A Look Back at USC’s 2013 Running Game Tendencies

First, a big welcome back as Football Season approaches! I think we’re all very excited to see what the 2014 season brings with new HC Sarkisian.

I’m going to start this season with a look back at last season. I’ve been hard at work lately reviewing all the games from last season, primarily looking at the passing game. However, the passing game analysis will take place in the next post. This post is a little bit of a teaser and will do an in depth analysis of the running game.  We will analyze how USC attacked each gap, starting with a quick explanation of running gaps then breaking it down by coach and players.

A Quick Explanation of Gaps

The running game is all about the gaps. The offense is trying to open up gaps while the defense is trying to plug them up. A gap is formed by the space between two offensive blockers, typically offensive linemen. There is a natural naming convention for the gaps, as can be seen below.

2013_Rushing_Gap_Diagram

The gaps are lettered starting from the center and moving outward.  The “A” gap is the space between the Center and the Offensive Guard.  The “B” gap is the space between the Offensive Guard and the Offensive Tackle.  The “C” gap is between the Offensive Tackle and the Tight End (if there is no Tight End, then the “C” gap is the perimeter from the Tackle to the sideline).  The “D” gaps are shown greyed out because they are optionally there based on if there is a Tight End in the formation or not.

Generally, the “A” and “B” gaps are interior runs while the “C” and “D” gaps are perimeter runs.

How USC Attacked Each Gap

Now let’s look at the statistics of last season. Below is a diagram breaking down the number of runs through each gap last season.

2013_RunGaps_By_Gap

 

USC slightly favored the left side when running the ball with 53% of the run going to that side. USC also favored running to the inside rather than the outside (again with 53% of the runs going inside).

In addition to what is shown on the diagram, USC ran the ball towards the strong side of the formation on 48% of running plays and towards the weak side on 28% of running plays (with the remaining 24% having no strength side of the formation, or a balanced formation).

Now let us take a quick look at the average yards gained rushing through each gap.

2013_RunGaps_Gain_By_Gap

The left “B” gap averaged the highest gains.  Other than the left “B” gap, the right side of the line averaged higher gains than the left side.  The left “A” gap yielded the lowest yardage production with only 3.6 yards per carry through that gap.  Strong side runs averaged 4.9 yards per carry while weak side runs averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

How Each USC Coach Attacked Each Gap

Let’s break it down by coach. We’ll use percentage of run plays to normalize against the differing number of games each coach called plays for.  [Update 8/19: It is worth explicitly pointing out that Coach Helton was the Offensive Coordinator during Coach Orgeron’s tenure, so he still had a hand in the offensive playcalling during that time.  His sample size is also small for the portion called out here as it is only for one game.]

2013_RunGaps_By_Coach

 

Coach Kiffin tended to favor both “C” gaps as well as the left “A” gap, but had a fairly decent balance across each gap. Coach Kiffin has the lowest percentage of “D” gap runs but the highest percentage of “C” gap runs. This could either signify that Kiffin did not prefer to run to the extreme perimeter, did not utilize the tight end formations as often as the other coaches, or ran towards the weak side of an unbalanced formation utilizing tight ends. My guess is either the first or second explanation as Kiffin ran the ball towards the weak side of the formation only 25% of the time.

Coach Orgeron was fairly balanced between left and right runs (52% to the left, 48% to the right), however when he did run to the right, it would typically go to the right “A” gap. His tendency was to run the ball to the right “A” gap or to the left side of center as we see fewer runs to the right “B”, “C”, and “D” gaps. Coach Orgeron did have the best balance between strongside and weakside of the three USC head coaches with 47% of runs going to the strong aide and 31% going to the weak side.

Coach Helton very much preferred the left “A” gap with 26% of all his runs going through this gap. He had the lowest percentage of runs going through the left “B” gap and the right “C” gap. Coach Helton was also the least balanced with 76% of his runs going to the strong side of the field and only 17% going to the weak side.

