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.

 

USC vs. Idaho: Vandalized Stat Sheet

USC vs. Idaho
September 12, 2015 at 5:00pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: 72,422
Total Time: 3 hours 18 minutes

USC gets a nice primetime slot for week two despite a less than stellar matchup. Too bad it was on the Pac-12 Network for the second week in a row—Sorry DirecTV customers!

As USC runs through what seems like the entire Sun Belt conference, they averaged 57 points and 7.5 points allowed per game. Those numbers will fall back to more realistic levels as the Trojans face conference foes.

Again, there’s not too much that you can extrapolate from the team’s play at this point of the season. Some of the big things are:

  1. The kicking game. Another kickoff out of bounds?
  2. Adoree’ finding out when to call for a fair catch.
  3. The defense needs to figure out what they’re doing for the first drive of the third quarter.

All of that stuff is kind of negative, so let’s take a look at everything else instead.

Although Adoree’ Jackson played sparingly on offense, all but one of his offensive touches went for first downs. The single play that wasn’t got only 8 yards. Take a look at the highlight of one of his plays below:

His catch and run at the 1:33 mark of the video shows what this crazy man can do. The Idaho defense took almost 20 seconds to bring him down despite Adoree’ coming to a complete stop at one point.

Kind of reminds me of this run…

Jackson may need to be a bit more conservative on special teams though. If someone sprinkled in some bad luck, the jump from last week and the fair catch no-calls this week could’ve ended up being disastrous, momentum-changing moments. Even if potential injuries don’t scare him, fumbles are still a thing.

Another receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, had a career night with a 192 yard, 2 TD performance. He tops the team in all-purpose yards—both in total yards and yards per game….even though all he does is catch. But what was with that penalty? I would never have expected Smith-Schuster to get unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Yet, there it was, a 15-yard variety after Idaho scored their first and only touchdown.

Luckily, Cody Kessler and the offense responded quickly in the ensuing 6 play, 1:37 drive. After doing a short dump off, Kessler completed five straight passes of 10+ yards to get the touchdown. It was as if the fight song never stopped playing.

Kessler finished the night with 410 yards passing, 3 touchdowns and only 2 more incompletions than touchdowns. Even more notable was that he completed two passes that were thrown for over 20 yards. This was a good sign considering how the main criticism from last week was him missing deep throws.

Kessler’s 7-0 touchdown-interception ratio is the best in the nation at this point. Three quarterbacks have more touchdowns, but also have more interceptions:

Seth Russell (Baylor) 9-4
Matt Johnson (Bowling Green) 8-1
Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) 8-1

Unfortunately, no USC running back is close to being at the top of a national stat chart. However, that speaks more of the running back depth than the ineptitude of play. The Trojans allowed all five of their scholarship running backs some carries and were vindicated with five rushing touchdowns. The group had 29 carries for 248 yards, averaging 8.55 per rush. When including the walk-ons, it still comes out to 35 carries for 285 yards averaging 8.14 per rush. When you can run like that, you can do anything you want.

Out of all the running backs, true freshman Ronald Jones II was the one that stood out the most. He had some good runs between the tackles and broke some longer runs. Late in the second quarter, Jones’ 31 yard touchdown run was nullified by a holding call on Max Tuerk. That run likely would not have been sprung if not for the holding, so it was a legit penalty. During the fourth quarter, however, it was like some kind of sick game for the officials. How many times can they deny Ronald Jones II of touchdowns? Even after a review, they wouldn’t give him a 45-yard touchdown run. Instead, they called it a 44-yard run with Jones going down at the 1-yard line. Sad times. Your Pac-12 officials at work.

Overall, the USC offense compiled a nasty 737 yards of total offense. The last time they got even close to that was when Leinart, Bush, and the 2005 USC team destroyed Arkansas with 70 points and 736 yards. Times have certainly changed.

The defense played decently for most of the game. A couple of rookie mistakes led to some big gains and scores from the Idaho offense. I say, let them have it. How many of you guys can even name the Idaho starting QB even after seeing that game? I already forgot his name…Poor guy.

There were some things like the pass intereference penalty and corners, linebackers, and safeties getting caught out of position. With so much youth on the roster, these things should be solved as time goes on.

CommBro Breaker

I bet all of you wanted a bunch of potato jokes and puns, but I won’t deliver. Pretty much every place that serves french fries doesn’t deliver. HAH. Okay, it stops there. And you guys wonder why their mascot is the Vandals? I would become one too being the butt end of so many jokes about my state. Instead, let these useless stats fill up your head. One day, while you’re taking your exams, you won’t be able to remember what Grice’s Maxims are, but you will remember these useless week two stats about USC. What’s that? You didn’t know what Grice’s Maxims were in the first place? Should have been a comm major.

Completely pointless stat: USC has as many first downs as points per game (57).

Misleading stat of the week: USC has stopped 100% of points after touchdowns
Context: USC has only allowed two touchdowns so far this season. Arkansas State failed to convert their 2-point conversion and Idaho’s kick was blocked by Claude Pelon.

 

Old Stuff

USC vs. Ark St.: More Complaints than Analysis