USC at Colorado Touchdown Play Analysis

This post will look at the six touchdowns USC scored against Colorado in last week’s game.  All six scores were by Matt Barkley as he set a new school record.  I have provided a link to the ESPN video clip for each touchdown and a play diagram for what occurred in the play.  Please note that I drew up the play diagrams based on the video clips provided, so if a receiver runs out of frame, I use my best estimate of what occurred.

Touchdown 1:

Link to Video:

USC is lined up 2nd and 10 at the Colorado 33 early in the 1st quarter.  USC comes out in an Ace Formation with McNeal at running back, Rhett Ellison as the Tight End, Brandon Carswell as the Split End, Robert Woods in the Slot, and Marqise Lee as the Flanker.

In this play, Barkley sees something presnap and calls an audible or a hot route to adjust for the defense.  The defense shows blitz and does with the middle linebacker and the strong side linebacker.  Ellison and McNeal stay in for additional pass protection and the blitz is picked up well.  The strong side linebacker hesitates after rushing in.  His responsibility may be the flats if the running back or the tight end bail out as a checkdown.  The weak side linebacker fills in as a spy or short middle zone coverage.  The single safety drops deep and center.  All other defensive backs play tight man to man coverage.

Now for the receiver routes.  Carswell on the far sideline runs five to seven yards up field and does a short comeback route to the outside.  Robert Woods does a stutter step before running a go route.  Marqise Lee does a slant-and-go route (aka a “sluggo” route) which is complimented with a pump fake by Barkley.  After this move, the corner is slow to turn his hips and go toe to toe with Marqise Lee, allowing Lee to get behind him and open for a touchdown pass.  The single safety is not able to bring in support because Robert Woods was also able to get behind his defender on the go route.  This causes the safety to have to defend both receivers deep, leaving him ineffective in defending either.

Touchdown 2:

Link to Video:

This touchdown to Xavier Grimble actually is pretty complicated and hard to show what occurred since it is so chaotic.  It is first and goal for USC at the 5 yard line after a pass interference call.  USC lines up quickly.  So quickly, in fact, that the camera angle doesn’t change in time to see the pre-snap formation.  Colorado’s defense is lost, and it shows.  They all just move with the flow of the action.

As far as I can tell, USC lines up in a goalline set with everybody tight.  Curtis McNeal is in as the running back with Rhett Ellison behind him at fullback.  Randell Telfer and Xavier Grimble are in as tight ends.  Robert Woods is in as a wide receiver, but it appears that he lines up tight, possibly as a flexing tight end.

This play starts as play action to the left.  It appears that USC pulls its left tackle and guard to stretch outside for the run with a fullback lead blocker as well.  The defense bites hard on this action, possibly in part due to the quick snap which doesn’t give them time to setup, only to react.  However, Barkley fakes the handoff and rolls out to the right.  At the snap, Robert Woods passes underneath the offensive line and comes out into the flats on the right side.  Both tight ends start by blocking, but release their blocks after the play action and run routes of various depths in the same direction as Barkley’s rollout.  Woods is the short route, Telfer is the mid range route, and Grimble is the deep route.  My guess is Barkley reads the play from short to deep.

Woods is immediately picked up by the safety.  Telfer actually draws three defenders to him, a linebacker, safety, and a cornerback.  Either Telfer or Woods also looks like they attract another linebacker, but this linebacker is blocked by one of the linemen.  This leaves Grimble on the deep route, who is picked up by a linebacker as well, but the linebacker stumbles for a bit and finds himself a few yards behind Grimble.  Barkley sees the window and fires.

Note when you rewatch this play that much of the confusion on defense seems to be caused by the quick snap.  This leaves the defense reacting and not playing their assignments 100%, as seen by Telfer drawing three defenders when one of them likely should have shed off and helped in the back with Grimble.

Touchdown 3:

Link to Video:

The commentators in the video incorrectly state that this is the same play as the first touchdown.  It isn’t even really the same route that Woods runs in this play (a go route) compared to the one Lee ran for the first touchdown (a sluggo route with a pump fake).  What the commentators really mean is that USC ran deep routes against one on one press coverage by the defense on both plays, but this is by no means the “same play” as before.

In this play, USC is 2nd and 10 at the Colorado 15 yard line.  USC comes out in an ace formation with Curtis McNeal as the running back, Randell Telfer and who I think is Xavier Grimble at Tight End, and finally Brice Butler and Robert Woods as Wide Receivers.  Everything is balanced, so one tight end and a wide receiver on each side of the formation.  The defense shows tight coverage on the receivers and extra players in the box.

