A Look Back at Hawaii

The first game (and win) is in the books for the 2013 USC football season.  It sure wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t ugly either.  The team was plagued with inconsistencies, but they didn’t leave too many big negatives and had a couple big positives.  Overall, there’s a lot to improve on, but this team definitely has potential.

This post will look at a few aspects of the game.  First, we will look at the offensive side of the ball.  We will start with the unfortunate safety which occurred early in the 2nd quarter then we will take a brief look at the running game.  Then we will switch over to the defensive side of the ball by looking at the blitzing numbers and the sacks.

The Safety

Early in the 2nd quarter, Hawaii punted the ball and it rolled to the 1 yard line.  Kiffin dialed up a passing play for the first play of the drive, figuring Hawaii would send heavy run pressure up the middle (they did with six rushers and a spy).  Note that by this point in the game, USC hadn’t gotten almost any running game going.  Hawaii was winning in the trenches and getting a strong push up front, leading to USC only having 24 yards on 10 runs (2.4 yards per carry).  Not exactly conducive to a high success rate running the ball with your back to the endzone, so I can understand why Kiffin chose to go with a pass.  On the flip side, the pass wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders either.  At this point in the game, Kessler was 4/8 for 39 yards (4.9 yards per pass attempt).

View the play here

So let’s take a closer look at the play and how it was designed.

The play design

The play design

As you can see here, the play is pretty simple.  Agholor is on the left (bottom of the screen) and is running a slant route.  The slot receiver (who I believe is actually a TE spread out wide) is also running a slant, although at a greater depth than Agholor.  Marquise Lee is running a go route down the sidelines and appears to be a decoy.  The TE on the left quick blocks the outside linebacker and then transitions into the flats as the checkdown.

The primary receiver in this play is Agholor.  His slant route should be a 3-step drop and get rid of the ball.  Here we are at three steps.

The play after the 3-step drop.

The play after the 3-step drop

Kessler is looking at his primary read, Agholor, who has just broken into his slant pattern.  Kessler would first notice the depth at which the corner is playing off from Agholor, which is a perfect for the slant.  However, Kessler also sees the linebacker spy, who is moving to defend the checkdown TE in the flats.  This linebacker poses a problem as he is moving into the passing lane and could easily pick off the slant route.  First positive here is that Kessler doesn’t force the throw after he identifies that his primary read is not safe.  First mistake, rather than moving through his progression, Kessler hesitates.  His hesitation wasn’t long in real time for how much processing must be happening in his head during his first game ever (and on the road).  I timed it at just under a second too long.  However, a full second is an eternity for a quarterback in football.

After a split second, Kessler moves on to his second read

After a second, Kessler moves on to his second read

Kessler waits for that second, possibly waiting for Agholor to get past the linebacker or just thinking too much about what comes next.  Finally, Kessler turns to his second read.  The second read is the slot receiver, also on a slant.  With the assumption that the defense will be playing the run, you can expect the middle of the field to vacate as the linebackers blitz in to plug the running lanes.  This usually means that one of the two slant routes should be open.  In this case, the slot receiver is defended in press coverage, but was one-on-one with pretty good body position on the defender.  This is probably a safe enough throw if you throw directly at the receiver’s numbers or even slightly behind him (throw ahead of him and the defender might be able to get a handle on it).  With the amount of contact being made, you might even get a pass interference call.

However, none of this matters.  With that second of hesitation before moving to his second progression, the pressure was already in his face.  Hawaii got a great push up front right at the snap of the ball and Kessler hesitated just a hair too long, which combined creates a sack for a safety.

Running Lanes

USC’s run game was bottled up early in the game, but started to open up in the second half.  Personally, I think the run game opened up as the Hawaii defense got tired.  I believe that it was one of those games where the underdog team in week one is amped up when they are going stride for stride, but fails to pace themselves properly.

Another major impact on our running game (and run game play calling) was the fact that all our right guards were banged up, and thus playing injured.  This leads the coaching staff to attempt to run away from this position, which makes our running game a bit more predictable.  Let’s take a look at the histogram for what gaps we ran the ball to.

The number of times we called running plays to each gap

The number of times we called running plays to each gap

As you can see here, 24 runs to the left side and 18 runs to the right, or 33% more left runs than right.  Overall, both sides produced nearly equally.  The left side of the line averaged 4.9 yards per carry while the right side averaged 5.6 yards per carry.  Let’s break it down further.

There were more runs to the left side going to the interior (to the A or B gaps).  14 runs went to the left interior gaps compared to 9 on the right.  The left interior runs also averaged 5.4 yards per carry compared to only 1.7 yards per carry on the right.  Looking at only the A gaps, there were 12 runs to the left A gap for 3.75 yards per carry compared to 7 runs to the right A gap for 0.9 yards per carry.  This seems to suggest that the right guards playing thru injury had a decent impact on our interior running game and play calling.  Expect this to improve as our right guards heal up.

The number of perimeter runs (to the C or D gaps) was about equal between the left and right sides.  However, the perimeter runs to the right side were more effective, averaging 9.4 yards per carry on the right compared to 3.5 yards per carry on the left.  Chalk that up to having a Senior in Kevin Graf manning the right tackle spot compared to Redshirt Freshman Chad Wheeler on the left.

Defensive Blitzing

Overall the defense played really well.  We held Hawaii to 231 total yards and only 23 rushing yards, which is 0.7 yards per carry  (although if you remove sacks from rushing, you’re looking at 2.2 yards per carry).  On the passing game side, you’re looking at seven sacks and four interceptions.  Wow.  The defensive front dominated the game.  The secondary had some weak spots and were out of position on a couple plays.  Luckily, Hawaii was not able to capitalize.

Anyways, let’s take a look at some numbers.  Pendergast was his normal aggressive self.  I tracked that Pendergast blitzed at least one extra rusher on 61% of plays.  Typically, Pendergast would send in five rushers for a +1 blitz.


It generally worked as well.  When not blitzing, USC’s defense allowed an average of 4.1 yards per play.  When USC blitzed, that dropped down to 2.4 yards allowed per play.  Hawaii’s offense definitely could not handle the extra pressure.

The blitzes came from different directions as well, adding to the confusion.


Pendergast would typically blitz the linebackers.  However, he wasn’t against sending in the cornerbacks or safeties on blitzes as well.

One interesting thing to note is that all of our sacks came on plays with a blitz.  I have done quick diagrams of all the sack plays and the blitz pressure that we brought here.  The yellow arrows indicated that the players that broke free from blocks and played a key role in getting the sack.

Sack 1
Sack 2
Sack 3
Sack 4
Sack 5
Sack 6
Sack 7

Most of the sacks were +1 blitzes with the additional rushers coming from the linebacker spots.

One interesting note is that three of the four interceptions came on plays in which USC did not blitz.  I would have expected the interceptions to come off the pressure of a blitz, but this was not the case.


On the offensive side of the ball, I expect our run game to improve a good amount when we get healthy.  This includes getting Silas Redd back as well as healing up at the right guard spot.  Once the run game picks up, I expect the passing game to improve (like it did in the second half against Hawaii).

On the defensive side of the ball, expect us to continue to play aggressively and to have aggressive play calling.  I don’t expect quite as much blitzing in our upcoming game against Washington State due to their offensive play style,  but I am hoping for a number of interceptions.


One response to “A Look Back at Hawaii

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