Stanford Game Notes from former USC TE/FB Scott Huber
There alway seems to be a debate after every USC football game about whether or not the Trojans deserve a heavy dose of praise or criticism from the media.
Instead of furthering that debate, usc247.com is looking to end it. We caught up with former USC football tight end (and longtime football coach) Scott Huber for his takes on USC’s game against Stanford.
Huber jotted down plenty of notes about the game and we interviewed him for 25 minutes. Here’s what we came up with.
Huber's take on offense
“Early on in the game, Stanford came out and from the looks of it, obviously I’m not in the huddle, it looked like they were basically going to make SC, if they wanted to win, they were going to make SC run with the football for a win. How you can kind of tell this is they had six men in the box, in the box meaning inside of the defensive end and within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Most teams will have seven, or eight against a run heavy team they’re concerned about, but in this case, Stanford was daring USC to run. We were having success early on in the run. Our line was getting off good. Contrary to what I’m reading online, they were winning in the run game early in the game. And our backs were winning in the run game early on. Where we would get in trouble, whenever you’re forced to run a lot, you cannot have penalties and you cannot have incomplete passes that put you behind the sticks. And that’s what happened.
“One of two things were going to happen. We were going to run the ball really well against a six man front and we were going to force them to bring a seventh or eighth man into the box, which would then open up the pass. But we never did that. We would hurt them with the run, but before we’d make them consider a change, we would get a penalty, or we would throw an errant pass or have a dropped pass. We’d get behind the sticks and they were able to stop us and we’d kick it away. So they were able to stay in that six man front the entire game. And when they’re able to play our run with six men in the box, they’re able to do what they did in coverage.
“It appeared to me, because they watched the UNLV game too, there wasn’t a lot of concern about a deep ball threat. Early on I noticed that they were playing nine and sometimes ten guys within 10 or 12 yards of the line of scrimmage. Which tells me they’re going to take away the medium ball and they’re going to take away the medium pass and they’re going to try to contain any short pass to short yards. Which they did. We never took a shot and the shots we took were not good. We need someway to stretch defenses. Some people kind of got excited when they saw UNLV, towards the end of the game, Amon-Ra (St. Brown) take a deep ball and a couple of other deep balls, but that was garbage time in the UNLV game. Against Stanford, we didn’t stretch the field at all.
“So when we don’t stretch the field, they can keep everybody within 10-12 yards at the line of scrimmage. That allows them to take away the medium passes, it allows them to contain short passes for little yards. It also allows all those guys in the secondary to play run support to that six man front. We never got them out of it. It wasn’t because we couldn’t. We were running the ball really well early on. Number 70 (Chuma Edoga) and number 75 (Alijah Vera-Tucker), although later in the game they were struggling, they were really firing off the ball early and I felt like they were winning in the run.
“I thought some of our best carries were with Carr in the backfield. You see him run and I’m sure you, just in your layman’s point of view, see that he has an extra gear, an extra level of explosiveness in his legs that you don’t see in our other backs. But it’s still kind of apparent to me that there’s some tentativeness in him and some tentativeness in the coaching staff to really let loose and just let him take the rock 30 times a game. I feel like if that was the case, we would be a better team.
“One thing I noticed with our running backs, unfortunately, I’m still not a fan of the running back by committee, three running backs. None of them ever really got into a rhythm, just like against UNLV. They all got some yards, they all had some good plays but none of them got in their rhythm. Where it really hurt us in this game was in pass protection. There’s something to be said as a running back, and I did play some fullback at USC, being in there every play against an opponent and seeing their defenses, how they move and how they change over the course of a game, helps in pass protection. You start to adapt to the way their backers flow, their delayed blitz, their blitz timing, stuff like that. And in this game, it really hurt us.
“Every single one of our running backs, Carr, (Vavae) Malepeai and Aca’Cedric (Ware), they all gave up sacks. Now obviously some of the breakdown of the pass protection is on the linemen. A lot of time when there were free runners later on in the third and fourth quarter, that was a back who missed his pick up. And it makes the line look bad and it also disheartens the line. They work really hard in pass protection and to have backs giving up sacks and pressures that cause incompletions, it’s disheartening and it’s not good. I feel like some of it could be mitigated with using a less number of backs and using our best backs more often.
“I feel like if we stuck with the run, we would have won this game. I know not many people gave us much of a chance. I think even Matt Leinart on the Pac-12 network predicted we would lose and I always thought he was a big SC homer on that station but he was even picking us to lose. I felt like if we had just stayed with the run and out Stanford-ed Stanford, kind of like we did last year in the win, we could have won.