How Each USC Player Attacked Each Gap

Now let’s break it down by player rather than coach. Again, these numbers are by percentage to normalize against the number of carries each player had.  The running backs are ordered from left to right in the legend based on the overall number of carries they had last season.

2013_RunGaps_By_Player

Tre Madden had the majority of his runs inside (56%) compared to outside (44%).  Most of those inside runs went through the “A” gaps.  Tre Madden had the lowest percentage of “D” gap runs of all running backs.  45% of Madden’s runs went to the strong side while 23% went to the weak side.

Javorius “Buck” Allen had a similar percentage of inside runs (54%) as Tre Madden.  However, Buck Allen generally had better balance between each gap that he attacked when compared to Madden, including better “D” gap perimeter running.  56% of Allen’s runs went to the strong side while 26% went to the weak side.

Again, Silas Redd had a similar percentage of inside runs (56%) as both Tre Madden and Buck Allen.  However, Silas Redd has an interesting distribution that isn’t quite as balanced as the others.  Redd was sent through the right “A” gap much more than the left “A” gap.  For the “B” and “C” gaps, Redd went through the left side much more often than the right side.  The “D” gaps were really the only balanced gaps for Redd.  Redd had good balance for strength of field with 48% of his runs going strong side and 32% going weak side.

Justin Davis and Ty Issac didn’t get as many carries as the other leading running backs, but it is important to see their role.  Unlike the other main running backs, both Davis and Issac were perimeter runners with 54% of Davis’s runs and 59% of Issac’s runs going to the outside.  Issac had the most “D” gap runs of all backs.  Davis was the most balanced for strength of field with 35% of runs going strong side and 30% going weak side.  This also means he had the most runs within a balanced formation.  Issac was the most unbalanced for strength of field with 56% of his runs going strong side and only 22% going weak side.

Now let’s look at the average number of yards gained by each running back based on the gap.

2013_RunGaps_By_Player_Yardage

Madden had the most success running either to the right “D” gap or running to the left “B” gap.  The right “D” gap was the one that Madden ran the fewest times to, but he averaged 9.2 yards per carry.  When running to the strong side, Madden averaged 4.4 yards per carry compared to 6.1 yards per carry going to the weak side.

Of all the running backs, Buck Allen was the most successful running out of the left “D”, left “B”, and the right “A” gaps.  Surprisingly, given his success in the right “A” gap, Allen had some of the worst production coming out of the left “A” gap.  Allen also had very poor production in the left “C” gap.  Allen averaged 6.7 yards when running to the strong side, but only 3.0 yards when running to the weak side and is the only running back who averaged more yards going to the strong side compared to the weak side.

Silas Redd was generally middle of the pack in each gap, but he struggled running the “B” gaps on either side when compared to all the other running backs.  Redd was fairly balanced in terms of strength of field with a 4.3 yards per carry average running to the strong side and a 4.6 yards per carry average running to the weak side.

Davis had much more success running to the left compared to the right.  He had strong success on the left “B” and “C” gaps and was fairly average running through the other gaps.  Surprisingly, Davis averaged only 3.4 yards per carry when running to the strong side but had a group best 12.6 yards per carry running to the weak side.

The exact opposite of Davis, Ty Issac was much more successful running to the right compared to the left.  The left “A”, “C”, and “D” gaps were group worsts with the left “B” gap being group second worst.  However, Issac had a group best by far for both the right “B” and “C” gaps.  The right “D” gap also had great success.  Like Davis, Ty Issac had a low 3.4 yards per carry running to the strong side but a high 9.8 yards per carry running to the weak side.

Coming Up Next…

This concludes my analysis of the 2013 running game.  My next post, which should come closer to this coming weekend, will take an in depth look at the passing game.  We’ll look at the passing heat map for a number of situations.  I hope that after I finish going over the data that I’ve compiled I’ll have some interesting insights to share.  I look forward to finishing that post up!

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