USC vs. Arizona: Goal Line Torture

Arizona vs. USC
September 29, 2018 at 7:35pm
Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ: 43,573 (55,675)
Total Time: 3 hours 26 minutes

Two SCents: Ridiculous Stats of the Week:

Games against the Arizona schools always bring out the strangest occurrences. Things like the Kiffin’s firing after a particularly bad ASU loss (this game was played on the 5 year anniversary of that event), weird timeout scenarios in Tucson, or the time they had to drag everyone out of the locker room to kick a field goal. There are plenty of other examples in the past several years, but I’m already way past two sentences. My point is, this game is no exception to the peculiarity, but this game is an exception to 2018’s two sentence rule.

A win is a win” is how the saying goes, but it’s starting to not feel that way. The ridiculous stat of the week section could not encompass all the ridiculousness that transpired, so this entire section has been hijacked for it.

Let’s start with the 25 minute scoring drought. Can’t win games if you can’t score and they spent half of it not scoring. The 24-0 lead got cut down to a 24-20 lead. It still took recovering an onside kick to preserve the win. Maybe scoring isn’t the best indicator, though, since that can be a bit difficult. What about third downs?

The Trojans finished the game going 5 of 16 on third down conversions after starting 3 of 4. From the moment they scored their first touchdown with 5:52 left in the first quarter, they did not convert another third down until there was 10:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. That’s nearly 40 minutes of game time without any third down conversions. This isn’t a cherry-picked stat. It’s not like an all-powerful USC offense managed to get first downs or score before even getting to third down.

Throw in some more bad snaps and three fumbles (two in back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter) and we’ve got ourselves some drama. That’s 11 fumbles on the season—averaging more than two per game. Here are how the last 6 meaningful drives went: punt, punt (3-and-out), punt (3-and-out), fumble, fumble, turnover on downs. And by last 6, I meant basically half of the Trojan’s drives (14).

Next up for criticism are the 18 penatlies for 169 yards. To put it in perspective, 40% of this season’s penalties came from this game. It is also at least a 11-year record high of penalties in single game. I didn’t have time to crawl back further than 2008, so it’s probably worse than that. That was all showcased in Arizona’s final scoring drive.

Who was feeling more pain during that goal line stand, I wonder? Helton had to be seething inside from all the penalties that brought the Wildcats to like the one inch line. On the other side, Sumlin was probably bristling that it took them a 4th and goal after countless plays to punch it in when the distance was about the length of one of their synthetic blades of grass.

There were 11 plays in the red zone, 8 of which were in a goal-to-go situation. Don’t forget about the 3 penalties near the end zone and four total in the 12 play drive. Officially, that got logged as an 8-play drive, since penalties don’t count as plays. All that to end in a missed PAT.

Imagine if you had no idea what was going on, you kept screwing up, going in the wrong direction, and when you finally get what you need to done, you still have no idea how to accomplish it next time. You just go home feeling like you wasted your entire day. Basically, a visit to the DMV. Oh, and probably what the coaching staff feels like.

Taken at a local USC watch party

CommBro Breaker

I may have spent 90% of the words writing about negative things, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t positives! Running for 253 yards in a game is an achievement for any team, but definitely for this team. That’s more rushing yards than their last three games combined! It was also the first time someone on the team had a 100-yard rushing performance since week one against UNLV. Both were as a result of Aca’Cedric Ware (10-100 vs. UNLV and 21-173 vs. AZ).

The USC defense also snagged its first interception of the season off of Marvell Tell’s efforts in the second quarter. Tell also managed to block the field goal attempt at the end of the second half.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week: Couldn’t help but sneak one more of these into the mix. USC is rank 122 of 129 in percentage of fourth down conversions allowed (77.78%).

 

USC vs. The Arizona Schools: Stranger Than Fan Fiction

CommBro Breaker

So you might have noticed that I missed a week. Something that hasn’t happened since I started this blog. My apologies to all my loyal readers. The busyness just caught up to me. But did you really need anything from me though? It seems the close of the first half of the ASU game was enough of a joke by itself. I can’t even write content as good as that. Still, I feel I owe y’all something.

ASU vs. USC
October 28, 2017 at 7:51pm
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ: 53,446
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

GOOD/BADISMS

GOOD: Perfect throw and catch by Darnold to Deontay for the first touchdown. That’s the factor that’s been missing from the offense for most of the season.

BAD: One of the OL almost sacked his own QB.

CONFUSED: Darnold fumbed…but since it was on fourth down and immediately recovered…did it matter?

GOOD: Good use of RPOs and read options.

GOOD: Uchenna Nwosu shutting down an ASU drive, basically all by himself.

GOOD: McGrath making a career long 51 yard field goal.

GOOD: Tyler Vaughns smooth moves after the catch.

