Scott Huber's Game Analysis
By Scott Wolf
I was 100% sure that Clay Helton was going to be fired following that horribly embarrassing loss to the fighting Herms of ASU. We have fallen so far, so fast, but we saw this coming 2 years ago. I think everyone did, except Lynn Swann. The Sam Darnold effect is real, he should be getting a cut of Helton’s salary. I hoped and prayed for an end to this football purgatory, no such luck. Apparently, Helton has a guardian angel in the USC administration. Instead of firing Helton, it looks like they settled for a re worked coaching staff. When has this ever worked?
The Oregon State game is a smoke screen. It temporarily obscured our problems, but eventually the smoke will lift and the problems will still be there. It’s like when I was a kid playing video games. I would get my butt kicked over and over by my older brother in Madden Football. After getting my butt kicked all day by my older brother, I would call my little brother into the room and play him. I would do to my younger brother what my older brother did to me. I would blow him out a few time to restore my confidence. Oregon State is the “little brother” for the PAC-12 and USC. Beating Oregon State is good for the confidence of USC, but it doesn’t mean we’ve improved.
Oregon State is historically bad this year. Their offense is serviceable, but overall they are just a bad football team. They are 2-7, with their only wins coming against Southern Utah, and a QB-less Colorado. They’ve given up North of 40 points 6 times, and held only Southern Utah to less than 30. So any perceived progress on the part of USC needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It’s easy to look at the exit of the offense line coach and scream, “look at how much better they played”. Unfortunately OSU’s defensive front is poor barometer, as they are by far the worst defensive front in the PAC-12 and maybe the country.
We are a bad football team, coaching changes won’t fix that. Coaching changes won’t fix years of poor recruiting choices. Coaching changes won’t fix the fact that we are slower and weaker than our opponents. The old saying “its not the X’s and O’s, it the Jims and the Joes” kind of applies here. A stalling offense, penalties, blown coverages, and poor adjustments can all be attributed to bad coaching. We do have issues in all these areas. What has nothing to do with coaching, is getting physically dominated individually across the board over an 8 week period. Especially upfront on the offensive line and in the secondary. No mid-season coaching change will fix this. By week 9, your team is what is, for better or worse. Coaches can help mask or hide deficiencies, but a good team will figure out how to expose you.
With that said, changes were made this week, and the results seem positive. Against a physically outmatched (this is the only time I’ve been able to say this all year) OSU front 7, our line play look pretty solid. OSU was playing a balanced, bend but don’t break, vanilla style of Defense. When I say vanilla, I mean plain, the defensive linemen and linebackers played straight up gap assignment football. As a result you didn’t see much pre-snap movement from OSU’s defense.
They did very little stunting on the defensive line, and brought relatively few blitzes. Aggressive blitzing and stunting is great when executed properly, but it can also leave you open to big plays. Linemen caught in stunts leave huge running lanes.
When Linebackers blitz, it leaves holes in pass coverage that can be exploited for big gains. In order to blitz and stunt successfully, you need to have an assignment sound group on defense. Especially in the secondary, which picks up the slack in pass coverage for the blitzing backers. Considering OSU defensive performance thus far in 2018, I would say they lack the necessary cohesion. The same stunts and blitzes that can devastate an offense, can do the same to a defense. Over the course of the past 8 weeks OSU’s defense has proved the latter to be true (they are 126th in the country versus run).
So the lack of stunting and blitzing came as no surprise, OSU’s staff was trying to limit the amount of times they shot themselves in the foot. I think this was a major factor in the success of our offense. Our offense has been horrible against movement, stunts, and blitzes. Not just our lineman in protection, but our backs too, and our receivers have been equally bad checking into hot reads. I’m giving some credit to OSU for our success on offense. Them not watching tape on us definitely helped. If I was the new Offensive line coach at USC, I would be thankful that OSU ran the defensive game plan they did.
I should give some credit to the new offensive staff too. They made some adjustments to our offensive alignment and play calling that really complemented our personal. This was the first time all season that our play calling appeared cohesive and planned out. We didn’t back ourselves into a corner and rely on the deep ball or a great athletic play to bail us out. We came our running the football and stuck to it, which paid huge dividends.
