This post will be more of a stream of consciousness and notes that I took in a quick rewatching of the USC at ASU game this past weekend. I won’t have in detailed analysis of specific plays, but look at some overall trends and strategy of the game.
As all of you know by now, USC got beat up bad enough by ASU to cause AD Pat Haden to fire HC Lane Kiffin. I felt that Kiffin called a good enough game on offense (41 points, 542 yards total offense), but a lot of things went wrong to cause what happened last Saturday. We’ll take a quick look at the offensive side of the ball, but most of this post will look at the defensive side.
Some quick notes on the offensive side of the ball. Again, USC was able to run the ball effectively. 37 rush attempts for 247 yards (6.7 yards per carry). Take out the sacks, and we’re looking at 33 rush attempts for 265 yards (8.0 yards per carry).
Unfortunately, I believe our entire gameplan was predicated on the running game. Given USC’s success running the ball early in the season as well as ASU’s porous run defense, it made sense as a gameplan. However, once the game started swinging in ASU’s direction, the running game was not going to be enough to jolt life back into our offense and get us in a position to really win the game. Add on top of this the fact that we are not deep, especially in the wide receiver position, and you start to see that our offense is not built to come back from any significant margin.
As the game went on (and the score margin grew), ASU was less occupied with defending the run even though we were continuing to run the ball. Play action, which was effective early in the game, began to dwindle.
Pass protection again posed a problem. Generally, our pass protection holes came on the edges at both tackle spots. This lead to Kessler being rushed often and also sustaining four sacks. I saw significant missed blocks from the Right Guard, Right Tackle, an edge rush that the Running Back did not properly pick up, a play where both the tackles missed their blocks causing Kessler to be pinched, the Right Tackle, and one play where both the Left Guard and Tackle botched.
ASU’s offense was able to effectively change up their point of attack quickly throughout the game. Early in the game, they attacked with their tight ends in the seams.
The first two plays happened on the same drive. The last play happened early in the 3rd quarter.
On the second and third plays, ASU was able to catch USC in a cover-2 shell. The last play in particular happened almost exactly like what USC did against Utah State the week before (which I analyzed here). In both these situations, our safeties are covering half of the field and are preoccupied with other wide receivers on the edges. Once the TE breaks past the middle short zone, it is wide open right up the middle seam.
Once they established attacking the middle of the field, they attacked the sidelines pretty hard on fades, fade-stops, and wheel routes.
Notice that the plays weren’t poorly defended, as in there were corners right there with the receivers on most plays. The majority of these plays came against man-to-man coverage. Also, the majority of these plays came with our cornerbacks playing press coverage on the receiver. There was no safety support on these plays and the defenders played with inside leverage over the top (makes sense when you have the sideline to help as an “extra defender”). Overall, good throws and catches by their QB and receivers, as these sideline passes can be somewhat difficult to execute because of reduced margin of error due to the sidelines.
As the game progressed, USC’s defense shifted to drop more defenders into pass coverage. We started the game often rushing five, as is normal in a Pendergast defense. However, late in the game we started only rushing four and dropping seven into pass coverage. ASU responded to this by shifting their point of attack to perimeter runs. There were many fly sweeps and QB keepers to the edge in the 3rd and 4th quarters. By this point, our defensive front was pretty gassed and these runs were able to get to the edges easily. This caused our pass rush to diminish significantly as our front line was more preoccupied with establishing contain rather than pass rushing. ASU also utilized QB rollouts, swing passes, and TEs releasing into the flats effectively to keep the QB pressure down in the 2nd half, which really helped them open things up.
One final note on the defense is that they uncharacteristically were making arm tackles often throughout the game. This lead to a lot of missed tackles early in the game which helped ASU break through for larger gains. Up to this point, USC’s defense had fairly strong fundamentals in tackling and would avoid the arm tackles. I had often credited this to increased tackling in practice. However, old habits die hard and for whatever reason, our defense was not wrapping up properly against ASU all game long.