GOOD: Steven Mitchell’s box out block to spring Ronald Jones for a touchdown.

GOOD: Ronald Jones

CONFUSED: Extended first half. After the Hail Mary attempt by USC was ruled down at the 1, the officials signaled that time had expired. Both teams started to head to the locker room before they decided they should probably review it. By the time they changed their ruling, USC’s team was nowhere to be found. An angry Helton, made the officials go and grab his team. One lone referee made his way to the locker room…down the wrong tunnel. The SC players ran out of the other tunnel, doing the whole pump up routine probably to amuse themselves. The Pac-12 being the Pac-12 had to throw a flag on the ensuing PAT attempt.

/CommBro Breaker

USC vs. Arizona
November 4, 2017 at 7:51pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 70,225
Total Time: 3 hours 43 minutes

Now I’m finally back on track. I wish I could say the same about the Pac-12 conference. The already atrocious scheduling (like 12 straight games, Friday road trip after a road trip, two 7:45pm games in a row) was made so much worse by the officiating.

Remember how I commended Mark Duddy and his crew for what a great job they did in USC vs. Cal? I take it back x1000. Perhaps Mark Duddy read my blog and decided he wasn’t having any of that. I was ruining his good name amongst his fellow Pac-12 associates. He has a reputation to uphold, and gosh darn, those flags will be numerous and biased. He sure showed me.

It got to a point that students were throwing up yellow towels mockingly after every penalty. Flags were thrown for phantom penalties or ticky-tack in nature. What made it worse was that the refs would wait until seeing the outcome of the play before throwing the flag. The Trojans were called for 5 offensive holdings and 1 defensive holding. Arizona got called for 1 offensive holding…which was offset by a USC penalty. Seems suspicious. Putting that up against the total penalty numbers of 14 for 123 yards versus Arizona’s 3 for 32 yards makes it look even more problematic. Then there were the reviews that took a while to initiate and a fair bit of which were incorrect. At one point, Helton had to run onto the field to try to get attention for a review. He was flagged for that too since he a sideline warning had been given earlier in the game. Despite the ref being right by the letter of the law, no sane referee should flag that.

Those 18 yards at the beginning of the third quarter moved at a snail’s pace. It must’ve been 20 minutes of real time for those pitiful 18 yards ending in a punt. I thought I was watching a World War I documentary about trench warfare. By the start of the fourth quarter, the East Coast had hit the daylight savings time change. Who’s crazy enough to watch that, especially if it wasn’t their favorite team?

GOOD/BADISMS

BAD: Two red zone trips with no points? USC has had red zone troubles all year. Some of it is being unable to convert short yardage situations.

GOOD: The defense held Arizona to a pair of field goals for over two and a half quarters.

BAD: Defense getting tired after ridiculously drawn out game. Part of the reason that Arizona made such a furious comeback.

GOOD: John Houston had an interception made of dreams.

GOOD: JuJu Smith-Schuster joined the student section in the stands late in the fourth quarter.

GOOD: Tyler Vaughns continues to impress with what he goes after the catch

GOOD: More good work by the USC running backs

CommBro Breaker
USC still has a formidable streak intact. They are 15-0 at home, dating back to 2015. The last time they lost in the Coliseum was the game that eventually led to Sark’s dismissal.

Lottery Stats

USC leads the nation in sacks (34).

Running count of fourth down conversions: 6 of 17 (35%)

Running count of opponent fourth down conversions: 11 of 18 (61%)

USC is the second worst in the conference in allowing fourth down conversions. Only Oregon State (arguably the worst team in the conference) allows more of them than USC (69%).

USC vs. Arizona: THTR 122

Arizona vs. USC
October 15, 2016 at 12:35pm
Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ: 55,463 (55,675)
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

The Trojans won for the first time in their new road jerseys and the first in Helton’s tenure as permanent head coach. USC moves up to a winning record overall (4-3) and in the Pac-12 (3-2) for the first time this season. That’s a start. A good way to head into the bye week. Now the Trojans can focus on recovering from injuries. It’s a good time for a bye with injuries to key personnel. Off the top of my head, there guys like Justin Davis, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Steven Mitchell. But before looking forward, let’s look back.

Update: Steven Mitchell has torn his ACL and will be out for the season. Best wishes to him on his recovery.

After playing a solid first half, they could afford to go into cruise control mode for the second half. Not a bad way to go. The last USC drive of the half was really a microcosm of the entire game. Two minute drill, even though the Trojans don’t really have one at this point. After making a sweet first down grab, JuJu gets flagged for taunting. Come on man. Now a bunch of time runs off the clock for no reason. I thought that penalty would prevent USC from making that last score before the half.

