USC vs Oregon State 2017: Wrinkles USC can put into the game plan

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

The Trojans return to the Coliseum in Week 6 for the first USC vs. Oregon State game in three years. The Beavers defense may be what Troy needs to get back on track.

The Trojan’s offensive woes finally caught up to them last Friday in Pullman, unable to get a win against the Washington State Cougars. Now they return home to the friendly confines of the LA Coliseum for the USC vs. Oregon State game.

Clay Helton’s squad will want to get the offense back on track, but with injuries mounting across the offensive and defensive lines, it will be no easy task.

Here some wrinkles to help USC deal with its injury woes and get a much-needed win against 1-4 Oregon State.

Increase the Offensive Line Splits

Last week against the Washington State Cougars, the USC offensive linemen seemed to cut down on their splits, or the space between the players on the offensive line.

It makes sense they would against a front like WSU, because they are smaller and more athletic. Leaving too much space would have made it easier for such smaller defensive players like Hercules Mata’afa to shoot gaps and get penetration.

This week though, Mata’afa is not there and USC desperately needs to get its ground game going. Increasing the splits slightly will help the new starters along the offensive line get a block no matter what gap the defender in front of them is responsible for. It also helps create natural running lanes backs like Ronald Jones can find.

For example, if the defensive linemen over right guard Andrew Vorhees attempt to shoot a gap, instead of panicking that he was beaten off the line, the freshman can still block that defender down the line, still creating a lane for the running back.

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

All Jones Backfield

USC will be without true freshman sensation Stephen Carr, who is sidelined with a foot injury. While the Trojans have Ronald Jones and Vavae Malepeai to lean on as rushers, Carr will be missed in the passing game. This is the perfect opportunity for Velus Jones to fill that role.

Jones has been used in the backfield already this season, and giving quarterback Sam Darnold an easy option out of the backfield can help get him in rhythm. The redshirt freshman also has the speed to put a strain on the defense by running vertical routes out of the backfield.

Putting both Ronald and Velus Jones in the backfield together would allow USC to use the speed of both, without tipping the Beavers off about what is coming.

Don’t overcompensate to soon

When USC lost offensive linemen last, one way of adjusting was to lean on run-pass option (RPO) and sprint-out passes, while all but abandoning the run against Washington State.

This week, USC needs to trust their young offensive linemen a little bit more. Force Oregon State to prove they can stop the power run game and tackle in space.

The Trojans shouldn’t should not come out and run the sprint-out passing game or overuse of the RPO. Instead, simplify the blocking scheme, use less zone blocking, and more man-on-man.

Utilize the size Andrew Vorhees, Austin Jackson and Clayton Johnston bring, and let them attack more and think less.

Then, if the offense is still struggling, adjust with the quick screen game and rollouts. But don’t come in with that being the plan. USC should literally run the ball 50 times against Oregon State.

Find out if Tyler Vaughns is the guy

Tyler Vaughns had a break out performance in Pullan with six passes for 86 yards, including a huge fourth-down grab on the Trojans’ game-tying drive. He was a monster all night, getting great yardage after the catch, and blocking on the outside for Ronald Jones.

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After another great week of practice, now is the time to see if he can be a physical receiver on the outside.

Junior Deontay Burnett has already proven he can work the middle of the field and underneath, but USC hasn’t found a reliable presence on the outside since JuJu Smith-Schuster left.

Line Vaughns up to the wide side and throw the quick zero route, and see if he can beat a defender one-on-one. Then, see if he can make the jump-ball plays down field.

He needs at least eight to 10 targets, because USC has to find out if he’s the third receiver they have been looking for, or if fellow freshman Michael Pittman we’ll be more involved.