The Devils Den is back with its weekly break down featuring the Sun Devil’s first conference opponent; The USC Trojans. The break down will detail the Devils and the Trojans by their strengths and weaknesses in either running or throwing the ball based on the field position and by the down. The analysis will also be from both an offensive and a defensive standpoint. Let’s take a look to see where there are matches and mismatches. This will also be the first of our analysis using the 2015 season stats. Keep in mind that those stats represent three games for each team with ASU facing two run oriented teams and the Trojan facing its first conference foe. As always, we want to thank cfbstats.com for their excellent compilation of statistics.
ASU Offense versus USC Defense
Running the Ball
This year’s contest may be an interesting match up in the fourth quarter as ASU has been most productive running the ball in the fourth quarter with an average of 4.50 yards per carry and gaining a first down 25 percent of those carries. The USC defense is the stingiest on the ground in the fourth quarter surrendering only 3.03 yards per carry and giving up a first down on the ground in only 18 percent of their opponents’ carries. As a side note, the ASU fourth quarter rushing numbers have not been padded by the Devils carrying a big lead into the fourth quarter, because they haven’t carried a big lead yet.
So far this year, when ASU is between its opponents’ 21 and 39 yard lines, the Devils struggle running the ball in only gaining 29 yards on 17 carries. This is the area leading up to the opponents’ red zone. It also happens to be the area on the field where the ASU passing game has been its very productive statistically. In the same area, the Trojan defense has been somewhat average in yards per carry it has given up at 4.06, which ties them for seventh place in the conference with the Washington Huskies for average yards per carry in that part of the field.
For the ASU offense, 37 percent of their running plays have been when the Devils are ahead. In those running plays, the Devils have averaged 5.69 yards per carry. For the Trojan defense, 80 percent of the running plays they have faced have happened when they were ahead giving up an average of 3.89 yards per carry.
On third down plays, the yards per carry for the ASU offense looks pretty meager at only 1.27, however, of the 15 third down carries, ten of them have been when there is three yards or less to go. Additionally, on those ten carries, ASU has converted six first downs. Now when there is more than three yards to gain on third down, ASU is not doing well at all, losing a total of three yards on five carries. In their three games so far this year, the Trojan defense has given up 26 yards in six carries for four first down on a third down with three or less yards to go. That means that the Trojan run defense has allowed a higher yards per carry on third and short yardage at 4.33 than the average of all the other running plays in their first three game. (One caution, it represents on six carries).
Passing the Ball
It appears that the ASU passing game somewhat excels on third down in yards per pass attempt at 7.64, however if you subtract the 93 yards pass to Demario Richard against New Mexico, the yards per attempt drops to only 4.97.
So far this year, the ASU offense has faced 48 third down situations, with 14 of them being for ten yards or more to go for a first down. In those 14 plays, ASU has thrown the ball twelve times and completed six of the throws. Of the six completions, only one got a first down, which was the pass and run by Demario Richard. The good news for ASU is that when the offense is faced with a third down and less than ten yards to go, they have completed 14 of 21 passes for a completion rate of 66.7 percent. More importantly, they have picked up eleven first downs on the 14 completions. The Trojan defense almost mirrors the ASU offense on third down with less than ten yards to go in giving up 14 completions on 22 pass attempts and eleven first downs.
Besides better pass completions in the red zone, another area where the Devils have struggled in their passing game has been between their own 20 and 39 yard lines. There the Devils have completed about 61 percent of their passes, but have only gotten a first down by the pass five times in 36 pass attempts. Also in this area of the field, the Devils have only gotten one pass reception for 15 yards or more in those 36 pass attempts. By comparison, the Trojan defense has faced 46 pass attempts in the same area of the field and has surrendered 17 first down completions. They have also given up five completions of 15 yards or more in that area.
