This post will look at the offensive side of the ball for USC in their recent game at Arizona. First, we will look at the play calling by USC. Then we will concentrate on one of the most important aspects of the game, USC’s ability to sustain drives and control the clock.
Overall, USC ran the ball 46 times (56%) and passed the ball 36 times (44%). USC stayed fairly balanced overall. Lets take a look at the play calling by down.
As can be seen here, 1st down was unbalanced while the rest of the downs were fairly balanced. 1st down favored the run in a 3:2 ratio.
Now let us look at the play calling by quarter.
The play calling stays fairly balanced until the 4th quarter. With the lead and the run game doing well enough to sustain drives, USC started to pound the rock. The general success of the run game is surprising given that Arizona leads the Pac-10 in rushing defense. UA allows 112.9 rushing yards per game and 3.13 yards per rush, both of which USC was able to top with 205 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per carry.
Drive sustainability was the name of the game for USC. USC held a 14:54 advantage in time of possession and ran 16 more offensive plays than Arizona did. USC won the field position battle by started on their own 42 yard line and took 56% of their offensive snaps on the Arizona side of the field.
Let us first look at the average distance to go and average gain per down for USC.
On first glance, this doesn’t look super impressive. USC gained 4.66 yards per play with a fairly consistent output per down. USC was also averaging around 7.5 yards to go on 2nd and 3rd down, which isn’t bad, but isn’t great either. However, let us look at the conversion rates per down.
USC was able to convert an extraordinary amount of 2nd downs, especially considering the 7.53 yards to go average. USC’s 3rd down conversion rate was also fairly strong. It is worthwhile to note that USC was 3/3 on 3rd and short conversions and 2/4 on 3rd and medium conversions. The two 4th down conversions that were successfully converted for USC came immediately after 3rd and medium plays, so effectively, when USC was in the situation of 3rd and 6 or less, they converted for a new first down each time. Both of the 4th down conversions took place on the same drive and it lead to a timely touchdown to put USC up 21-7.
Next let us look at the plays per drive for USC.
There were really only two short drives for USC in a negative sense. There was a 3 and out to start the 2nd half. USC actually lost 11 yards on that drive due to an illegal blocking penalty which negated a 24 yard run by Brandon Carswell. USC was not able to rebound from that and had two incomplete passes followed by a pass for -1 yards before they were forced to punt. The other short drive was the two play drive which resulted in an interception. Other than that, our other “short” drives were a three play touchdown drive and a three play victory formation drive to win the game. Overall, USC averaged a pretty staggering 8.3 plays per drive. For comparison’s sake, most teams average between five and six plays per drive.
Next, let us look at the time of possession each drive took.
The average drive time for USC this game was 3:33. Again, there were two short drives by USC. The first was the 3 and out to start the 3rd quarter, which took only five seconds, according to ESPN’s play by play. Not quite sure how they ran four offensive plays and a punt all within five seconds, but that’s probably just a bug within the ESPN system. The two-play interception drive only took 38 seconds off the clock. As for the successful short drives, the early three-play touchdown drive only marked off 47 seconds and the victory formation at the end of the game took 58 seconds.
There are some long drives which are even more impressive. An 8 minute 57 second touchdown drive showcased 17 offensive plays, 66 yards, and five first downs. USC converted on two 3rd downs and two 4th downs on that drive. There was also a 6 minute 48 second drive which resulted in a field goal. This drive had 15 offensive plays covering 72 yards and five first downs. USC converted one 3rd down on this drive. Finally, there was a 6 minute 36 second drive which ended on turnovers by downs, but left Arizona with only 2 minutes and 10 seconds left with a 10 point score margin. This drive had 14 offensive plays, covered 41 yards, and featured three first downs. USC converted on two third downs on this drive and failed on a 4th and 2.