Who Left The Screen Door Open?
As I watched the Trojans’ offense against the Syracuse Orangemen I was extremely perplexed. Lane Kiffin called screen after screen after screen. I was sure that eventually a screen and go was coming soon but it never came. If the intent was to draw the DBs up in order to defend the short pass and then hit them over the top, there wasn’t much of an attempt to stretch the field.
It could also be argued that the same attempt to get the DBs to cheat up could have been accomplished using the running game. There was more of a balance between run and pass but you still came away feeling as if it is a significant afterthought. Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal combined for 170 yards on just 26 carries, an average of 6.5 yards per attempt. To contrast this Matt Barkley threw for 187 yards on 30 attempts which is 6.2 yards per attempt.
If you pound the ball down a defenders throat it become demoralizing as you continue to exert your physical dominance of them. The opposing defensive coordinator then has to make the decision whether or not to commit extra defenders to stop the run.
If he decides to put extra bodies in the box, this leaves his corners in single coverage. This is a position that no corner wants to be in against the likes of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. If he decides not to load the box, then you continue to physically punish their defense. It’s a win-win situation either way and in either scenario the play action pass becomes more effective because you have established your will to run.
From the call to go for it on 4th and 1 on the opponent’s 42 yard line to the excessive wide receiver screens, the Trojans’ offense did not seem anything like the powerhouse that we have seen over the last few years. The 4th and 1 attempt was unsuccessful but Kiffin was bailed out by a Dion Bailey interception.
On The Defensive
Defensively, the team seemed to pick up where they left off at against Hawaii. The defensive line did an excellent job of creating pressure and was effective in helping to shut down the run game. Overall, ‘Cuse had a 143 yards and 3 points in the first half. Those 3 points came on a 55-yard drive to close out the first half.
The Trojans were successful in disrupting the Orangemen’s offense completely. Ryan Nassib was 9 of 17 for just 83 yards and 1 INT in the first half. He was under constant pressure the entire half and unable to get anything going.
During halftime, a storm moved through the area and caused a significant delay to the start of the second half. This delay gave ‘Cuse enough time to make all the proper adjustments to attack the Trojans’ defense.
‘Cuse Offensive Coordinator, Natheniel Hackett, got his hurry up offense going and completely gassed and confused the Trojans’ defense. Nassib shorten his drops and got the ball out quicker which nullified the rush of the defensive line. With the lack of pressure in his face he was able to go 21 for 29 in the second half while throwing for 239 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT.
Nassib took particular aim at CBs Torin Harris and Anthony Brown, who were playing opposite of Nickell Robey. Both are trying to fill the void left by Isiah Wiley who was ruled academically ineligible this summer. This corner spot is a glaring weakness in the Trojans’ defense and needs to be patched moving forward. Maybe Florida transfer Josh Shaw is an option here.
In all the defense gave up 455 yards of offense (322 passing, 133 rushing). This is not what championship defenses are made of. The good news is that these aren’t things that can’t be fixed. This can be chalked up as an off day brought on by the long travel across country and the excessive weather delay that caused a loss of rhythm.
Turn The Page To League Play
As focus turns to the Stanford Cardinals, we can be excited that the Trojans are still 2-0 despite the poor play on Saturday. Adjustments will be made and the team has gained a valuable learning experience about overcoming adversity. It is better to learn these lessons and be aware of where you are lacking early in the season, especially when you can still pull out the win.