“It got away from us because I feel like our offensive coordinator is trying to maintain that coveted balance that everyone talks about, keeping pass and run roughly similar and they're scared to just stick with one thing that's working. In a game where our pass is struggling and they’re putting six men in the box, sticking with the run is exactly what we need to do. But we wouldn’t. We would throw a screen or a pass, an incomplete pass.
“We looked our best when our backup quarterback was in, when (Matt) Fink was in. If you can kind of follow me here, when Fink came in, they obviously didn’t have a lot of confidence in his arm or maybe they were try to ease him in and he's more of a runner. When he came in, it forced us to stick with the run and I thought we looked really good. And if it wasn’t for a couple of free runners and missed blocks, I thought he could have kept our offense moving.
“That brings me to another point about the game. Just like last week, although we’re playing a good team this week, it's always one step forward, two steps back. We would have a couple great runs, five, six yard runs and we'd have a linemen that would totally blow a block. In the drive where Fink came in, I felt like we were really moving and then #72 (Andrew Vorhees) just misses a block completely and that can't happen. I feel like the good thing is we aren't physically overmatched. But the problem is on any given play, we have ten guys doing the right thing and exactly what's being coached and we still have one guy who’s not doing the right then. You can get away with that in high school, you can get away with that in junior college but you can’t get away with it in college. There was some bad scheming as well. I feel like going to the pass when it was unnecessary, when they weren't forcing us to stop running. There’s just some bad scheming even when we did throw.”
“We had poor match-ups in pressure situations. They would stick tight ends on (Casey Toohill) in pressure situations when he had his ears pinned back on third and long. It’s just a poor match-up because he’s a good players.”
“At Center, Lobendahn was back but he looked pretty rusty. The first couple plays he was getting blown off the ball. he got better as the game went on but I felt like the freshman center last week (Brett Neilon) was a better option. So maybe they have some work to do as far as moving guys around on the offensive line.
“JT Daniels without having Amon-Ra (St. Brown) as a target, i think he really struggled. He never got into a comfortable rhythm. He was under throwing some receivers, throwing behind some receivers at key points. Again, we didn’t need to throw. We needed to get Stanford on their heels in the run with six men in the box, to force them to bring seven or eight men down to force them to open up the pass. They were able to run six men in the box and keep our run at bay because they weren’t concerned about a deep threat. Without the concern at deep threat, they had ten guys within ten yards of the line of scrimmage to help in run support. We need some way to stretch the field. We also need to creative in figuring out how to get Amon-Ra involved in the offense. I think he’s one of our most explosive players. We were just okay with not targeting him for the first three quarters and that shouldn’t happen. If you look at teams that are successful, let’s take Penn State last year with Saquon Barkley, every team knew Saquon Barkley was their weapon, everyone knew that’s who they were going to. They would still get him the ball in situations where he could be successful. We need to start doing that with our play makers. I don’t think we did that against Stanford and we need to improve in that area.
“Daniels, again, he was staring down receivers. It backfired on him this week because he can’t do that against teams like Stanford. Stanford is a good team. The tight end, 82 (Tyler Petite), he was targeted three times. Maybe he was having a bad day. But tight ends are always going to be covered, they’re always going to be contested. He didn’t make any catches, which is out of character for him because he’s been a really stable guy through this year and last.
“I feel like we could have won if we stuck with the run. I feel like Tee Martin fell into that trap that so many young offensive coordinators do. They get more concerned with appeasing their peers than they are with winning the game and keeping this balance everyone wants to keep between run and pass. He should have just run the ball until Stanford was forced to bring an extra defender into the box, bring seven or eight men down to stop our run. It would have opened up passes and they wouldn’t have been able to double and slide coverage over to Amon-Ra to prevent him from getting the ball all night.
