Gary Doran

Pac-12 Preview USC: Decreases, Drama, Defense and D’Coach

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A very important factor to consider when assessing the 2014 USC football team is the accumulative effect that the NCAA scholarship reduction has had on the program.  Currently, the USC football team has a roster made up of only seventy five percent of the maximum number of scholarship players available that other teams they will face have (64 vs. 85).  In other words, don’t get in trouble with the NCAA or you’ll be at a big disadvantage.  Even if you’re a national brand in a recruiting haven that is Southern California.

This is not to say that the USC roster is bereft of gifted athletes. On the contrary, the Trojans probably have more high-caliber athletes than most teams they will face in 2014.   The real problem is the quantity, not the quality of athletes.  The decrease of available players during the sanctions has cut down substantially on the team’s durability.

We Came as Trojans, We Won’t Fade Away

Well, actually they did fade! It appears that the scholarship reductions really had an impact on USC’s production last year, especially as their games wore on.  Notice the significant decline in production from both the offense and the defense from the first half to the second half in conference games this past year:

OFFENSE1st Half2nd HalfDiff
Points Scored174105-69
Yards Gained18421761-81
Turnovers47-3
DEFENSE1st Half2nd HalfDiff
Points Allowed92137-45
Yards Allowed15561884-328
Take Aways115-6

USC scored 69 fewer points and gave up 45 more points between the two halves. That’s over 100 point swing, and they still won two-thirds of their conference games. To accentuate the drop in production even further, in the fourth quarter in its conference games, USC only scored six touchdowns and two field goals all year.  Three of those touchdowns were against ASU, which had built up a 27-point lead going into the fourth quarter.  USC was shutout without a touchdown in the fourth quarter in five of its nine conference games.  They were 3-2 in those games.  One of the big questions for 2014 in assessing USC is – will they continue to fade as the game wears on?

Drama

The 2013 USC Trojan football team experienced a lot more drama off the field than they did on it (a “coaches and school administration” soap opera of sorts).  All the coaching-related issues that played out off the field and in the media sure could have been a major distraction.  Drama and football are seldom are a good match, however, through all the off the field issues they experienced, the Trojan team appeared to hold together last year, as they ended the season winning seven out of their last nine games.  That might be an important factor to consider when predicting the fortunes of the 2014 Trojan team.   If one can handle drama, one should be able handle pressure.

Can’t Talk 2013 USC Football Without Saying DEFENSE

Here is how USC fared in the conference from a defensive standpoint:

DEFENSERankAvg
Scoring Defense2nd25.4
Total Defense3rd382.2
Opp. 1st Downs3rd20.4
Rushing Defense4th143.1
Interceptions4th12
Opp. 3rd Down Coversion4th37.30%
Pass Defense5th239.1
Pass Defense Efficiency5th121.3
Sacks6th21

The rankings show that USC was a good defensive team, but its real strength was once an opponent neared the USC goal line.  There, they ranked first in the PAC-12 in the percentage of times the Trojans allowed points to teams that got in its red zone.  Roughly one out of every three times an opponent got into its red zone, USC turned them away with zero points (no touchdowns or field goals).  Even better, less than half of those times in the red zone did a team score a touchdown (17 of 35 chances).  USC got twelve interceptions during PAC-12 play and four of those happened when an opponent crossed into its red zone.   It also stopped opponents four times trying to convert on fourth down in the red zone.  All this points to defense when it really counted.

Will There Be a Sark Factor or the Snark Factor?

As with the hiring of most new coaches, the reaction was somewhat mixed for Steve Sarkisian coming back to USC as its latest head coach.  Many believe he thoroughly understands the storied tradition and the high expectations surrounding USC from his years on Pete Carroll’s staff.  His supporterswill also point to the good job he did in recruiting while at the University of Washington. Being a strong recruiter has now become a more important quality, because with the recent success of cross-town rival UCLA, USC is no longer the only big shot recruiter in Southern California.

Another area that the Sarkisian supporters will point to as a big positive in his hiring is his ability to develop quarterbacks. During his time on Pete’s Carroll’s staff, Sarkisian helped to develop Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, both of whom had extremely productive careers with the Trojans.  Last year, USC quarterback Cody Kessler was eighth in passing yards per game, fifth in passing efficiency and eleventh in total offense in the conference.  Will Sark be able to help Kessler develop in the same fashion as Palmer and Leinart?

On the other hand, there are those less enthralled with his hiring because of his very pedestrian-like PAC-12 Conference record of 24-21 in five years with the Huskies. That’s not much of a wow factor with one of the most important attributes a coach can bring to a new coaching position: wins.   The bottom-line is that it’s all about winning.   The common belief is that a winning coach can win most anywhere.

The Big Play-Big Stage Trojans

Couldn’t end the preview without a brief discussion of USC and Big Offensive Plays. The Trojans ran over 580 plays last year and 45 of them went for 20 yards or more.  That averages to five big plays a game.  Long pass plays loomed big for the Trojans as one out of every nine passes went for 20 yards or more.  Pretty impressive!  With junior receiver Nelson Agholor, tenth in the conference in receiving yards per game last year, USC seems primed for more explosive pass plays in 2014.  USC was seventh in the conference in running the ball last year, and with both Junior running backs Javoris Allen and Tre Madden returning in 2014, USC hopes to improve upon their combined rushing yards of just over 1,000 in 2013.

Offensive Plays for 20 Yards or MoreTotal Plays20+ YdsPlays / 20+ yards
Rushing3311719.5
Passing251289
Total5824512.9

There you have it.  USC Football: small in numbers, drama tested, strong on defense, big on big plays, with a coach that gets all the boxes checked, except an important one – big-time winning.  How will they fare in 2014?

Trojan Tidbits:

  • Over one quarter of all the offensive touchdowns USC allowed during the year happened in the ASU game (7 of 26).
  • USC was the first to score a touchdown in seven out of nine conference games (ASU & UCLA were the only two teams to score the first touchdown against them).
  • USC ranked in the bottom half of every offensive category in the conference, except passing efficiency at (fourth).

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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