This post will look at the offensive side of the ball for USC in their game against Arizona. USC won out in a shootout and flexed its offensive muscle. This post will first start by looking at the play calling by USC then look at the conversion rates and other successes by USC’s offense.
Overall, USC relied on the pass this week. This included 25 run plays (39%) and 39 pass plays (61%). Let us first take a look at the play calling by down.
USC relied on the pass in every down. It was about the same ratio of passes to runs for each down as well, which is interesting. This reliance on the pass for the entire game is why Barkley threw for a record 468 passing yards on those 39 attempts. It is also against the trend for USC this season. Now let us look at the play calling by quarter.
USC did little to establish the run early in the game. USC also struggled to succeed on the run early on. In the first half, USC was averaging only 2.11 yards per rush on nine runs. In the second half, USC averaged a much stronger 5.9 yards per rush on 16 runs, including the two knees that USC took at the end. Take out those two knees and their average jumps to 7.03 yards per carry.
When I first looked at the play success stats, I flagged that USC had seven of their runs (28%) which gained negative or no yardage. That is over one in four runs hurting USC. However, upon closer inspection, two of these plays were kneels to end the game, which brings the number of negative or no yardage runs down to 20%. One more of those negative plays was Marc Tyler’s run at the end of the first half to bring the ball to center of the field to setup a field goal. This play was intentional to lose yardage, so shouldn’t really be counted as a negative play. This brings us to four runs which gained negative or no yards, or 16%. Three of those four runs were no gain rather than negative yardage, so it wasn’t as bad as it originally looked on paper.
On the passing side of the ball, a strong 28% of passes were explosive and gained at least 15 yards. No passes that were completed lost or gained no yardage, so everyone was at least falling forward. Add in the fact that Barkley only threw six incompletions and it shows how strong our passing game was. Four of those incompletions came in the first half. There was one interception in the second half, which means the only time the ball hit the ground in the second half was the 4th and 1 play to try to seal the game.
USC was very strong in its conversions. USC converted on seven of ten 3rd down conversions, or 70%, which is very strong. Even more interesting is that USC failed to convert on all of their 3rd and shorts plays. One was a 3rd and 1 on the Arizona 37 in the 2nd quarter and the other was a 3rd and 2 on the Arizona 48 in the 4th quarter. Both plays were runs by Marc Tyler and gained -1 and 1 yards respectively. Both times USC went for it on 4th down, in which USC converted the first time but failed the second time.
Another interesting and strong stat on 3rd downs was that USC only had one 3rd and long the entire game. Even this single 3rd and long was on the cusp as it was a 3rd and 7. Otherwise, USC had seven 3rd and mediums and two 3rd and shorts. This is a great distribution to prevent those 3rd and longs from coming into play. Much of this is due to the success of the passing game on earlier downs.
Let us look at the average distance to go compared to the average gain per down.
Notice how strong USC was on 1st and 2nd down. It is also great to see USC basically doubling what was needed on 2nd and 3rd downs. As a note, USC converted on a strong 34% of 1st downs and 40% on 2nd downs. Combine that with the 70% conversion rate on 3rd down and it is no surprise that USC marched down the field all game long.
USC also had only a single drive which failed to produce a first down: their final drive, in which they took two knees. USC scored touchdowns on six of 11 drives (55%) and scored points on eight drives (73%). This includes that final drive of victory formation.
USC was able to impose their offensive will on Arizona’s weakened defense. While I am of the football school which likes to see a team pound the rock and establish the run to setup the passing game, it is clear that this year’s team will succeed through the air via the “Robert Woods Effect.” Even the running game is established around Robert Woods in many ways. Look for an upcoming post which will take a much closer look into how USC utilizes Robert Woods offensively and how big that “Robert Woods Effect” really is.