USC vs Arizona Defensive Recap

This post will look at the defensive side of the ball for USC’s win against Arizona.  Unfortunately, the defense wasn’t able to do very much after their initial two interceptions, which were incidentally Nick Foles’ first two interceptions of the season.  The post will first look at Arizona’s play calling, then look at Arizona’s conversion rates and time of possession.

Play Calling

Arizona relied mostly on the pass, which wasn’t super surprising given how strong their passing game is.  However, they were more effective on the ground than I was expecting.  Overall, Arizona ran the ball 32 times (37%) and passed the ball 54 times (63%).  Let us first look at the play calling by down.

Arizona was fairly balanced on first down.  However, this was basically the end of their running threat as they rarely ran on 2nd and 3rd downs.  Half of their runs on 2nd down were on 2nd and 1 and all their runs on 3rd down were on 3rd and short.  Unfortunately for USC’s secondary, Arizona was very effective in the pass to the tune of 77% completion rate and 425 yards of passing offense.

Conversion Rates

Arizona converted the ball well to keep drives alive.  ESPN logs them at a 50% conversion rate on 3rd down, but I also give them a conversion for the 3rd and 10 play in which they gained six yards on a pass completion and another 6 yards and automatic first down for a pass interference call. This brought their conversion rate in my program to 58%.  This included a 75% conversion rate on 3rd and short, 100% on 3rd and medium, and 33% on 3rd and long (this is reduced to 17% if you don’t count the pass interference as a conversion).  Please note that these numbers are all higher than Arizona’s season long conversion rates at these distance categories.  It can be inferred that USC’s defense didn’t play as well as the previous defenses Arizona faced this season based on this data.

Also of note, Arizona converted on 36% of their 1st downs and 55% of their 2nd downs.  This high rate of success on early downs as well as on 3rd down helped Arizona march slowly but surely down the field.  This brings us to time of possession.

Time of Possession

Officially, Arizona had the ball for 33 minutes and 50 seconds.  This gave Arizona a 7 minute 40 second advantage in time of possession over USC.  However, this doesn’t tell the entire tale.

Arizona’s offense was slow but effective.  It wasn’t quite as explosive as USC, but they were able to stay on the field and get points to stay in the game.  Arizona’s average drive lasted for 3 minutes and 20 seconds.  This is a full minute longer than USC’s offense which averaged 2 minutes and 20 seconds per drive.  Arizona’s drives averaged 53.8 yards compared to USC’s 60.4 yards.  In addition, Arizona averaged 8.6 plays per drive compared to USC’s 6.4 plays per drive.  So all in all, Arizona’s drives were about seven yards shorter than USC’s, but took two more plays and a minute longer than USC did.  This shows the slower and more methodical drives that Arizona took.

Another way to look at it is yards per play.  Arizona took 86 offensive snaps and averaged 6.44 yards per play.  On the other hand, USC took only 63 offensive snaps averaged 9.09 yards per play.  This discrepancy shows the explosive nature of USC’s offense when compared to Arizona’s slower offense.

Some people have brought up that USC’s defense may have gotten tired in the game due to Arizona’s extended but effective drives.  This was compounded by USC’s quick strike offense which gave them no time to rest.  An additional two plays and one game minute per drive translates to probably 15-20 minutes of real time rest.  Could this have factored into USC’s inability to stop Arizona?


USC’s defense could not put the stop to Arizona’s offense.  Not super surprising as Arizona currently ranks #3 in the nation in passing offense and #24 in the nation in total offense.  From a total offense standpoint, they are the strongest offense that our defense has faced this season.  I was surprised at how well they were able to run the ball against our defense.  They are currently ranked #116 in the nation in rushing offense and are at the bottom of the Pac-12.  They average only 75.6 yards per game rushing, but were able to rush for 129 yards on the ground against our defense.  This is a margin of 50.4 yards when looking at the comparative stat.  They were even able to get a full yard more on their average yards per carry compared to their season average.

Hopefully USC can shore up some of their defense because our next game is on the road against Cal.  Cal ranks #25 in total offense, which is just behind Arizona.  Then there are the future games against Stanford (#17 in total offense) and Oregon (#6 in total offense).  Any way you look at it, either this defense needs to improve quickly or our offense better plan on scoring points every possession and never turn the ball over.


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