USC’s first road game will come against Arizona State. ASU had much hype in the preseason, having been picked by some to win the Pac-12 South. Let us look at their offense. This post will first look at ASU’s play calling, specifically on 3rd down. Then we will look at conversion rates. Finally, we will take a quick look at production after turnovers.
Overall, ASU is a passing team. They have run the ball 100 times (45%) and passed the ball 120 times (55%). This type of playcalling is seen fairly consistently throughout all four quarters this season. There is a slightly higher tendency to pass in the 2nd quarter and a higher tendency to run in the 4th quarter, but they do not stray from their tendencies very much based on the clock. Let us look at the play calling by down.
As seen here, ASU is fairly balanced on first and second down. They tend towards the run slightly on first down. Conversely they trend slightly towards the pass on second down. By third down, they are heavily passing the ball. This might be because their average distance to go on third down is 8.18 yards. However, let us look at their play calling on third down based on the yardage to go.
Most teams lean on the run on 3rd and short and still keep the threat of the run with anything less than about seven yards to convert. However, this isn’t the case with ASU. The only time they seriously run the ball is on 3rd and 1. Even on 3rd and 2 or 3, they have passed three times as often as they have run the ball. They have also yet to run the ball even once on a 3rd and medium situation. This is very unorthodox and should be noted. They barely ever run the ball in longer situations as well.
This reliance on the pass might be due to their lack of success in the run game. Officially, they have run the ball 100 times for 401 yards, which comes to a 4.01 average yards per carry. However, 24 of their run plays (24%) have netted negative or no yards. Nearly a quarter of their run plays stall or hurt their offense. Compare this to their passing game where 20 of their pass plays (17%) have been explosive and gained at least 15 yards. Let us look at the gain histogram.
As can be seen here, a high percentage of ASU’s run game is stuffed. In fact, 72 of their runs (56%) have been stopped for three yards or less. This is in heavy contrast to the passing game which posted strong numbers as earlier noted.
ASU has a very strong conversion rate. I have them converting 33 out of 75 plays on 2nd down. This is a 44% conversion rate, which is fairly high for 2nd down. For 3rd down, I have them converting 17 out of 39, which is also 44% and is respectable. Let us take a closer look into the 3rd down conversions. For 3rd and short, they have converted six out of 12 for 50%. On 3rd and medium, which was all pass plays if you remember, they have converted on five out of six for 83%. 3rd and long converted six for 21 which comes out to 29%.
Due to their decently strong conversion rates, especially on earlier downs, ASU has only had two drives which were three and out this entire season so far. This is only 6% of their drives. For comparison’s sake, 20% of USC’s drives in 2010 were three and outs. Of course, ASU does have a number of drives which only convert for a single first down, but it still shows their strong conversion ability.
One quick note on turnovers. ASU’s defense has gained four turnovers this season (1.3 per game). However, ASU’s offense has yet to take those turnovers and turn them into points. In three games and four total turnovers, ASU has not scored a single point off of turnover.
I have little doubt that USC can stuff ASU’s run game. The key, however, will be for USC to stop ASU’s passing attack. Illinois accomplished this by sending complex pressure packages at the quarterback, which resulted in six sacks. This added pressure also lead to turnovers by ASU: two interceptions and a fumble. Look for USC to try to emulate that type of pressure and get to the quarterback. Do that, and USC can shut down ASU’s offense.