USC at Cal Defensive Recap

This post will look at the USC defense in their win against Cal.  First, we will look at the play calling by Cal.  Then we will look at conversion rates for Cal, a quick look at field position, and a couple notes on points allowed.

Play Calling

Overall, Cal ran the ball 23 times (33%) and passed the ball 46 times (67%).  This is more reliant on the pass than we’ve seen from Cal in their prior games.  So first, let us look at the play calling by quarter.

Cal stayed fairly balanced in the first half as USC built a decent lead.  That balance also lead to four turnovers in the first half.  To start the second half, Cal started relying on the pass to catch back up.  However, by the final quarter, Cal had pretty much given up on the run.

Now let us look at the play calling by down.

Cal really only ran the ball on first down.  They actually had pretty good balance on first down.  Afterwards, they very much relied on the pass with very few runs on later downs.

Let us take a closer look at the runs and passes and how they fared.  Overall, USC was able to stuff the run.  Cal gained only 36 yards on the ground for an average of 1.3 yards per carry.  Take out the sacks, since these aren’t real running plays anyways, and Cal still only gained 47 yards on the ground for an average of 2.8 yards per carry.  In fact, 35% of Cal’s running plays were stopped for no gain or for negative yardage, not including sacks.

However, Cal was able to get a decent number of explosive plays.  20% of Cal’s passes were explosive and 13% of their runs were as well.  In total, there were 11 plays (17% of Cal’s plays) gained 15 yards or more.

Conversion Rates

Let us look at the average distance to go compared to the average gain per down.

USC’s defense held very strong on second down, allowing an average of only 2.1 yards.  This lead to a huge 8.9 average distance to go on 3rd down.  What USC was able to hold on 2nd down was somewhat given back on 3rd down as USC allowed an average of 7.4 yards gained on 3rd down.  Cal was able to perform decently in these situations with a 40% 3rd down conversion rate.  USC was able to hold on Cal’s only 3rd and short, but allowed a 40% conversion rate on 3rd and medium and a 44% conversion rate on 3rd and long.

Field Position

A quick note on field position.  Cal’s average starting field position was their own 25 yard line.  They definitely lost the field position battle with USC, as USC was often starting near midfield.  Cal only took 33% of their offensive snaps on USC’s side of the field.  Compare this to USC who took 56% of their snaps on the Cal side of the field.  Cal’s drives often stalled with 36% of their drives failing to produce a single first down.


Just a couple things I wanted to note about points scored by Cal.  Even though USC turned the ball over twice (one of which was on the failed 4th down attempt), Cal was not able to capitalize on the momentum and score points.  Cal had no points off turnovers in this game.  Given that USC’s second turnover was late in the game when Cal was already too far into the hole to come back from, USC defense responded much better to the turnovers than in previous games.

Another note is that USC was able to shut out Cal in three of the four quarters.  All of Cal’s nine points were scored in the 3rd quarter.  I note this because this is the fourth game in which Cal has been shut out in the fourth quarter, with the other games coming against Presbyterian, Washington, and Oregon.


USC’s defense was able to bend but not break.  They capitalized on Cal’s mistakes by grabbing five turnovers.  USC was able to get a mixed amount of pressure on Cal’s quarterback, and was definitely able to stuff the run.  However, there were a large number of big gains against our defense.  Cal actually outgained USC in terms of total offense, yet USC won by 21 points.  I guess this is the classic example of bend but don’t break.  Allow the yards, but don’t allow the points.


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