USC vs. Utah: Statistical Anomaly pt. 2

Utah vs. USC
October 20, 2018 at 5:10pm
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT: 46,405
Total Time: 3 hours 12 minutes

Two SCents: 

Seven games in and the USC Trojans are in full Clay Helton road game form: anemic offense, bad snaps, and uninspired coaching that left freshman quarterback, JT Daniels, exiting the game with a possible concussion. If not for a few lucky plays, the offense would have been held scoreless for the first three quarters of the game.

CommBro Breaker

The defense may have faltered towards the end, but I would attribute that fault more to the offense. Week in and week out, they have to endure being on the field for 30% more plays and nearly 10 minutes of game time on the field than the failing offense. By the end of this Utah game, they looked absolutely exhausted, so Utah could continue to race them to death using perimeter runs.

I thought last week was a statistical anomaly, but this one is definitely worse in the grand scheme of things (especially since it ended in a loss). In fact, “anomaly” may not be the right word; this has definitely become a pattern for Clay Helton and his coaching staff. Year three is usually when a head coach fully installs their system and philosophy, leading to a strong team or a hollow mess of one. Find me one person that can believe it’s the former.

He probably looks like this

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: 205 yards of total offense. That’s seriously half of what Utah’s QB, Tyler Huntley, produced himself (398 total yards).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: USC punted as many times as Utah scored (7). USC scored as many times at Utah punted (4).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #3: The Trojans ran less than 60 plays (54), which resulted in a time of possession that was 9:32 less than their opponent.

Misleading Stat of the Week: 20% of USC’s first downs were a direct result of a Utah penalty and 10% were from fourth down conversions…but that’s only because USC only had a total of 10 first downs through the entire game. Ridiculous Stat of the Week #4: In the first half, USC’s defense had more sacks (5) than USC’s offense had first downs (4).

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #5: All three of Helton’s losses this season have been by double digits. They average a 16 point differential per loss.

Uplifting Stat of the Week #1: Only 2 penalties for 20 yards!! Yay!…Yet, by the end of the third quarter, they still had more penalties (2) than first downs (0 of 10)…I’m bad at this uplifting thing, huh?

Uplifting Stat of the Week #2: A 310 pound Jay Tufele ran 48 yards for a touchdown.

USC vs. Utah: FumBowl Eligible

USC vs. Utah
October 14, 2017 at 5:14pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 72,382 (93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

So this post comes unbelievably late, even by my poor standards. In my defense, I was busy struggling through studying and struggling through my midterm. Kind of like how USC struggled all the way through this game against Utah. Clearly the struggle bus is a malady that affects all.

Tickets now on sale.

The problems started with some early fumbles—one leading directly to a touchdown. Three first half fumbles by a single player is quite concerning. That’s almost half the first half offensive drives ended by lack of ball security. But hey, at least there were no interceptions! this might’ve been a different game had Utah not missed that medium length field goal.

I must admit that there were a lot of distractions for me during this game, so my analysis it sorely lacking. I barely have time to write this so y’all can forget about me watching plays frame by frame like I used to do.
Speaking of time, there’s a bunch I’d like to get back from those officials that saw fit to measure for the first down like 3 times in the same set of downs. They had so many measures, the band almost thought it was their sheet music.
Good/Badisms
GOOD: The defense didn’t allow any points in the second half…until the last minute. They also managed to stop a potentially game-winning two point conversion.
GOOD: Scoring 21 straight points to take the lead.
GOOD: Darnold played an acceptable quality in the second half.
GOOD: Tight ends are finally getting more involvement in the offense. Here’s a stat for you: 75% of USC’s touchdowns came from the tight end position group.

GOOD: Punter, Reid Budrovich, continuing to field bad snaps.

BAD: Obviously, the other side, stop snapping so badly. This ain’t bowling. The ball needs to leave the ground.

BAD: Only having 49 rushing yards at the half.
GOOD: The run game picking up in the first half.
GOOD: Only three penalties for 35 yards—one of which was absolute garbage and not a pass interference.
GOOD: Tyler Vaughns, bailing out the team on fourth down again.

CommBro Breaker

At 6-1, USC is bowl eligible! Even if the season ends in five straight losses, USC will continue the streak of qualifying for a six straight year. That’s kind of a low standard for a USC team to live up to, but…

Lottery Stats:

Don’t be greedy. I already spread some stats throughout the post.

Turnovers off of Turnovers: We got another one this game! How exciting!

Running count of fourth down conversions: 3 of 10 (30%)

Running count of opponent fourth down conversions: 9 of 15 (60%)

USC vs. Utah: All Fun Until Someone Fumbles

Utah vs. USC
September 23, 2016 at 7:05pm
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT: 46,133 (45,807)
Total Time: 3 hours 21 minutes

A long season just got longer as the Trojans drop to 1-3 overall, 0-2 in the conference, and 0-1 in the Pac-12 South. We’ve all probably had our fill of the bad, so I won’t open with that. Make no mistake though, the bad will be covered—just later.

