Week 5 was a bye week for the Trojans, but it wasn’t an off week for analyzing some USC football stats. For instance, they are now ranked second nationally in offense yards per play behind Baylor.
But perhaps more interestingly, more games mean more context for the numbers we have. It’s so easy to jump to conclusions early in the season based on limited knowledge, but more football means more of an understanding of what we saw.
Here’s a look at the statbook, with some stat-based takeaways:
Some Stanford hindsight
Since Stanford was held to just six points on two field goals at Northwestern, their offense has come into their own. That includes a 41-point assault on USC, which at the time looked like a major indictment against Justin Wilcox’s defense. Now, two weeks later, it’s looking more and more like Stanford’s offense is their best since Andrew Luck left. Maybe even their best period, if they can sustain it. No one has been able to slow them down. That’s not to say that USC couldn’t or shouldn’t have played better –they should have– but there’s now a fair amount of evidence that it wasn’t Wilcox’s defense flat out laying an egg. Let’s look at the numbers:
- Stanford scored 31 points over UCF, 41 against USC, 42 at Oregon State and then a whopping 55 on Saturday night vs. Arizona.
- The Cardinal are tops in the Pac-12 in third down efficiency, going 67 percent, 58 percent and 64 percent in the last three weeks. That was a major point of emphasis against USC, because the Trojans struggled to get off the field on third down. In hindsight, no one has against Stanford.
- While USC gave up 195 rushing yards to Stanford, the Cardinal only averaged a meager 3.98 yards per carry. In the two following weeks, they’ve averaged 6.77 and 6.83 against Oregon State and Arizona, respectively.
- In his last four games, Kevin Hogan is 61 of 85 for exactly 1,000 passing yards, with nine touchdowns and one interception (which was a deflection on a dropped ball). Altogether, that’s good for a 203.2 passer rating, which would be an NCAA record over the course of a season.
Some ASU hindsight
The Trojans scored 35 offensive points against Arizona State, including a five-yard touchdown drive. They had significant success through the air but struggled against the run. Was that more indicative of USC’s struggles on the ground or ASU’s stout rush defense? With some hindsight, it’s looking more like it was a result of the Sun Devil’s game plan.
- USC entered the ASU game averaging 6.43 yards per carry and 208 rushing yards per game. Against ASU, they were held to just 77 yards at a 2.38 yards per carry average.
- UCLA entered the ASU game averaging 5.72 yards per carry and 236 rushing yards per game. Against ASU, they were held to just 62 yards at a 2.21 yards per carry average.
- In both games, the Sun Devils sold out to stop the run by stacking the box and forcing Cody Kessler and Josh Rosen to throw against the Blitz.
- Kessler was strong against the blitz and had perhaps his best all-around day since being named USC’s starting quarterback. Rosen struggled for much of the game, looking like a true freshman before having an impressive fourth quarter.
Cody Kessler vs. Seth Russell
Baylor has the best offense in the nation by any metric you want to use. Yet through four games, USC quarterback Cody Kessler has gone nearly tit for tat with Baylor’s Seth Russell. That says a lot about schematics, as both the Trojans and Bears deploy a similar path-of-least-resistance attack. However, Baylor is a prototypical “system offense” in the sense that Art Briles has repeatedly been able to recreate similar numbers with new quarterbacks. Kessler on the other hand, is really the first of his kind at USC. Here’s how the two compare through four games:
Third down struggles
Before the Trojans went 10 of 16 on offensive third down attempts against Arizona State, third down conversions were a major point of emphasis. USC was just 8 of 26 in the first three games combined. What’s more alarming though, is that every one of the Trojans’ first four opponents are in the bottom half of FBS in defensive third down efficiency. Arkansas State, who held USC to just 3 of 10, are the ‘best’ opponent thus far, ranking 73rd nationally. Arizona State and Stanford are 101st and 106th in FBS, holding teams to rates of 43 and 44 percent, respectively. Oddly enough, 19th ranked Notre Dame has the best third down defense of any USC opponent on the schedule by a long shot. UCLA is next, but they’re ranked 67th.
Turnovers are the key
The night before last week’s win over Arizona State, Steve Sarkisian and his staff had what they called a “barrage” about how important it was for the Trojans to win the turnover battle. They did it against ASU, forcing four turnovers and turning them into 28 points. In total through four games, USC has a plus-6 turnover margin. But more impressively, they’ve only turned it over twice in those four games. Of all FBS teams who have played exactly four games, only Navy, Florida State and LSU have fewer turnovers, at one each.
More from Reign of Troy
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- USC football adds Xavion Alford as transfer from Texas
- USC Podcast: RoT Radio Ep. 396 on the Football Season’s Fallout
- Talanoa Hufanga named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, USC football with five first-teamers