USC Football Film Room: How ASU Died by the Blitz
Last Saturday was not only a great moral victory for USC football, but an important actual victory. Many ASU miscues allowed USC’s offense and defense to run up an almost insurmountable 35-0 halftime lead.
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While it’s still easy to be critical of the Trojans’ defensive line performance, both in rushing the passer and stopping the run, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox chose to compensate in a way that really got into Mike Bercovici’s head.
At the beginning second quarter, the score is still 7-0 and Arizona State starts their drive with relatively good field position close to midfield.
USC disguises a five-man blitz with John Plattenburg offset to the left. This is important, because he is actually playing more of a free safety, center field assignment, rather than covering the left half of the field.
Because of this, when Bercovici sees the blitz and sees man coverage, his mind in the split second he has to make a decision recognizes it as a Cover-0 blitz, meaning there are no deep defenders behind the people playing man coverage.
If this was correct, he would be making a smart choice by lobbing it up to his receiver, who has a one on one matchup and step on the defender covering him, Isaiah Langley.
The worst case scenario would be overthrowing the receiver, which in Cover-0, is not a problem for the offense because there isn’t a defender deep.
Unfortunately for ASU, this is actually a Cover-1 blitz with man coverage underneath. You can see as soon as the play begins, Plattenburg rushes to the center of the field, while keeping his eyes on the play developing.
Before Bercovici even throws the ball, Plattenburg breaks on the deep route, which puts him in an excellent position to intercept the pass.
Bercovici loves going for big plays –and sometimes it has been his downfall– which is why this play design by Wilcox was so successful.
If you look at the play from the quarterback’s point of view right before Greg Townsend Jr. is about to hit him, it looks like isolated man to man coverage, with Plattenburg not even in the corner of his eye. It was a great way to bait Bercovici into an interception, and one that would turn into points for the Trojans.
Conversely, once the Trojan offense got settled down, they consistently took what the defense gave them, a very important mindset when going against a defense that blitzes as much as the Sun Devils.
You didn’t have to watch the game for very long to see an example of this with Adoree’ Jackson’s 80-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
In a 3rd and 13 situation, Todd Graham loves to dial up the pressure like he does here, blitzing all three linebackers. That leaves the secondary in an actual Cover-0 with man coverage.
USC understands that a blitz may be coming and keeps running back Tre Madden in to help block against the seven rushers. One of the linebackers will still be a ‘free runner’, meaning he’s unblocked, so Kessler must get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Typically in this kind of situation, one of the safeties will cover the third receiver –in this case tight end Tyler Petite– and the other will cover the running back going out for the pass.
Unfortunately for ASU, this running back is actually Adoree’ Jackson, who is probably the best athlete on the Trojans’ roster.
Clay Helton has Todd Graham right where he wants him, with his best athlete one on one against safety Jordan Simone, a matchup that will always make Helton feel confident. When the play begins, the sheer amount of space that Jackson has to start already gives the play a great chance.
However, Simone underestimates Jackson’s speed and takes a terrible tackling angle, which allows Jackson to go unimpeded into the open field. A great block from receiver Steven Mitchell seals the play as a touchdown.
This was the theme of the night on offense. ASU kept blitzing and USC kept getting their playmakers open in space.
There’s a saying in football that you ‘live and die by the blitz.’ But at many times during the game, it seemed the Sun Devils simply died by the blitz on both sides of the ball.
That being said, USC definitely got away with having a very suspect run defense between the tackles. It seemed like every time ASU ran it up the middle they got at least 5 yards, which is absolutely unacceptable.
For the Trojans’ sake, hopefully the coaches can adapt their scheme to help a struggling defensive line without compromising too much in the pass coverage.
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