We’ll start with the best: Adoree’ Jackson deserves MVP for that game, even if he slipped at the end to allow the Utes’ go-ahead touchdown. He put life into the team with his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on special teams. On defense, he broke up two passes and recovered a fumble. He also ran for 11 yards on a single carry on offense. Maybe he should go full-McCaffrey and throw for a TD too. No, please don’t.

Defensively, Cam Smith, Uchenna Nwosu, and Porter Gustin all played relatively well. Cam Smith compiled 6 tackles, 1 for a loss, and a fumble recovery in just the first quarter alone. Smith and Gustin also showed textbook discipline when defending the read option plays. That’s a welcome sight.

Offensively, the entire unit was much improved. Sure, the big storyline going into the game was the switch for Sam Darnold at quarterback. That certainly helped—he made some big time plays and kept some drives alive that Browne likely couldn’t have—but the supporting cast also stepped it up. Unfortunately, it was three weeks late and a few hundred thousand dollars short or however that saying goes. Sorry, let me stay on the positives…

The offensive line actually made a lot of blocks as a unit, allowing Justin Davis burst through the holes. Davis used his limited opportunities well, averaging 17 yards per carry in the first half and scoring his first touchdown of the season.

The pass protection was also mostly adequate, allowing Darnold time to find receivers open on a variety of routes. Then receivers and tight ends actually hung onto the ball, despite the rain. I don’t really remember there being many—if any—drops during that game. Players like Steven Mitchell and Tyler Petite have really shown themselves to be reliable pass-catchers. Tyler Petite might need some ballet lesson to help him with his balance though.

Darnold might’ve been the biggest bright spot on offense. He improved in terms of not straying in the pocket. He took decent scrambles, while remaining disciplined enough to go for available passes. So many athletic QBs just tuck and run at the first sign of trouble. Darnold clearly isn’t one of those. He fit some tough passes into tight windows while avoiding interceptions. I think I really only saw one or two bad throws from him this game. His scramble on the last play of the game was very Russell Wilson-esque (that’s a good thing).

Overall, the first half was relatively clean in terms of penalties. By some stroke of luck or a straight up voodoo magic, the team had one penalty for 5 yards. It did contribute to a stalled drive and settling for a field goal in the redzone, but oh well. I’ll take what I can get at this point. Now onward to the brave, new frontier of  same old negatives for the team.

It was almost misleading to use the word “clean” to describe the first half. Despite averaging almost eight yards per play and not punting, they ended three of their own drives with fumbles. They were so close to adding a few more. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was trying to do too much, but it just has to stop.

Then there was the penalties. Some of them were absolutely back-breaking. It wasn’t the free yardage that killed it, but rather the peripherals. I’ll intentionally leave names out because my purpose is to describe the effect rather than call out a player. For example, the team’s ineligible receiver downfield penalty only cost the offense 5 yards on paper. In reality though, it negated a 32-yard pass to Darreus Rogers. That 37-yard swing killed a drive. They punted without ever getting out of that set of downs. With the rise of RPOs (run-pass options) in college football, a greater emphasis has been placed on ineligible receiver downfield rules. Plays are packaged in a way that the quarterback can choose either a run ( can be set up as handoff or QB draw) or throw it to a receiver. That gets confusing not just for the defense, but for the offensive linemen as well. The result in this situation was a guard more than three yards down the field as if trying to make a run block. The NCAA considered this a big enough issue that they proposed changing the rule so that players are flagged at 1 yard out (like the NFL), rather than the current 3 yards. Instead of implementing the rule, they opted to emphasize that officials should call it. You can argue that it was a ticky-tack call, but unfortunately for USC, the refs were coached by the NCAA to look for it. Two years ago the Trojans probably could’ve gotten away with it.

Now that I’ve adequately waste your time with an entire 200 word paragraph on a single penalty, I can move on to the next costly penalty. It happened a flew plays later when Utah was 3rd-and-10 at their own 7-yard line. A Utah receiver was grabbed slightly out of his break by a USC corner, prompting a pass interference flag. The play quickly changed what likely would’ve been a three-and-out at the 7-yard line, to a 1st-and-10 at the 22. Quite the swing. They ultimately drove the entire 93 yards for the touchdown. It hurt that much more when it drained 5:29 of the remaining 5:45.

These two drives characterized the gulf between the two coaches. The difference can be hard to spot. You may be inclined to argue that the team was only a few plays away from turning it around. The problem actually started long before that. It’s about instilling a mentality in the players and team. It may sound cliche, but one team was playing not to lose and the other was playing to win. One rises to the occasion, the other wilts under pressure.

