This post will look at USC’s offense in their game against the Cal Bears. It will first look at the play calling by USC throughout the game, then it will look at conversion rates, field position, and points off of turnovers.
Overall, USC ran the ball 35 times (49%) and passed the ball 37 times (51%). This is very balanced and what Kiffin likes to establish. However, this balance wasn’t consistent throughout the game and is a byproduct of the situations we found ourselves in. Let us first look at the play calling by quarter.
USC started the game through the air, throwing over twice as often as they ran in the first quarter. This isn’t surprising given the lack of productivity that USC was getting on the ground. They averaged a paltry 1.2 yards per carry in the first quarter. However, once the second quarter hit, USC was able to establish more of a run game. They averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the second quarter and the play calling become more balanced. The third quarter had a 4.1 yard per carry average and also was very balanced. The final quarter was time to put the game to an end and featured three times as many runs as passes. USC averaged a lower 3.4 yards per carry in the final quarter, but Cal could also key in on the run by then.
Let us take a similar look and look at the play calling by score margin.
USC established the lead using the pass. Once they were ahead by more than a touchdown, things started to balance out. Finally, with a significant two touchdown lead, USC started to rely more on the run.
USC converted on six of 15 third downs, or 40%. On the bright side, USC was four for four on 3rd and short. You always want to make those short yardage situations and convert. However, for the bad news, USC was zero for seven on 3rd and long. I felt like the passing game never really established itself and both Barkley and Woods seemed to have a bit of an off night. When your passing game is out of sync, it will be hard to convert those long yardage situations. On 3rd and medium, USC went two for four, which isn’t horrible.
Speaking of the passing game’s struggles, USC only had three pass plays which were explosive and gained at least 15 yards. This accounts for only 8% of USC’s passing plays. For reference, 28% of USC’s passes against Arizona were explosive. It was even worse than the ASU game where 12% of USC’s pass plays were explosive. The run game didn’t help much as eight out of 33 runs, or 24%, were stuffed for no gain or for a loss. That is one in four runs hurting the team.
USC had great field position this game. Their average starting field position was their own 48 yard line. Practically starting at midfield on average. Three times USC started on Cal’s side of the field. This included starting at the Cal 37, 30, and 9 yard lines. USC started behind their own 40 yard line eight times in the game. Two of those drives had USC running the ball out to end each half. So only six real drives started with USC backed up at an average starting field position. Consider there were 15 total drives, so only 53% of USC’s drives started in an average manner (40% if you don’t count the drives to end each half) while 20% started with great field position deep in Cal territory. The other 27% of the drives started near mid field, which is also good field position.
Points off Turnovers
All this good field position was due in large part to turnovers. USC scored 13 points off turnovers. Unfortunately, I would have liked to see this number be higher given we gained five turnovers. Five turnovers has the potential of 35 points, so in that sense we underwhelmed by leaving 22 points on the table. To be fair, we shouldn’t count the interception in the endzone just before halftime, as it is unlikely we score there given the time on the clock. That turnover was more to deny Cal from scoring seven points. After taking out that interception, we still left 15 points on the table.
The offense did enough to win us the game in convincing fashion. However, I felt like the offense never got into the rhythm they usually get into. They clearly struggled at times, especially on the deep ball. This could have been due to the odd Thursday night game. It could have been Cal’s complex pressure packages, causing confusion on our inexperienced offensive line. It could have also been the injuries with Tyler and Lee both going down. Either way, USC will need to improve and settle down in road games, especially with a game in South Bend coming up. We won’t always be able to rely on our defense to nab five turnovers and great field position. Getting Lee back in (he’s expected to practice by Sunday) and the Barkley-Woods connection back in sync and I won’t be worried about this offense.