USC at Notre Dame Defensive Recap

This post will look at the USC defense in their win against Notre Dame.  First we will look at the offensive play calling by Notre Dame, just to see what they threw at our defense.  Next we will look at the field position battle and a breakdown of yards and points per quarter.

Play Calling

Notre Dame passed the ball almost all game long.  Overall, they ran the ball only 14 times (25%) and passed the ball 43 times (75%).  Let us look at the play calling by quarter.

Notre Dame dropped behind to an early 14 point score margin by the end of the first quarter.  This lead them to start relying on the pass more.  It also could have been USC’s ability to stuff the run.  ND averaged 0.7 yards per carry on their three runs in the first quarter.  Clearly, they struggled to establish the run.  Overall, ND averaged only 2.9 yards per carry.

Another interesting point to look at is how few plays ND got in the first and fourth quarter.  ND only had eight offensive plays in the first quarter.  This was in large part due to the defense as they were able to stuff ND for two 3-and-outs to start the game.  The offense did their part by methodically driving the ball down the field and scoring, all while controlling the time of possession.  The fourth quarter was another mix of offense and defense.  The defense was able to snag two turnovers in the fourth quarter, a fumbled lateral pass and an interception.  Again, the offense was able to sustain longer drives to keep ND from getting the ball back.

Field Position

Many football games are a battle of field position.  This is often why coaches will call draw plays on 3rd and super long instead of going for the first down.  They are thinking about the field position battle.  It also goes into consideration when going for it on 4th down when it is goal to go.  The field position battle is often overlooked by commentators and viewers.

In terms of this game, USC won the field position battle hands down.  Notre Dame had an average starting field position of their own 39 yard line.  This is actually fairly decent and likely was contributed due to the fact that USC used its backup kickoff kicker in the second half.  His kickoffs were noticeably shorter and didn’t have the hang time of our starter.  However, even with this decent field position, ND only took 33% of their offensive snaps on the USC side of the field.  This was in large part due to USC’s defense putting the stops on ND.  Four out of ND’s nine drives (44%) failed to produce a single first down.  This included two drives which ended in turnovers.

Comparatively,  USC’s average starting field position was on the ND 46 yard line.  That means that on average, USC started past midfield.  66% of USC’s offensive plays were on the ND side of the field.  In contrast to ND, no USC drive failed to produce a first down (if you exclude the knee USC took to end the first half).

Yards and Points per Quarter

Let us first look at the yards allowed by USC’s defense per quarter.

USC had two strong quarters in the first and the fourth.  The first quarter is surprisingly strong as USC allowed only 14 yards.  Remember that ND only took eight offensive snaps in the first quarter, but this is still holding ND to under two yards per play.  The final quarter, USC held ND to 58 yards on eight offensive plays, so a more normal 7.3 yards per play.  However, this is the quarter in which the defense gained two turnovers, so they played lights out in that.  For comparison’s sake, the second quarter allowed 5.7 yards per play and the third quarter allowed 5.2 yards per play.

Now let us take a quick look at the points per quarter.

USC allowed the most points in the second quarter, which initially matches up with the quarter in which we allowed the most yards as well.  However, this is deceiving as seven of ND’s points in the second quarter came off of a kickoff return, which aren’t counted in the yards graph.  USC did allow 113 yards in the second quarter, but held ND to a field goal in that many yards.  In the third quarter, ND drove for 110 yards but scored no points.  This was in large part due to 88 of those offensive yards coming on the drive that fumbled on the one yard line.

Conclusion

USC’s defense played fairly well, but did have some minor issues which prevented it from being a complete great defensive game.  The defense did not allow many explosive plays as only four ND plays gained 15 or more yards.  However, the defense also did not force many negative or no yardage plays as they stuffed only a single run for negative yardage.  I liked the defensive adjustments and scheme that Monte Kiffin employed.  There were a lot more double eagle fronts that I saw, which allowed for various pressure packages.

The defense did soften up in the middle of the game, notably after the kickoff return for a touchdown.  Due to the overall youth, the team as a whole seems to be affected by major momentum shifts.  At the start of the game, USC was rolling and stuffing ND.  Once the kickoff return occurred, both the offense and defense seemed to stutter.  However, once that goalline fumble was returned for a touchdown, the offense and defense regained their push.  I would like to see this team mature to the point where momentum shifts do not affect their mentality in the game, and thus do not affect their performance.

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