You run on a 3rd-and-6 to set up a 4th-and-3. That initially made me think they were playing that with a 4-down mentality. Instead, it was just a set up to settle for a field goal. Not too big of a deal in a vaccuum, I guess. On their next offensive possession, the pass to JuJu on 3rd-and-5 got spotted for 4th-and-3. Helton should have went for it. Instead, he elected to punt. Why? You just chose a short, 30-yard punt over the opportunity to put the game away.

You don’t need to look far back in the USC coaching history to find people that did that. Coach O took that shot when he put Arizona out of its misery and again against Stanford instead of punting for overtime. Even Steve Sarkisian tried it against Utah two years ago despite ultimately failing.

In the post game presser, the JuJu, speaking for the offense, said they even wanted to go for it. Denied the opportunity—again. Like against Stanford, Alabama, Oregon in 2015 and probably more that I’ve forgotten about.

The team lacks a killer instinct because the coach lacks one. Kyle Whittingham clearly did. His team went for it on 4th down a total of four times, going 4 for 4. On that final drive, he even did it twice and was vindicated.

I know this comes with the benefit of hindsight, but consider all the possibilities that stem from the choice to punt or go for it.

If they punt, there are really only three possible outcomes (especially with only one timeout left, but more on that later):

  1. Win, after the defense stops Utah (What Helton was “hoping” for from an ailing defense that generated 0 sacks and only 4 TFLs all game)
  2. Utah drains the clock and kicks a field goal to force overtime
  3. Utah drains the clock and wins it (what happened)

On the other hand, if they had gone for it:

  1. Convert and go for the eventual touchdown to win the game
  2. Convert and continue to drain the clock to win the game
  3. Fail and allow Utah the extra 30 yards from not punting
    1. Utah cannot drain the entire clock with a shorter field giving Helton and the team another chance to catch up if Utah scores

You’re putting your fate in your own hands in the second case. More of the latter outcomes look favorable, especially with the benefit of hindsight. Both in NFL and college football, rules favor the offense. A perfect offense would beat a perfect defense, if such things existed.

A perfect defense, USC was not. Before that final drive, USC had already allowed the second worst offense in the conference (statistically, at 26 ppg) to score 24 points. They somehow only managed to put up an average of  26 against Southern Utah, a weakened BYU, and San Jose State. At least USC, being the statisical worst offense in the conference (20.3 ppg) had some semblance of an excuse, having played #1 Alabama and #7 Stanford. That’s the defense he trusted. Speaking of trust:

Maybe he just misspoke, but officials are wrong all the time—even if they aren’t the terrible Pac-12 ones. The game moves fast, the guys are human. Why would you ever say that you trust them? It took me a careful review of the play to come to the conclusion that the spot was actually correct. Smith-Schuster made contact with the ball at the Utah 35-yard line, but did not establish his possession until one foot hit the ground at the Utah 37-yard line. Somehow though, he trusted that they got it right. It’s another thing if he said one of the coaches in the booth relayed that information, but, no, it was based on trust. Helton says a lot of things about trust and hope in regards to what’s happening on the field. I really hope that’s just semantics, but it really looks like he lacks a cohesive plan. Just winging it and hoping things bounce his way.

He will tell you that a few plays would’ve been the difference—that they would’ve won the game. Winning is a threshold, sure. That’s a big thing, no doubt.Had his team come out of the gates meeting even only a majority of their potential, this game would’ve been a blowout, not a barely achieved victory he couldn’t even get.

Rest of the bad:

  • Fumbling on 3 of the 3 first drives and almost 4 of the first 4 had Darnold not sold the pass so well
  • Allowing 12 straight run plays for a TD
  • Ahead 24-10, averaging 8 yards per play, still can’t put the game away
  • Taking out Justin Davis from the game when he was averaging over 12 yards per carry
  • Still being too liberal with timeouts

And just so I don’t finish on a sour note,

Rest of the good:

  • Being able to string together an 8 play, 91-yard drive for TD
  • Going 6 for 10 on third down conversions
  • Converting on 100% of field goals. Boermeester is 6 of 7 on field goals and 10/10 on PATs this season.
  • Credit for not giving up after three fumbles, I guess

CommBro Breaker

After nearly two thousand words, you can have some easy to read snippets.

Morale Boosting Stat of the Week: USC #1 in the country in punt return yardage, averaging 40.25 yards per return

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC maintains its perfect record against unranked opponents. They also have a perfect record against G5 teams. Yeah, that’s 1-0 against Utah State on both counts.

Also, I’d like to announce that one of my favorite stats has increased by 1. I knew I started the count for a good reason!

