USC at ASU Defensive Recap

Defensively, USC had ups and downs.  ASU marched to an early lead on USC and the defense also allowed ASU to capitalize on points off of turnovers.  As the commentators mentioned, USC’s defense did not mentally respond well to the turnovers by the offense.  USC’s defense also did not defend the swing pass very well, which relieved pressure on the quarterback and opened up their run game.  First we will look at the play calling by ASU.  Then we will look at conversion rates and field position.  Finally, we will look at the yards and points per quarter allowed.

Play Calling

Overall, ASU ran the ball 30 times (44%) and passed the ball 38 times (56%).  This includes six quarterback scrambles which will show up as run plays on most stat sheets, but are noted as passing plays here since the play call was technically a pass.  These scrambles hurt USC’s defense and gained an average of 4.8 yards per scramble.  Two of them converted for new first downs.  Let us look at the play calling by down.

As seen here, ASU leaned towards the run on first down, but relied on the pass on second and third down.  Third down especially was heavy on the passing plays, as we saw in the preview post heading into this game.

The swing pass was what ASU utilized the most in the passing game.  It seemed like they were doing it every pass play.  I wish I had numbers on how often they ran it.  The important note here is this adjustment that Coach Erickson made since his loss to Illinois.

Against Illinois, ASU was sacked six times and they allowed Illinois to apply a lot of pressure to the quarterback.  This lead to a lot of turnovers by ASU as well.  USC watched the Illinois tape and attempted to replicate that amount of pressure by sending blitzes or complex pressure schemes to get to the quarterback.  Unfortunately, this backfired on us as ASU game planned for it by relying on the swing pass.  This simple play gets the ball out quickly to the exterior and away from the pressure points the defense applied.  It then gets the ball in space, potentially with blockers in front, which is a weak point in our tackling ability.

As always, football is a chess match.  Both coaches are jockeying for position and leverage, attempting to out-think the other.  In this particular instance of our defensive game plan vs their offensive game plan, Erickson got the better of Kiffin.

Conversion Rates

USC’s defense was not able to stop ASU from marching.  ASU converted on 28% of their first downs.  More telling is the fact that ASU converted on 45% of their second downs.  Additionally, 52% of their second downs were successful (a successful second down play gains at least 70% of the required yardage).  This high success rate on second down lead to a 42% conversion rate on ASU’s third downs.  This includes 67% conversion rate on 3rd and short, 50% on 3rd and medium, and 20% on 3rd and long.  Unlike USC, who had 66% of their 3rd down situations being 3rd and long, ASU had only 42% of their 3rd downs being 3rd and long.

These high conversion rates lead to long drives for ASU.  ASU started on average at their own 35 yard line, but had 58% of their plays on USC’s side of the field.  Over half of ASU’s plays were on USC’s side of the field.  USC’s defense will need to put a stop to those long drives.

Yards and Points per Quarter

Let us take a look at the yards and points allowed per quarter.

Surprisingly enough, the graphs don’t seem to match up as the highest quarters for yardage are the first and third quarters, but the highest quarters for points were the second and fourth.  This was due to the turnovers.  USC turned the ball over three times in the second or fourth quarters and only once in the third quarter.  The third quarter turnover ended up as a punt, which is why that turnover didn’t see a tremendous bump in yardage for ASU.


USC lost this game due to turnovers.  However, USC’s defense did not respond well to those turnovers.  When turning the ball over deep in ASU territory (three of the four turnovers occurred in the redzone, one which was returned to about midfield), the defense needs to respond with a big stop.  If your defense can put the brakes on the opponent after a turnover in the red zone, they can still force a punt which will net decent field position.  Unfortunately, this didn’t happen and ASU capitalized to the tune of 22 points off turnovers.


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