“Our offensive line, most of the game they were playing lower with better intensity than I saw before. They only started to struggle in the third quarter. In the third quarter, things started to break down and they started to break down bad. It was twofold. One Stanford was no longer respecting us in the run, they were just really concerned about the deep ball because they didn’t want to get beat at that point and they were playing not to lose. So their defensive line was pinning their ears back and was in full-on pass rush mode. They were throwing blitzes at us. There were multiple breakdowns at that point in pass protection. #72 (Andrew Vorhees) let free runners go several times. Our running backs, every single one of them, Carr, Ware and Malepeai, they all blew protections. It caused pressure on JT and it almost looked as if by the end of the fourth quarter, our offense, just by their own body language,you could see our running backs weren’t even bending their knees in stances. It’s almost like all the wind was out of their sails, like they weren’t even sold on their ability to move the ball. That’s really disheartening to see because we were only down 14 points at that point. Our offense has to be able to put up three touchdowns a game. At the end, it got sloppy. There were interceptions, there were pressures and it’s just not the way you want to see USC finish a game.
“For most of the game, Stanford’s policy on defense was bend but don’t break. Which is a good policy when you’re playing a young quarterback and you’re playing a young team. We put some play together but they knew we wouldn’t be able to put a whole series of plays together. So they were willing to give us some things but they weren’t going to give us the deep ball, they weren’t going to give us medium range routes and let our receivers run. So really they were playing the long game and it was successful for them.
“Later in the game, I felt like we just got sloppy. #72 (Andrew Vorhees) gave up multiple pressures in the end of the game. Our running backs gave up multiple pressures. We were forced at one point to go to a max protection where we kept a running back and extra tight end in to protect so our quarterback could get the ball off. The problem with that is you have one less guy running routes. Our guys weren’t getting open, we had less guys running routes and it just wasn’t effective for us. Our whole offense in the second half was really ineffective. Like I said, I think if we had stuck with the run from the beginning, we would have been better off. This was a game, like last year when we beat Stanford and had to out Stanford Stanford to be successfully, i felt like they gave us an opportunity to do that and we didn’t take it. I think we’ll be kicking ourselves for that. We had Stanford, we could have beaten them if we had forced them to stop our run so we could pass. It was really chess match and Stanford run. We slowed their run and they stopped our pass. They found success passing and we weren’t able to maintain success running. That was really the difference. Their third down conversations, the offense didn’t look much more effective than ours but there were a few third down conversations and a couple big runs and I think that was the difference in the game.
“70 (Chuma Edoga) and 75 (Alijah Vera-Tucker) did a really good job early in the game. (Edoga) blew their linebacker like 15 yards back at the end of the first, start of the second quarter. He did some really good stuff. In the game, 73 (Austin Jackson) allowed a sack, 72 (Andrew Vorhees) allowed multiple pressures and I think really think we let Stanford’s blitz and pressure get to us in a game. I feel like our offense got down on themselves and it felt like they didn’t believe in each other at that point. I hope they can fix that this week and I hope they can regain their confidence.
“I think on the offensive line, Toa Lobendahn wasn’t impressive early in the game, I don’t know if he’s rusty. I do think the freshman center (Brett Neilon) might be a better option and then replace one of those guys who’s struggling, 72 (Andrew Vorhees) or 73 (Austin Jackson) with Lobendahn. I think there is some moving around that needs to happen on the offensive line to get a cohesive unit. So that when we have 11 guys on the field, we’re getting 11 guys that are doing the right thing. I think the problem against Stanford was we had 11 guys on the field, 10 of them was doing great work, doing their job and one was letting us down consistently. You can’t sustain drives in college when that happens. So I jut feel like if we could just tweak the mix, get rid of some of the issues and some of the mental errors we were making on the offensive line, I think we’re going to be okay going forward. But it could also go the other way with a young quarterback. it could end up being a rough season.
“We’d get great pass protection and the receivers would run good routes. But the running back would blow his assignment and allow the free runner to pressure the quarterback, Then it would be (Edoga), then it would be (Vera-Tucker), then it would be (Vorhees), then it would be (Lobendahn). It was spun around, it was never one guy where you would just say, oh my god, get him out of there. It was mental errors or individuals that were struggling on individual plays. “So it wasn’t one guy, it was a receiver not getting open, or a poor pass by the quarterback, or a dropped pass by the tight end. All these things were coming together and then one guy. That can be contagious and cause offenses to lose heart. The greatest thing about good offense, the one thing Pete Carroll was so good at even though he wasn’t an offensive coach, you got to put your players in situations where they can win and you have to put them in situations where they can build confidence. These are young kids. You have to build their confidence. So when they’re constantly having dropped passes, constantly getting pressure, that can get a young quarterback down, it can get a young offensive linemen down and their not put in successful positions or situations where they can win, it's going to effect their confidence and it's going to effect the whole season. That's why I said, they were giving us the run, we were blowing them off the ball early in the game, we should have stuck with the run until they took it away. We could have given our guys confidence. But if we’re trying to pass against a defense that’s designed to stop the pass, we’re not going to have success and we’re not going to have confidence.