Turnovers off of turnovers count: 2

USC vs. Utah: There is No Foul

USC vs. Utah
October 24, 2015 at 4:30pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: 73,435 (of 93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 18 minutes

On a night that featured a little of everything, the 3-3 Trojans defeated the rank #3 Utah Utes by 3 scores. The threes didn’t stop at that for this game. The win coming despite needing to use the third-string center, Khaliel Rodgers. His battered offensive line unit only gave up three sacks despite only Damien Mama being in the position he started at at the beginning of the season. True freshman linebacker, Cam Smith also had a career night, picking off Travis Wilson three times. Verging on irrelevant, Threes is a game created by USC alumnus, Asher Vollmer. I’m sure it had something to do with the win against Utah. USC managed to punt only four times in the win. Crap, that’s a CommBro Breaker™. I’m done with this three thing.

One of the best parts of this win is that the team still has not dropped into a losing record since 2001. In Pete Carroll’s first season, the Trojans were 2-5 to start the season, but finished at 6-6. The last time USC closed with a losing season was back in 2000 with a 5-7 record. You’d have to stretch all the way back to 1991 for the next one. With the Trojans teetering on the edge of a tailspin, the win was crucial. Not only did Coach Clay Helton manage to prevent a losing season, but he’s kept the team in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title. If—and that’s a big if—USC runs the table and Utah loses one more conference game, the Trojans will likely get a rematch against Stanford for the Pac-12 Championship. We can only hope.

Either way, this game showed huge improvement from the very start. Upon winning the toss, the Trojans elected to defer. This was something we had not seen in a long time.

The decision proved to be favorable as USC struggled at the start. The Utes jumped to a early 14-7 lead, but the Trojans made sure that would be their last.

Cam Smith’s three interceptions and team leading tackles should definitely earn him player of the game honors. The Pac-12 already recognized him as the defensive player of the week as well. Not only was he able to stop three of 11 meaningful drives (Utah had two more, but at that point, the score was well out of reach), Smith’s 122 yards outgained either team’s entire rushing attack.

Coupled with zero turnovers from the Trojan offense, the Utes didn’t have much of a shot to get back into the game. The Utes were almost shut out completely in the second half. They scored a lone touchdown with four minutes left to play. Su’a Cravens even denied the final deep shot by Wilson with an interception of his own.

The defense allowed only two explosive plays throughout the game. One was the 66-yard catch and run touchdown in garbage time. The other barely qualified as it was a 22-yard gain by Devontae Booker on a simple swing pass. Booker’s running was kept in control all game. His longest run of the day was 12 yards and he only managed 62 yards overall. This forced Utah to rely on their passing game, proving fatal. This is despite losing safety, Marvell Tell III, and playing walk-on Matt Lopes. Even two iffy pass interference calls against Iman Marshall ended up moot for the Utes.

A huge part of such a sure-handed destruction were the adjustments made since playing Notre Dame and the adjustments made during the game—the likes of which has not been in many moons. Playing with a third string center and getting low snaps? Kessler moved under center more. Blocking not going well with true freshman Chuma Edoga in at right tackle? Put in two fullbacks. And when we were up by a fair amount, he ran the damn ball. When the run from the tailback position wasn’t going well, Helton called a fullback dive with Adoree’ Jackson in at tailback as distraction. Furthermore, USC managed to put together a 10+ play drive for a touchdown for the first time this season. They even did it a second time with a 17-play drive that churned away more than half a quarter (8:53). The Trojans punted only four times and only went 3-and-out twice.

The penalties against USC were shaved down as well. Overall, they were flagged 5 times for 49 yards. If you take out the sketchy PI calls, it would’ve been 3 penalties for 20 yards. Either way, it was a huge improvement. The best part? Zero penalties called on the offensive line. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the Pac-12 officials from getting face time. It was like they were doing a football rules clinic. There was the usual, like announcing why every incomplete pass wasn’t an intentional grounding. They added an explanation of why it wasn’t roughing the kicker to their repertoire. Next thing you know, they’ll be announcing whether the grass is regulation length (we’re looking at you, Notre Dame) or if a quarterback has a legal amount of air in the ball.

Imagine it with me: “Number six of the offense will not be flagged for underinflated his football. The measurement is between 12 and 15 pounds per square inch.” They could say this before every snap, just so you can know for sure, man! So helpful. Thank you Pac-12! They should’ve announced something about JuJu Smith-Schuster’s shoe flying off.

CommBro Breaker

The game could’ve gone a lot worse had Wilson not stared down his receivers. And the missed field goals are going to become a problem at some point.

By the way, thanks for not rushing the field. They were even taking down the goal posts in anticipation of it.

utah goal post

Go rush the field at Vanderbilt or something.

Misleading Stat of the Week: Clay Helton has only played against ranked opponents as head coach.
Context: 3 out of 3 opponents were ranked. Again, too small of a sample size. Next week, he’ll coach against Cal. They just dropped out of the rankings. Why’d they have to go and break the streak?