The Trojans won a game on Saturday that the offense tried to give away. Despite five turnovers from the offense, the Trojans have ensured that their match-up against UCLA will carry even higher stakes. After getting absolutely clobbered against Arizona and Oregon, the defense came to play against Arizona State. The Sun Devils were limited to 10 offense points and 250 total yards by a defense that was playing for pride and playing with passion.
Defense Steps Up
Monte Kiffin deployed the famed Tampa-2 very sparingly, saving it for key situations, and it paid huge dividends for the Trojans. With the exception of a play where Lamar Dawson got beat vertically by tight end Chris Coyle on a 34 yard touchdown pass, the Trojans seemed to be very comfortable in man coverage.
The excellent coverage down field, combined with the relentless pressure being provided upfront limited the Sun Devils to just 179 yards passing. Morgan Breslin and George Uko chipped in 1.5 sacks each as the defensive line accounted for five of the team’s seven sacks on the day.
The defense also forced four turnovers of their own and it was by far the best performance by the defense this year. The defense looked fast, engaged, energized, and flew around the field unencumbered by thoughts of what they were seeing. They seemed to react intuitively to what they were seeing instead reading and processing before reacting. This is how defense should be played and a credit to Monte Kiffin for making the adjustments necessary to get the Trojans’ defense playing fast.
Offense Still Hasn’t Found Stride
On the flipside, Lane Kiffin’s offense seemed to be out of rhythm again. Marqise Lee fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. Matt Barkley threw for three interceptions, one of which was a pick six. Curtis McNeal fumbled as the team was in scoring position in the fourth quarter.
Barkley seems to have developed a bad habit of staring down his receiver, and there is no progression to find an open receiver. He is going to force the ball into Lee no matter what and hope he makes a play for the ball, as seen on Barkley’s first interception of the game. Instead of finding a wide open Robert Woods standing in the end zone all alone, the ball was forced into Lee who was tightly covered and the play resulted in an interception at the two-yard line. This being after the kickoff team forced a turnover on the kickoff to give Barkley and the offense the ball at the Sun Devils’ 29-yard line.
If you look at an NFL box score you will see that NFL quarterbacks find the open receiver. They all have their favorite targets but if that target isn’t open when the ball has to come out, their next favorite target becomes whoever is open. This past weekend, Peyton Manning got the ball to nine different receivers. Tom Brady targeted eight different receivers. Matt Ryan found 10 different receivers. By contrast Barkley found just five different receivers this past Saturday and half of those completions went to one guy. In perhaps the team’s best offensive game this year, against Oregon, Barkley found eight different receivers.
Moving the ball around helps the flow of the offense. There is no reason why Woods, a receiver that is considered to be a lock first round draft pick should held to just 2 catches for -3 yards.
Lane Kiffin’s play calling also is to blame for at least one of Barkley’s interceptions and the overall problems the offense has seen this year. Lane has grown enamored with the wide receiver screen out on the sideline. There is nothing wrong with the play, but when you run it 10 times each game and don’t have a counter for it, corners will jump the route just like Alden Darby did and return it for six points.
At this point you would think that there would be several options off of this screen. Something like a screen and go where Lee fakes the screen and takes off on a go route. There is also the option of Woods giving a looks as if he is blocking for the screen and then slipping down the sideline. Lane Kffin can’t continue to be so predictable in his play calling.
All Is Not Lost
The Trojans are lucky to be in the position that they are in at this point. They are still playing for a Rose Bowl birth and can ruin the seasons of UCLA and Oregon on the way. To do this, they will need to find a way to put it together in every aspect of the game – offense, defense, and special teams.