The one area where the Devil passing game has been productive is between their own 40 yard line and their opponents’ 21 yard line. There the Devils have completed 77 percent of their pass attempts and gained 16 first downs in 39 pass attempts and. In the same area, the USC pass defense has allowed opponents to complete 57 percent of their passes and gain twelve first downs on 42 pass attempts.
USC Offense vs. ASU Defense
Running the Ball
The Trojans have only run the ball nine times in the third quarter, but have gained 100 yards in those carries. It may be that because the passing game has been clicking so well in the same quarter, the run game became secondary and somewhat of a surprise play, (see more on the third quarter pass game below). The ASU defense has given up the most yards per carry in the third quarter where two of the opponents were run-oriented teams with little or no surprise to their rushing attack.
In running the ball by down, USC is third in the conference in average yards per carry on first down, then sixth in average yards per carry on second down and tenth in the conference on third down carries. By contrast, ASU is sixth in the conference in average yards per carry allowed on first down, tenth in the conference on second down in average yards per carried allowed and seventh on third down. Clearly, the Trojan run game’s efficiency drops with each subsequent down.
Sticking with conference rankings, the Trojans are first in average yards per carry in their opponents’ red zones, while the ASU defense is eighth in the conference in average yards per carry allowed in their own red zone. In the 17 rushing plays they have faced, the ASU defense has allowed three runs over ten yard in the tight confines of their red zone.
From an explosive standpoint in running the ball, the Trojans are third in the conference in the average number of running attempts per ten plus yard gain at 5.7 plays per ten plus yard run, while ASU is tenth in the conference in giving up a ten plus yard run once every 9.6 rushing attempts. From a first down standpoint by the run, USC is second in the conference in the average running first down plays to total running plays, while the ASU defense is ninth in the conference in the same category.
Passing the Ball
As was highlighted in our Grading the Pac-12 Passing: Week 3 article, USC leads the conference in pass completion percentage, but is last in the conference is converting a third down through the air, as the Trojans have only converted four third downs to first downs in 17 pass attempts. By comparison, the ASU offense has converted 12 third downs into first downs through the air in 33 pass attempts. Additionally, the ASU defense allowed eleven third down completions in 22 pass attempts yielding seven first downs.
Amazingly, the Trojans completed 21 out of 23 pass attempts scoring four touchdowns passes and ten first downs in the third quarter alone. It’s no wonder their running game averages over eleven yards per carry in the same quarter on very few carries. The Devil defense has only faced 15 third quarter pass attempts and only allowed five of those passes to be completed, however, four of those five completions resulted in a first down and three of them gained 15 yards or more.
Another category in which the Trojan passing game has shined is in their opponents’ red zones, where they have thrown ten passes and complete six of them, with five of those six completions resulting in a touchdown. The ASU offense has also thrown five touchdown passes within their opponents’ red zones, but they needed 21 passes to get those five touchdown receptions. They also only completed 43 percent of their pass attempts in their opponents’ red zones. Since the Devils faced two run oriented offenses in their first three games, they have only faced five red zone pass attempts, with two of the passes being completed and one going for a touchdown.
The only other area where the results in the USC passing game dipped a bit was when the Trojans fell behind by more than seven points. When that happened, the completion percentage dropped to 61.5 percent, whereas in all the other situations, the completion percentage was 79.5 percent; an 18 percent decline. In the same situation, the USC passing game got a passing first down reception on an average of only 23 percent of their pass attempts, whereas in all other situations, they got a passing first down reception on 44 percent of their pass attempts.
What the Numbers Mean
Overall the USC passing game has been stellar and the strength of the team, while the its counterpart from Tempe has been mediocre at best. However, there seems to be a couple of critical situations where the Trojan passing attack is not as prolific as when things are going smoothly. It would be interesting to see what happens if the Devils are able to jump ahead early in the game and then thwart the passing game in the early downs setting up many third down passing situations.
On the other hand, the Devil passing attack has shown some small hints of its pre-season potential. Unfortunately for the Devils to this point, completions in critical situations have not yet materialized. Will this be the break out passing game for the ASU offense?