USC vs Minnesota Offensive Recap

This post will look at the offensive side of the ball for USC in their season opening victory against Minnesota in the Coliseum.  We will first look at the play calling by USC throughout the game.  Next, we will look at the yardage gained histograms.  Then we will look at the yards per quarter.  Finally, we will take a brief look into the bubble screen.

Play Calling

One thing I did notice while at the game was that the play calling was directly involved in relieving pressure on the offensive line.  A lot of bubble screens (I counted eight of them), quick slants, three step drops, and QB rollouts.  As one fan said in front of me: “Barkley will be the best player in the nation at the three yard pass.”  However, this did work out alright.  Matt Barkley and Robert Woods each broke USC records for completions in a game and receptions in a game respectively.

USC is typically a very balanced football team.  Last season, USC ran the ball 463 times (50%) and passed the ball 469 times (50%).  However, USC did not show a balanced attack in the season opener for 2011.  USC ran the ball only 28 times (38%) and passed the ball 45 times (62%).  This is uncharacteristic of USC, but again could be due to the inexperience at offensive line.  Let us look at the play calling based on downs.

USC passed the ball with tremendous frequency on first down.  This is not typical of USC as first down is usually very balanced.  These passes on first downs averaged 8.12 yards, which tops the overall yards per attempted pass of the game (6.8).  In contrast, second down was very balanced and even leaned slightly towards the run.  These rushes on second down averaged 4.35 yards per carry, which also topped the overall yards per carry of the game (2.3).

Now let us look at the play calling by field position.

USC was actually fairly balanced when passed midfield (where they spent 55% of their plays).  However, when between their own 25 yard line and midfield, USC passed the ball three times as much as they ran the ball.  USC’s average starting field position was their own 33 yard line.

Gain Histograms

Now we will look at the gain histogram for USC.  Please note that only completed passes are logged.

Notice the running game’s histogram.  A whopping 10 runs (37%) were stopped for either a loss or for no gain.  Comparatively, only three runs (11%) were explosive and gained 10 or more yards.  On the passing side, no pass that was completed gained negative or no yards.  For as many short passes that Barkley threw, only six of them (13%) gained three or fewer yards.  In contrast, 15 passes (33%) gained nine or more yards, including five passes (11%) that gained 15 or more yards.

Yards per Quarter

Let us look at the yards per quarter.

Surprisingly enough, the 2nd half was pretty much equivalent to the 1st half in terms of yards gained (200 yards 1st half, 204 yards 2nd half).  However, the difference was execution and consistency.  The first half had four drives which averaged 50.5 yards gained per drive.  However, the 2nd half had five drives which averaged 34 yards gained per drive (discounting the loss of 35 yards on the bad 4th down snap).

The 2nd half had two drives which stalled and set the tone for the rest of the game.  The first drive of the 2nd half reached the Minnesota 34 yard line, but ended in a botched snap that somehow swung the field position by 35 yards.  The very next USC drive made it to the Minnesota 20, but ended in a failed conversion on 4th and 1.  USC would approach one more time to the Minnesota 32 but would end up punting the ball away.  Those are the three drives that USC got close enough to score, but could not sustain the drive.

Overall, USC averaged 7.5 plays per drive.  On the bright side was there were no true three and outs for USC.  The only drive that did not convert for a first down was the final drive in which we took two knees.  However, there was one drive which the only first down was due to a pass interference call.  USC averaged 2.2 first downs per drive.

The Bubble Screen – A Closer Look

Let us take a step back for a moment and look at play calling strategy from a conceptual point of view.  The bubble screen is often used in the same manner that a running play is used.  Look at teams such as TTU under Coach Leach.  The bubble screen is essentially used as a run to the boundary and is a way for pass heavy teams to compensate for a lack in the running game.  Let us do an exercise and see how it affects the play calling stats when looking at the bubble screen as a run instead of a pass.

After adjusting for the eight bubble screens, USC “ran” the ball 36 times (49%) and “passed” the ball 37 times (51%).  This makes it a much more balanced look that USC is used to.


USC has things that need improvement.  I would like to see the offensive line improve a lot.  This will improve the run game and get the play calling back to what it normally is.  While I am sure Kiffin can adjust the scheme to match the talent of our personnel, I would prefer to not have our offense turn into somethings similar to TTU under Leach.  The bright side is that teams tend to improve the most between games one and two.  Let us see how the offense evolves as it plays Utah.

Up next will be a fairly quick post looking at the offensive formations that USC utilized against Minnesota compared to what was used last season.


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