We made adjustments upfront, narrowing our splits to prevent the linebacker run thru (that have killed our run game all year) and pared down the play book. We also moved away from the inside and outside zone plays that have been the root of our run game struggles. Zone plays, when run right, are great. The problem is that there is little/no margin for error. When you have a line as bad as ours, power run plays are better.
Against OSU we stuck to power run and it was a better look. Both of these things combined with a horrible OSU front 7 made our offense line look semi-dominate. We mixed in enough quick pass to keep OSU’s defense on their toes, but stayed away from the intermediate and long throws that have resulted in so many sacks and INT’s in 2018. JT was efficient and made the throws he needed too, but wasn’t asked to win the game sing
le handedly like he has been in previous weeks. He was 14-26 for 177 yards, nearly half as many attempts as he had in previous starts. We leaned heavily on the run game and that played a key role in our victory in the 4th quarter.
Running the football has always been the essence of USC football. All seems right with the universe when USC is playing smashmouth football. Running the football successfully is a patient man’s game. Up until the OSU game we’ve lacked that patience. Thats mostly on Tee Martin.
With Helton now calling the plays, it appears we’ve regained some of that resolve in the run game. Unless you’re Alabama, there will be times during the course of a game when your rushing attack stalls, like it did in the 2nd and 3rd quarters for the Trojans. Instead of abandoning the run in the face of adversity, like we had in previous weeks, we stuck it out.
The results showed in the 4th quarter, when OSU’s defense, beat down after 3 quarters of defending the run, fell apart (Ware and Malepai ended the game with over a hundred yards each). Defending the run, requires significantly more energy than defending the pass. That’s why running football teams, own the 4th quarter. If we return to the promised land it will be our running backs leading the way. My guess is that our offense will fall back into it old ways versus the more physical and better coached defense of Cal.
It was really more of the same from the Trojans on defense. They looked great sometimes and completely exposed others. Inconsistent effort and production has been a hallmark of the USC defense all year. In the 2nd quarter, when a defensive stop could have turned the game into a blowout, they gave up touchdowns. The inability to close out even bad teams has dogged USC the entire Helton era. They lack the killer instinct.
OSU’s offense is significantly better than their Defense, their running back Jefferson led the PAC-12 in rushing and posed a significant threat. The Trojans succeeded in shutting down the run game, holding Jefferson to 58 yards on the ground. It was our secondary and pass rush that let us down when we needed big stops. Rector has done a great job stepping up in Gustins absence, but it hasn’t been enough.
Right now Rector is our best run stopper and our only real pass rush threat. In the 1st Quarter he came out like gang busters, but eventually OSU adjusted their blocking scheme and mostly neutralized him . Although Rector was involved in 4 sacks, there were long stretches of time were OSU’s QB Luton had ample time to throw. Our pass rush was really an all or nothing game, we either sacked Luton, or he had a ton of time.
We just couldn’t generate consistant pressure or QB hurries. With Gustin out of the lineup and Cam Smith still playing in 1st gear with his hamstring issue, we didn’t have another pass rush threat to lean on. With our pass rush neutralized, it fell on our secondary to get the job done. Let’s face it, that’s not gonna happen. Our secondary is the offensive line of our defense. They are horrible, physically outmatched and outcoached every game.
When USC was firing coaches last week they should have included the secondary coach. Isaiah Langley struggled all day, he would give OSU’s receivers a huge cushion and practically let them have anything under 10 yards. OSU took what we gave them and just kept throwing short routes to the left side. He gave up so many catches that he ended up leading the defense in tackles on the day. I can’t remember a time in all my years of coaching where my corner lead the team in tackles and there was a positive result in the game.
The most troubling part is that our coaching staff allowed it to continue with 0 adjustment. We got in lucky in my opinion. It wasn’t just Langley who struggled, Harris struggled too. He was playing safety, not his natural position, but he blew multiple coverage just like he does every game at corner. He was directly responsible for the blown coverage on the 43 yard touchdown strike in the 2nd quarter. I will give him credit though, he 4th Quarter, 4th down, pass deflection was huge. It sealed the win for USC.