This post will look at the offensive side of the ball for USC in their victory over Notre Dame. We will first look at the play calling by USC. Next we will look at conversion rates and the gain histograms.
Overall, USC played very balanced. There were 40 running plays (51%) and 39 passing plays (49%). This is after I converted Barkley’s four scrambles into pass plays since the actual play call was a pass. First let us look at the play calling by down.
From the surface, USC was fairly balanced on each down. USC actually tended to pass the most on first down comparatively. The other downs relied slightly more on the run. However, let us take a closer look at the play calling by quarter.
When broken down this way, you can see how the play calling evolved throughout the game. USC actually came out in the first quarter establishing the run. In fact, USC’s first drive of the game had nine running plays (75%) compared to three passing plays (25%). USC came back the next drive passing with four passes (67%) and two runs (33%). USC kept up the balance while still establishing the run early on and gained a 14 point lead.
The second and third quarters relied more on the pass than on the run. In these two quarters, USC gained only three points on offense. There were some unfortunate stalled drives in these quarters. USC was able to consistently move the ball, as in there were no drives that stalled for three and out. In fact, each drive spanned at least 30 yards for these quarters. However, USC was unable to turn these drives into points, which is something that can be improved on.
Another note is that USC only had 13 offensive plays in the third quarter, or only 16% of their plays. This was due to USC only getting one drive in for the third quarter. That drive spanned 50 yards but ended in a punt. That was followed by a long and methodical 6 minute 22 second drive by ND which brought them knocking on the goalline, but ended in a fumble returned 80 yards for a USC touchdown. As a result, USC barely had the ball at all in the third quarter.
USC had a decent conversion rate, converting on seven of their 15 third downs, or 47%. However, let us take a closer look at these third down conversions.
Let us look at the breakdown by half first. In the first half, USC converted on only two out of their six third down conversions, or 29%. This is lower than usual, and surprising due to the majority of points and yards coming in the first half. This first half breakdown included two out of four conversions on third and short (50%). Both of the 3rd and short conversions in the first half came on USC’s first drive. USC did not convert its only 3rd and medium nor its two 3rd and longs in the first half.
If you look at the second half, USC converted a much stronger five out of eight 3rd down conversions, or 63%. This included both of their 3rd and shorts and their only 3rd and medium in the second half. USC did not convert either of its 3rd and longs in the second half. Overall, USC converted on four out of six 3rd and shorts (67%), all of their 3rd and mediums (100%), and none of their 3rd and longs (0%).
Now let us take a look at USC’s average distance to go compared to their average gain per down.
Looking at the average distance to go shows a very consistent offense. Having an average distance to go of 4.7 yards on 3rd down is surprisingly strong. Typically, you will see teams have an average distance to go of about six yards for 3rd down. This strong progression for the average distance to go from down to down shows consistency in the offense’s ability to move the ball. This also shows USC’s reliance on the running game and the short passing game to gain positive yardage, as these lead to better situations for later downs. It does, however, signal a lower amount of explosive plays and early down conversions.
On that note, let us take a look at the gain histogram for USC’s offense.
First let us look at the running game. Overall, USC ran the ball 40 times and averaged 5.0 yards per carry. USC had only six runs that gained negative or no yardage (15% of total runs). If we take out the team kneel to end the first half, this is only five runs (13%). 14 of USC’s runs were what I consider “subpar” and gained three or fewer yards (35%). However, five of these runs (including one of the negative runs) came on USC’s final drive of the game when USC was running out the clock, which is a time when Notre Dame could easily key in on the run defensively. This means that there were only nine total USC runs (23%) which gained three or fewer yards when there was the threat of the pass. This is great running against a strong running defense and showed how well our offensive line pushed.
Now to the pass. No completed pass gained fewer than two yards. There were a number of short range passes completed, many of them being bubble screens or swing passes. These were used to compliment the running game and were used fairly effectively. However, there was a lack of explosive passes with only five plays (13%) gaining 15 or more yards. Generally, Notre Dame was able to cover our deeper routes well, which in part caused Barkley to scramble for yardage when the play would break down. Twelve of USC’s passes, or 31%, did gain at least nine yards, which is good.
USC’s offense was able to generally move the ball on a good Notre Dame defense. The offensive line especially played well, which allowed us to open up the running game and pound the rock. This consistency in being able to get yards allowed for USC to not find itself backed against a wall often on later downs. The offense did stall at points in the game, and there were drives which gained a lot of yards but failed to produce points (one drive gained 50 yards but ended in a punt and another gained 65 yards but ended in a missed field goal). Overall, I felt that this was a good performance for the offense in a tough road environment against a decently good defense. There are still some things that could be better, but I was happy overall.