USC was driving down the field, quickly running out of time. If only Helton had, y’know, saved his timeouts. I’ve been harping on this crap all season and here’s a point when having them would really help. But wait, Arizona takes a timeout with 34 seconds left on the clock. Despite spending all of USC’s timeouts, Helton somehow managed to get a favorable timeout call. Why save your timeouts when you can dip into your opponents’ too? Sorry I doubted you Helton. I didn’t know you were such a master manipulator like that.

Right out of the timeout, JuJu makes an unreal catch and run for the touchdown. Looks like I was wrong for doubting him too. Luck > logic.

In reality, Arizona’s players and coaching staff made repeated errors that allowed the Trojans to dominate them. Combined with Darnold’s elite improvisation and a zero turnover game, the Trojans had all but put the game away by halftime.

The only times that the Wildcats showed anything worthwhile was on their first touchdown drive. Even then, most of the yardage was subsidized. The Trojans punted from their own 19 for an underwhelming 34 yards. It was immediately followed up by a personal foul penalty, nullifying half the punt. Two plays later, a pass interference penalty took off another 16 yards. Two penalties and the punt was effectively useless.The Wildcats had to drive a mere 16 yards on their own for their only touchdown that mattered.

The Arizona quarterback finished the first half with a -9.5 passer rating. Granted, he is apparently 17 years old and starting the first game of his college career. Still, stellar job by the defense to shut him down that hard.

(CommBro Breaker Conspiracy)

You know what else was -9.5? The opening spread for USC-Arizona. Must be Illuminati or something.

illuminati

It hasn’t even been a year! I’ll keep finding ways to recycle this image. You just watch.

(/CommBro Breaker Conspiracy)

Like I was saying, the offensive gameplan for USC didn’t inspire much confidence. Most of it was Sam Darnold’s ability to extend plays and scramble for first downs. He’s the fairy godmother and USC is Cinderella. Midnight will come eventually if you don’t get a real horse, bro.

Zach Banner returned to the starting lineup and the offensive line played okay. The usually penalty-accumulating Banner had zero this game, which is always good. In fact, the entire offensive line only received one penalty (I do have to note that one was offset by an Arizona penalty. Again, they helped USC out quite a bit this game). Wish I could say the same about the rest of the team though. After hitting a low last week, they’re back to normal with 8 penalties this game.

To finish up on offense, the receivers and the running backs all performed well. A lot of the running backs’ yards were picked up in garbage time in large chunks. Dom Davis got 85 yards and Aca’cedric Ware had runs of 37 and 21 yards. It really seemed like USC could’ve dropped 60 points on Arizona easily. The receivers also adjusted well to some spotty passes. However, adjustments can only get you so far. Some were so far out of reach there was no shot. Darnold has a tendency to underthrow deep balls, but seems to have overcorrected this game, overthrowing quite a few times. Since Jalen Greene overthrew as well, maybe that Arizona Stadium altitude (~700m or ~2300 ft) could have affected deep balls like it does with kicks. Either way, the receivers saved Darnold from a few picks this game, as they did last game. It feels good to have a zero turnover game.

Defensively, you can’t really say many bad things about holding a team to 14 points (7 in garbage time), forcing four turnovers and making a goal line 4th down stop. Iman Marshall bounced back this week with the interception after dropping two potential ones last week.

Lastly, special teams. Man, kind of a lackluster week for them. A fumble during a punt return, some negative returns, and almost turning a PAT into a two point conversion of Arizona. That was just an all-time bad decision by holder. He should just fell on the ball. Did you really think you could’ve Darnold’d botched snap into two points? Arizona equally matched the bad decision with an unnecessary hit to draw a penalty. Lucky us.

CommBro Breaker

Going back to conspiracy theories, Dane Cruikshank was the #9 opposite of JuJu Smith-Schuster. As the cornerback, he had the unfortunate position of covering JuJu. He was most notable for being the one that JuJu stepped over, drawing a penalty. You know who else caused trouble like that? Crookshanks. Who is this Cruikshank character. Is he a Wildcat?—or is he Hermione’s cat?

Hm...there might be something to this

Hm…there might be something to this

Misleading Stat of the Week: Despite the failed PAT, USC remains #1 in the nation PAT conversion percentage!! (The failed handling of the snap doesn’t count as an attempt)

USC and 67 other teams also hold “first place.” It’s only slightly better than winning a participation award.

Uplifting Stat of the Week: USC is 16th in the nation with 67.5% of their kickoffs going for touchbacks. It’s been a while since we’ve had a kicker that could consistently kick that far. Guess I can’t hate on the special teams too much.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, THTR 122 is the class code for “Improvisation and Theatre Games” at USC—a 2-unit class I dropped immediately after the first class. Anyway, I just thought it was fitting because of what Darnold did on the field.

