of those plays (18%) were 10 or more yard gains which included gains of 12, 13, 15, 16, 21, and 56.
The poor 1st down defense allowed ASU to have an average distance to go of only 5.9 yards on 2nd down. Typically, teams have about 7+ yards to go on 2nd down on average. This greatly affected ASU’s ability to convert early downs as shown below.
As seen in the graph, ASU was converting 27% of their 1st downs and a whopping 48% of their 2nd downs. Only 12 plays reached 3rd down out of the 33 offensive snaps that were taken on 1st down (36%). USC will need to do better on those early downs.
Yards and Points per Quarter
Let us take a look at the yards and points allowed per quarter.
USC actually did quite well in the 1st half. USC held ASU to only 36 yards and two first downs in the 2nd quarter. However, the yards and points spike in the 2nd half. ASU adjusted to how USC’s defense was playing and began to throw the swing pass quite often in the 2nd half. USC never seemed to adjust to this and allowed ASU to gain quite a few yards. One bright note in the 2nd half, however, was when USC was able to pressure Threet on a 3rd and 1 which forced a hot read pass which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown in the 3rd.