USC won its game against Utah, even scoring a touchdown two hours after the game ended. However, USC should have won the game by more. This team had the potential to blow out Utah, but failed to reach that separation. Instead, we were forced to block the game tying field goal. This post will first take a look at the key point in the game: the turnovers. Then it will look at the play calling by USC and will take a brief look into 3rd down conversions rates. Finally, we will look at the gain histogram.
The main factor that prevented this game from being a blowout was the turnovers. First was an interception by Matt Barkley at the Utah 15 on 3rd down early in the 2nd quarter. Our defense held and forced a punt. On the very next drive, D.J. Morgan put the ball on the ground at the Utah 16 on 1st down. This fumble gave Utah their first momentum push of the game as they marched 84 yards in 12 plays and scored a touchdown.
Halfway through the 3rd quarter, USC made a big defensive stop forcing a turnover on downs on a Utah 4th and 6 at midfield. However, on the very next play, Xavier Grimble fumbled the ball giving Utah great field position. Utah rides the momentum with a big 51 yard play, and scores a touchdown.
Notice a couple of key things here. Utah scored its only 14 points directly following turnovers. One of those scores came on a short field, making it easy for Utah to march. Hopefully, the players learn from this and improve. Barkley’s throw was a bad read as those timing routes won’t work against zone. The two redshirt freshmen will hopefully also hold onto the ball tighter going forward.
Overall, USC was very balanced on offense. USC ran the ball 38 times (52%) and passed the ball 35 times (48%). I was happy to see Kiffin pounding the rock with the run plays, establishing the pace of the game early and putting the game in the hands of the inexperienced offensive line. The first quarter favored the run and set the tone early with 15 runs (60%) and 10 passes (40%).
Let us look at the play calling by down.
As can be seen, USC tended towards the run on first and second downs. On third down, USC heavily favored the pass. This was due to the number of 3rd and mediums and 3rd and long plays. There were five plays which were 3rd and medium (4-6 yards to go) and five 3rd and long plays (seven or more yards). On these ten plays, USC passed the ball nine times and ran the ball only once.
3rd Down Conversions
Surprisingly enough, USC had a better conversion rate on 3rd and long than any other 3rd down category. On 3rd and short, USC converted on two out of five attempts (40%). On 3rd and medium, USC converted on only one out of five attempts (20%). On 3rd and long, USC converted on three out of five attempts (60%). USC will need to improve on the 3rd down conversions. Ideally, 3rd and short should be converting 70% of the time while 3rd and medium should be closer to 40%-50%.
Let us take a quick look at the gain histogram for USC.
USC really pushed the running game against Utah, unlike what was used against Minnesota. This resulted in a lot of short to moderate gains behind an inexperienced offensive line, but really set the tone for the game and the offense. 18 run plays (49%) gained three or fewer yards, including four (11%) which gained no yards or lost yards. 11 runs (30%) gained a healthy 4-6 yards and eight plays (21%) gained seven or more yards. According to Kiffin, this is against a very strong Utah front seven, so these numbers should improve against other opponents.
On the passing side, six completions (18%) gained five or fewer yards. Add in the 12 incompletions and that accounts for 55% of passes. A strong 15 passes (45%) gained nine or more yards, including eight explosive passes (24%) which gained 15+ yards.
This offense definitely has potential. The offensive line remarkably improved between weeks one and two, and that showed in the play calling. There were fewer quick passes, bubble screens, and QB rollouts and a lot more runs. If the offense protected the football, this would have been a blowout. Look for the offense to continue to develop and hopefully it will translate onto the scoreboard.
Up next is a look at the defensive side of the ball against Utah.