USC vs. Arizona: A Win is a Win

USC vs. Arizona (Homecoming)
November 7, 2015 at 7:30pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: 76,309 (of 93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 11 minutes

CommBro Breaker

At a 6-3 overall record, USC is now bowl eligible for the foruth year in a row! Had the unjust postseason ban not been in play, the 2010 (8-5) and 2011 (10-2) teams would’ve connected the current streak with one that started in 2001. That would’ve been 15 consecutive bowl appearances, which would tie for the sixth longest active streak. Unfortunately, the NCAA sanctions were a reality, so the Trojans must now build off the 28th longest active streak.

Also, the quest for no loss November begins 1-0! Three games to finish it off. For the first time since 2010, USC is also 2-0 against the Arizona schools.

And the Trojans are also [Misleading Stat of the Week:] the only undefeated team in the Pac-12 South—against other Pac-12 South teams. It’s not that misleading. As long as the Trojans win out, they will own tie-breakers against ASU, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and UCLA. That means if all of them have two or more losses, USC will represent the South in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona, Colorado, or UCLA need to upset Utah. Cross your fingers or something. I’m not superstitious so whatever man.

/CommBro Breaker

Now time for some analysis. Obviously, the start was uglier than a 3-foot long roach. Four possesions, three 3-and-outs, and a fumble. Two of those drives netted negative yards. Two 3rd down sacks by the defense kept the game within reach, but things looked bleak. USC closed the first quarter down 0-7 and had -22 rushing yards. Yes, negative rushing yards. It took only 4 seconds into the second quarter for the Wildcats to make it 0-14.

The Trojans drove down the field to the have a 1st-and-goal at the 8…to come up with a field goal. Just when you thought the Trojans could maybe do something, they waste a goal-to-go situation. I said at the time, the offense would not wake up without a big play by the defense. An interception or something. Then Plattenburg delivered and Kessler throws a bomb to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 72-yard touchdown. Maybe they heard me.

I started making jests about on-side kicks—then Alex Wood and company actually attempt one. I was only joking, but there’s no way they were listening to me, right? What really took the cake was when I was griping about the Jumbotron showing a bunch of selfies. “I want to some some stats, yo!” A simple request, which surely only the friends and the air could hear. The switch is made and the selfies are gone. Like I said, I’m not superstitious…but…I’ll take it!

I will also take the win. The Trojans came back from a double-digit deficit and won despite a fourth quarter deficit. The deficit was only 5 seconds long, but technically right is still right. It didn’t have to be that way though…

Down 20-17 in the third quarter, USC drove down to the Arizona 25-yard line with a chance to tie or take the lead. They did neither. Instead they took looked confused and took two timeouts. Maybe USC should steal its own signals. Is this no-huddle thing really doing the team any favors? After all of that, they come away from the red zone with no points, making Alex Wood 8-of-12 on field goals this season.

The defense continued to hold up Arizona on key drives. The Wildcats entered the game #10 in the nation in rushing yards per game (265 ypg), but were held to 60 yards—averaging a mere 1.9 yards per carry. Granted, they were able to put up a lot of pass yards, but forcing Anu Solomon to throw led to some errors (like the interception). They were also able to sack Solomon six times.

On the other side, the offensive line managed to only allow two sacks, despite having a fairly even run-pass balance (40 rushes, 36 passes). However, this unit picked up two out of the team’s eight penalties. Both were for false start. One of them came at a steep price: a nullified touchdown. At least they managed to give the running backs some room to run though. Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II combined for 262 yards on 35 carries (7.49 average) and two touchdowns apiece.

Jones is indisputably a major factor in the win. He set freshman records with 177 yards on 19 carries, finishing with an astounding 9.31 yards per carry. He was actually averaging 10.6 ypc after his 74-yard touchdown run. Although it’s certainly not as impressive as Marshawn Lynch’s run in the 2011 NFL playoffs, it reminded me of it. There seemed to be no scenario in which either of these running backs would break a couple of tacklers in the open field, but they pull it off and get the touchdown.

Jones’ receiving touchdown is worth noting too. After seeing all of our running backs and fullbacks drop a bunch of passes, it’s good to see Jones improving and making the catch. Steven Mitchell’s crucial block allowed Jones to take it in for a touchdown as well.

Justin Davis shouldn’t be forgotten about either. His two touchdowns came at critical moments. One capitalized on a fourth down stop and took to first lead of the game. The second capped off an 11-play, 5 minute drive that all but put the game away. Arizona still had a chance to score a touchdown, recover an on-side kick, score another touchdown, go for two, and then win in in overtime. So…

Basically one of these situations.

Basically one of these situations.

Finally, let’s not forget about JuJu Smith-Schuster. After getting surgery on his hand early in the week and not practicing, he seemed to pick up right where he left off. He continued his dominance, notching his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season. The best part is that Smith-Schuster only dropped one despite major lingering pain in his hand.