USC at Colorado Defensive Recap

USC’s defense was able to hold Colorado to 17 points.  Seven of those points came early on the first drive of the game.  Three more were allowed after an untimely interception from Barkley.  Finally, seven more were added to start the fourth quarter.  All of this occurred against a weakened USC defense which was missing a number of their starters for the game.

This post will look at the defensive side of the ball for the game against Colorado.  We will first look at the play calling by Colorado.  Then we will look at the conversion rate allowed and the gain histogram.

Play Calling

Overall, Colorado ran the ball 24 times (39%) and passed the ball 38 times (61%).  First let us take a look at their play calling by down.

Colorado relied on the pass to some extent on every down.  They were generally balanced on 1st and 2nd down, but still leaned towards the pass.  3rd down was almost exclusively a passing down.  Their only runs on 3rd down came on a 3rd and short and a 3rd and 10.

Now let us look at Colorado’s play calling by quarter.

Again, Colorado relied on the pass almost the entire game.  Their most balanced quarter was the final quarter, when the game was already well decided.  Colorado’s most successful drive, their first one which scored a touchdown, used two runs (33%) and four passes (67%).  Of the 67 yards that came on that drive, only seven of those came from rushing the ball.

Conversion Rate Allowed

USC was able to prevent Colorado from converting many of their 3rd downs.  In fact, USC allowed only 19 Colorado first downs.  Compare this to the 31 first downs that USC converted.  Colorado was able to convert both of their 3rd and short attempts, but was held to one in four (25%) on 3rd and medium and two out of eight (25%) on 3rd and longs.

USC was able to accomplish this by sending pressure almost every single time Colorado was in a 3rd down situation.  These weren’t even standard blitzes, USC would send the house.  USC would even send a +3 blitz, which isn’t often seen as you are pretty much forced to play a weak zone behind the blitz as you won’t have enough defenders to cover all the eligible receivers man to man.

These types of blitzes are a huge gamble, but one that often paid off for USC in this game.  Colorado’s QB would often panic and throw errant passes.  These passes would frequently miss their mark by five to ten yards, which opens up huge opportunities for turnovers.  Unfortunately, USC was not able to pick off any of these errant passes, but they were definitely there.  I am surprised that Colorado did not adjust their play calling to our constant pressure on late downs by calling any sort of screen pass to get around the blitz.

Gain Histogram

Now let us look at the gain histogram by Colorado.  Remember that the passing histogram only shows completed passes.

USC generally held Colorado in check, but Colorado was able to pull of some plays against USC.  USC was generally able to stop the run, with 43% of Colorado’s runs gaining fewer than three yards.  However, 38% of Colorado’s runs gained more than six yards and were above average.  This includes a pair of runs by Colorado’s QB for 49 total yards.

On the passing side of the ball, USC was able to hold Colorado under a 50% completion rate, but allowed 12 passes to gain at least 10 yards, six of which gained at least 15 yards.  This includes completions of 45 yards, 37 yards (touchdown), and 20 yards.  Some of these big passing plays may be due to two new starters playing at safety.  Even after TJ McDonald returned, he was likely playing a little more hesitant after being suspended for targeting.


USC held Colorado to 17 points.  In reality, the defense’s performance should have allowed 23 points since it did allow Colorado to get into field goal range two more times, but the special teams was able to block those two field goals.  Given that this was an away game in a very cold environment (not sure how many of our players have never seen snow in their life) and the number of defensive starters we had to replace for this game, I am decently happy with their performance.  Monte dialed up a very aggressive gameplan against Colorado and it paid off on later downs.  Don’t expect this sort of aggression against better teams as they will be good enough to pick it apart.  But it is still good to see Monte Kiffin adjusting to the particulars of an opponent.


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