At the snap of the ball, the outside linebackers blitz while the left defensive end does a little twist.  This is picked up nicely by the offensive line.  McNeal also stays in for pass protection.

Both receivers run go routes after diverting to the the outside of their cornerbacks.  Telfer runs a five yard out route and is actually completely uncovered.  The safety is somewhat on top of Telfer, but there is at least a 10 yard gap between the two players.  Instead, Barkley throws to Robert Woods, who is able to get a couple steps on his defender.  The safety is either slow to react or is too occupied with Telfer to give any topside support and it is an easy catch for Woods.

Touchdown 4:

Link to Video:

In this play, USC is in a 1st and 10 at the Colorado 25 yard line.  Again, USC lines up in a balanced ace formation.  This time, DJ Morgan is at running back.  Randell Telfer and Xavier Grimble are at Tight End again.  Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are at Wide Receiver.

This is actually pretty much the same play as the 3rd touchdown.  Telfer does a five yard out.  Woods dances a bit before taking a go route on the outside of the defender, similar to the last play.  Lee just straight up does a go route with a slight hesitation before taking off.  This hesitation is the same move that Woods did on the 3rd touchdown.

The defense blitzes one linebacker and does a little fake twist, but again it is picked up nicely by the offensive line.  DJ Morgan stays behind to pass protect.  The middle linebacker drops back into coverage.  The safety cheats to Robert Wood’s side and is not seen in the frame again, so he likely takes away Woods’ route, probably due to Woods burning them earlier for the 3rd touchdown.

Unlike the previous touchdown, Colorado has decided to cover Telford on his out route.  This leaves Marqise Lee who blows by his defender.  Since the safety is already occupied with Woods, this makes it an easy touchdown throw for Barkley.  This is the risk a defense takes when playing tight coverage without sufficient safety support.

Touchdown 5:

Link to Video:

On this play, USC is on 3rd and 12 at the Colorado 45.  USC lines up shotgun with four wide receivers and a running back.  Colorado comes out in loose coverage defensively.  They are mainly looking to defend the first down marker.

Colorado does not blitz and only sends the four linemen to apply pressure.  The defensive backs attempt to reroute many of our receivers by bumping them as they get close.  Lee and Carswell both run in routes at the first down marker.  Woods appears to fake a post route then cuts back to the outside.  The final receiver, who might actually be a tight end based on his size, leaves the frame and doesn’t return.  It appears he was running a go route, but he might have run some sort of comeback.

The defensive line is able to crash the pocket.  On the left side the defensive end and tackle run a twist.  The defensive end is picked up nicely with a double team, but the defensive tackle is able to dominate our left tackle who never looks like he sets his feet properly.  The left guard picks the defensive tackle up after ensuring that the twist is blocked by the center.  However, the right side has the right defensive end speed rushing around the edge and almost makes it before the right tackle takes him out of the play.    The defensive tackle does a nice spin move which disrupts the block of our right guard and he is able to break through the line.  Barkley sidesteps him then flushes out of the pocket.

At this point, Barkley considers running with the ball as he has about 10 yards of grass in front of him.  However, he pulls back and instead directs Woods to get behind the coverage before throwing the touchdown pass.  I would like to see Carswell and Lee more actively helping out their scrambling quarterback by finding the holes or coming back to Barkley.  Both players seemed to slow down rather than actively finding the best possible place to help out their quarterback on a broken play.

Touchdown 6:

Link to Video:

This touchdown screen pass occurred on a 2nd and 10 on the Colorado 19 halfway through the fourth quarter.  USC lines up in an Ace formation with Amir Carlisle at running back.  Woods, Butler, and Carswell are lined up as wide receivers.  Grimble is lined up as Tight End.

Colorado lines up in loose coverage.  USC sends its wide receivers out on decoy routes to draw defenders.  In the meantime, the right tackle releases from his block and goes downfield to block at the second level.  USC lets a defensive end in untouched and throws the screen behind that defensive end.  Carlisle simply follows his block from the right tackle and takes the correct angle to split the remaining defenders.  The result is Carlisle uses his speed to split the defenders and drive his way into the endzone.


USC put on an offensive show through the air.  Most of the plays shown here were well designed and exploited the athletic talent gap between USC’s receivers against Colorado’s inexperienced secondary.  The commentators for the game mentioned about how Colorado had to use simplified coverage schemes due to youth on their team, and it showed as Barkley continually picked apart their defense.  This game was about mismatches, and it showed as USC scored on many deep touchdowns throughout the game.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s