USC 2010 Season Play Calling

This post will take an in depth look at the play calling statistics by USC in various situations.  First we will look at the play calling by down.  This will include a more in depth look at 2nd and 3rd down’s play calling based on the distance to go.  Then we will look at the play calling based on score margin.  Next will be a look at the play calling based on field position.  And finally, we will look at the play calling by quarter.

By Down

Overall, USC was very balanced this season and ran the ball 463 times (50%) and passed the ball 469 times (50%).  First let us look at the play calling utilized by USC under Lane Kiffin based on the down.

USC stayed fairly balanced on every down this season.  Not very surprising since balance is a cornerstone to success for USC.  USC leaned slightly towards the run on 1st and 2nd down.  On 3rd down, USC leaned towards the pass, which is quite typical for most offenses.  4th down was fairly balanced but had a slight lean towards the pass.

Now let us take a closer look into 2nd down and 3rd down.  We will look at the play calling on these two downs based on the distance to go to convert.  We will start with 2nd down.

The majority of snaps on 2nd down were in the 8-10 yard range as this will encompass incomplete passes on 1st down as well as stuffed runs.  Given this, USC was slightly more likely to pass than run the ball.  Overall for 2nd and 8+ yards to go, USC ran the ball 70 times (45%) and passed the ball 85 times (55%).  2nd and six or seven yards to go looks like the balance point where USC ran the ball 27 times (49%) and passed the ball 28 times (51%).  On 2nd and 5 or less, USC ran the ball 61 times (68%) and passed the ball 29 times (32%).

Now let us look at 3rd down.

3rd down is typically much more straightforward in terms of play calling and relies more on execution rather than trickery.  The major threat of running the ball came on 3rd and 3 or less.  In this situation, USC ran the ball 45 times (76%) and passed the ball 14 times (24%).  Once USC was in a 3rd and 4 or greater, passing the ball was utilized much more often.  In these situations, USC ran the ball only 29 times (24%) and passed the ball 91 times (76%).  The running plays in the 3rd and very long situations were likely more field position type of decisions.

Score Margin

Let us take a quick look at the play calling by USC based on the scoring margin.


The vast majority of USC’s snaps took place with the game still close (within seven points either up or down).  64% of USC’s offensive snaps were in this close scoring margin.  24% of USC’s snaps were taken with at least an eight point lead, including 12% of USC’s snaps were taken with USC holding at least a 15 point lead.  On the flip side, 11% of USC’s snaps took place with USC down at least eight points, including 7% of snaps with USC down by at least 15 points.

USC’s play calling didn’t seem to drastically change based on the score margin of games.  USC leaned slightly towards the pass whether they were down by a lot, down by a decent margin, or within a close game situation.  USC did rely more on the run if they were up by a decent margin or up by a lot.

By Field Position

Let us take a look at USC’s play calling by field position.  Please note that “Red Zone” plays also include all “Goal to Go” plays within them.

Again, USC stayed fairly balanced no matter where they were on the field.  USC had a slight lean towards the pass when they were on their own side of the field.  Once they passed midfield, this flipped to a lean towards the run.  However, once reaching the redzone, USC relied more on the pass once again.  This is interesting since most teams rely heavily on the run once they reach the red zone due to the defense’s ability to use the sidelines as “additional defenders.”  USC was very balanced when they were goal to go, probably utilizing a lot of play action in this case.

By Quarter

Let us now take a quick look at USC’s play calling by quarter.

USC has a slight lean towards the pass in the first half.  The offense was very balanced coming out of halftime.  By the 4th quarter, USC had a significant lean towards the run, most likely attempting to run out the clock and end the game.  Lack of depth in the roster may also have affected the 4th quarter play calling as Kiffin may have tried to shorten the end game.

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