USC vs Minnesota Offensive Formations

This post will take a brief look into the offensive formations used by USC in its game against Minnesota.  I tracked the formation and motion used for 73 offensive plays by USC.  We will start by looking at the motion utilized by USC, then we will look at the overall formations used and the number of wide receivers utilized.  These stats will be compared against last year’s stats.


Motion can be used in a number of ways.  It can be used to flip the strength side of the field, switching the alignment for the defense.  The defense must then either realign or switch up responsibilities, possibly creating a mismatch.  It can be used to give a player lateral momentum at the snap of the ball, which can give them a step or two advantage over their defender.  This type of motion was specifically used for USC’s third TD against Minnesota.  Woods motioned across the formation and went immediately into the flats, giving him a couple step advantage and an easy TD pass for Barkley near the sidelines.  Motion also can be used to force the defense to show its hand by looking for clues into how the defense adjusts based on the motion.  Either way, motion is used to give the offense hints and potential advantages.

USC utilized motion on 34 of the 73 plays (47%).  Eight plays (11%) utilized multiple motions.  This is in line with last season’s statistics which had 218 out of 489 plays utilizing motion (44%).

Formation by QB/RB Alignment

Let us take a look at how USC lines up based on the Quarterback and Running Back(s).  This means differentiating the plays by I-formation (2 RBs), Ace formation (1 RB), Shotgun, and Wildcat.  I considered I-formation and Ace only if the QB was under center, so a Shotgun 1 RB formation is counted under Shotgun but not under Ace.  Please note that all of these numbers are considering the formation that USC is in when the ball is snapped.  This means it is post-motion if motion was employed.

USC’s main formation this past game was the Ace formation with 36 plays (49%).  I-Formation came up next with 29 plays (40%).  Finally, Shotgun had only eight plays (11%).  The Wildcat has not been used so far.  One thing I noticed was Shotgun was only used on first down, third and long, and fourth and long.

Let us look at how it breaks down when compared to last season.

Overall, USC’s utilization of formations lined up fairly well with last season.  I personally expected to see less I-formation this season as we lost FB Havili, but Ellison seems to have transitioned from TE to FB well enough for us to continue to use the I-formation.

Formation by Number of Wide Receivers

Now let us take a look at how USC lined up based on the number of Wide Receivers.  More WRs means more threat of a pass (and conversely, less threat of a run).

Surprisingly, USC’s main set was to have a standard two wide receivers on the field.  They had two WRs 39 times (53%) and filled out the field generally with extra Tight Ends.  To me this was surprising given the sheer amount of WRs that USC has on roster, although they are inexperienced.  USC utilized three WRs 17 times (23%) and four WRs nine times (12%).  USC did not ever line up with five WRs against Minnesota.  Conversely, it did not ever line up without a WR on the field, so no goalline sets.

Let us look at how this compares with last season.

Again, this falls generally in line with last season.  More two WR sets and fewer three WR sets were used in this game compared to last season.  This will be interesting to see how it plays out throughout the season given our talent depth at WR.  Will USC utilize more 3+ WR sets as the younger WRs develop?


USC stayed true to its form when looking at formations utilized.  I was expecting some changes this season just due to the talent distribution on the roster, but it seems that we will stick with what was used last season.  I likely will analyze this issue again at midseason to see how the formations utilized will evolve over the course of a couple games.


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