USC Football: Breaking Down Week 1 Offensive Line Struggles


Last Saturday, USC football showed off some high-level effort, including great speed on the post-Leonard Williams defensive line, big plays by skill position players, and some new variety in the play calling.

RELATED: 5 Things We Learned vs. Arkansas State

It would be entirely satisfying for the Trojans had it not been for the five sacks the Arkansas State got on Cody Kessler. What happened to the offensive line to cause them to give up this many sacks and pressures?

The Red Wolves mostly got pressure on delayed blitzes. These are blitzes where the defense initially rushes a certain number of defenders, and then someone who initially dropped back into coverage goes after the quarterback.

The reason this can be more effective than rushing everyone at once is that it confuses the offensive line, as you can see in the first sack of the game.

USC is in a third and long situation, so the defense knows to expect a pass and comes out in man defense, dropping an extra linebacker into coverage to cover the middle of the field, where JuJu Smith-Schuster got open for the touchdown during the last possession in the exact same situation.

However, Tajhea Chambers (linebacker #32) sees that the man he is assigned to cover, Soma Vainuku (fullback #31) is staying in to block. Under these conditions, he is supposed to blitz.

Where USC’s blocking breaks down is when Toa Lobendahn (right guard #50) gets confused on his assignment. He initially has his eyes on Chambers, but turns his back when he sees Chris Odom (Defensive End #93) start to get around Max Tuerk (Center #75).

By the time that Lobendahn reacts to this, it is already too late for him to help Tuerk, and also the exact time when Chambers decides to rush.

Max Tuerk actually blocks his man quite well, which would allow Kessler to step up in the pocket to avoid the rush, but because Lobendahn let Chambers come in unblocked by turning his back to him, Kessler gets sacked.

The second sack employed the same concept by Arkansas State, but also good coverage. USC is running the exact same play that Adoree Jackson scored his 73 yard reception on in the National University Holiday Bowl last December. Take a look at it in comparison:

Similarly, the ball is meant to go to Dominic Davis (Wide Receiver/Running Back #16) who is coming out of the backfield.

USC hopes to draw man coverage, and match up a linebacker on Davis, who will be wide open thanks the play action fake freezing the linebacker that should be covering him, and receivers downfield taking defenders away from the line of scrimmage.

However, the Red Wolves likely prepared for this exact play, because Money Hunter (Defensive Back #27) immediately comes down to cover Davis before the play even starts. Once Kessler sees that Davis is covered, he keeps rolling out of the pocket to see if he can get the ball to one of his other receivers down field.

In the mean time, the Trojan offensive line does an excellent job in selling the play action fake by sliding to the left, with Taylor McNamara (Tight End #48) blocking the defensive end on the backside of this run fake.

The linebackers initially fall for this, but as soon as Chambers recognizes the play, he blitzes into a wide open hole left by the line sliding left. Unfortunately, it seems Kessler didn’t recognize the blitz until it was too late, so he had no choice but to try to escape the sack.

If he had tried to throw, he would risk a fumble or interception. This is a case where Arkansas State simply had the perfect defense prepared for a play that has been very successful for the Trojans.

These two sacks really exemplify what went wrong with the offensive line during the game. Arkansas State either made a good defensive call that forced a sack, or the line got confused on their assignments.

In straight up blocking situations, the line performed quite well, but it seems they need to work more on their chemistry in real game situations, something that already improved in the second half of the game.

So, it is definitely too early to say that our offensive line is in trouble, or that we should fire Bob Connelly, especially since Arkansas State finished in the top 20 nationally in sacks last year. But, they certainly need to keep working on the mental part of their game if they are to play well against elite pass rushes from teams like Utah.

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