Utah Offensive Preview

USC opens Pac-12 conference play with a home game against Utah.  We have one game of data to analyze for Utah, but unfortunately it is against FCS opponent Montana State.  Because of the nature of the opponent, it is not immediately clear if the data will be useful.  Similar to the preview against Minnesota, I will look at Utah’s 2010 season stats to give a clearer picture into how relevant the game against Montana State was.

This post will look at the run vs pass play calling by Utah, their 3rd down conversions, and their gain histogram.

Play Calling

Against Montana State, Utah ran the ball 36 times (59%) and passed the ball 25 times (41%).  Slightly unbalanced towards the run, but this is expected in a win.  Let us look at the play calling by down.

Overall, Utah was fairly unbalanced on first down, running nearly twice as often as they passed the ball.  On other downs, they were fairly balanced.  But now let us look at the play calling by quarter.

From this perspective, Utah had multiple different looks that they threw at Montana State.  The first and third quarters were fairly balanced in their attack.  However, the second quarter featured three times as many runs as passes, and the final quarter had twice as many runs as passes.  The fourth quarter’s play calling is likely just running out the clock.

Now let us look at how the overall play calling against Montana State compared to last season’s stats.  In 2010, Utah ran the ball 410 times (50%) and passed the ball 410 times (50%).  They were perfectly balanced to the play last season.  Compare this to their game against Montana State where they ran the ball 59% and passed 41% of the time.  I expect to see this very balanced attack by Utah when they come into the Coliseum.

3rd Down Conversions

3rd down conversions plagued Utah in their first game as they converted 4 out of 13 3rd downs (31%).  Three of those four conversions were 3rd and short (three yards or less).  On 3rd and medium (4-6 yards), Utah was 0 for 1.  On 3rd and long (seven or more yards, Utah was 1 for 7 (14%).  Utah did go for it twice on 4th down and converted on both of them.  One of them was a 4th and 1 which produced a 10 yard gain.  The other was a 4th and 7 on their own 15 yard line which resulted in an 18 yard run.  I don’t know for certain since I did not watch the game, but I imagine the 4th and 7 play was a fake punt.  If anyone can confirm or deny, that would be appreciated.

When compared with last season, Utah did not struggle quite so much on the 3rd down conversions.  My program logged them with a 45% 3rd down conversion rate in 2010.  This included a 74% conversion rate on 3rd and short, 47% on 3rd and medium, and 28% on 3rd and long.  If USC can hold Utah to similar numbers that Montana State did, that would be a great victory for the defense.

Gain Histograms

Let us look at the gain histogram for Utah against Montana State.

Let us first look at the run.  Utah’s running plays seem to be very “home run” based.  19 of their runs (54%) gained three yards or less.  Eight runs (23%) were explosive and gained 10 yards or more, including six plays (17%) that gained over 15 yards.  As for passes, the only passing plays that lost yards were a pair of sacks.  Combined with the amount of low yardage runs, look for our defensive front to capitalize by applying a lot of pressure up front.

Utah was only able to muster 4.4 yards per pass attempt and 6.7 yards per completion.  Their longest completion was only 15 yards.  It is possible that they were holding back against Montana State, as these are way below QB Jordan Wynn’s previous numbers.  Hopefully USC can hold Utah to these sort of numbers as well.


Utah poses an interesting challenge.  They have a new offensive coordinator which most USC fans will be familiar with: Norm Chow.  While the Chow offensive scheme isn’t exactly what USC used in the past and present (Pete Carroll changed the offensive scheme after the 2001 season), it should be similar enough for our defense to be comfortable defending it.  Expect a very balanced attack from Utah.  Utah’s main weakness from their season opener seems to be 3rd down conversions.  Look for USC to capitalize.


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