“At the end of the day, it’s coaching. Players have to know their assignments, they have to be put in situations to be successful. And good teams don’t do that. When Paul Hackett was our coach, we had the same problem. We would always have one guy screwing up. One guy fumbling, one guy missing a block. Then Pete Carroll comes in and all of a sudden, that stuff stops happening. It always comes down to management and management is the coach. We didn’t have different players. The same players. But they had gotten bigger and stronger and faster and we figured out different and more successful ways to coach and teach. So maybe something needs to change with how they’re working with these kids to get them all on the same page.
“SC has always been a team that’s lived and died by keeping and attracting the best talent in southern California. When Pete Carroll was at his height, he could go get a player anywhere in the nation. But that team that won the Orange Bowl with Carson Palmer, all southern California kids, all Paul Hackett recruits. But Pete Carroll was what made it successful. It’s the way of instilling motivation and confidence in the kids. Every team in college is talented. It’s just this one tenth of percent of things that’s done differently is the difference between success and failure. Obviously if you could bottle it and figure it out, everybody would jump all over it. But it’s hard to figure it out. It takes this special character to get that extra one-tenth of a percent out of all the kids.
Huber's take on defense
“We did the opposite of what Stanford did. We were going to run an eight man against Stanford where we had double A-gap blitzers, essentially forcing, a. their run outside and b., it would force them to block our defensive linemen one-on-one. It was effective, it was a good strategy. It worked. The breakdowns occurred when there were two problems. One, we didn’t stop the third down conversions in pass. The had ends and receivers who, I felt were probably not faster, we weren’t outrun, but they were taller, more physical, they seemed to fight for the ball more. They were able to convert on those third downs.
"And then the real difference in the game was a couple of broken contains where Love was able to get outside. It was usually because of a broken contain by our end man at the line of scrimmage and poor tackling from our secondary. Which is really unfortunate. Because as much as I hammered our defensive line last week, it felt in that game that they played uninspired, this week I thought they did a really good job. I thought we helped them out. We brought the blockers down, forced Stanford to block them one-on-one. In one-on-one, they were winning.
"Last week, I thought Rector was pretty invisible. This week I thought he played a really great game. Our star linebackers, 35 and 45, although they weren’t as visible as they were last week making big plays all the time, they were doing what they were supposed to. They would take on blockers, spill out to the outside, make them make a cut so we can gang tackle them. And I thought that strategy really worked.
"We only gave up 17 points to Stanford and I feel like Stanford is going to be a really good football team as the season goes on. I also believe this is usually a litmus test for SC and Stanford. The team that goes on to win this is usually a contender for the Pac-12 crown and it usually separates the pretenders from the contenders. Unfortunately, I think we were on the losing side of that. But I think Stanford is going to be a good team. They only scored 17 points. We weren’t let down by our defense, we were let down by our offense not being able to score points.
“The difference in the game for Stanford was a couple of good runs by Love and some third down conversions to their receivers and tight ends who are 6’4” and 6’6” volleyball players who can jump. We struggle with that. Our DBs were having trouble with that, not from a speed standpoint but those guys would get their bodies in the way and they would come down with a ball on third down that would really hurt us. When we had stopped them the previous two downs, when you play a run heavy team you have to get them off the field because your defense is going to wear down. Our defense had great stamina and played well and stopped the run when they needed to. They had a couple breakdowns. But where I was very let down was on these pass conversions that kept just a few of their drives going and those few drives were the difference.
“When you played at SC and Troy Polamalu or Darnell Bing was over the middle, tight ends would go over the middle once and that would be it and it would stop after that. And the whole game, tight ends and receivers were catching balls down the middle of the field and they weren’t scared too. We had so many guys up at the line of scrimmage that we had just a few guys playing the pass back. So if they could get the ball off, chances are they would be one-on-one and their tight ends were winning one-on-one.
“I hope we can open up our secondary, our linebackers are still giving us great play and I hope our defensive line can continue the good work. I think maybe I had them pegged wrong. I felt like the defensive line was very strong at the point of attack this week and that maybe I had them pegged wrong. Maybe they are better than I gave them credit for and I hope that continues.
Huber's take on special teams
“Our special teams didn’t make any mistakes but in games like this, against teams like Stanford, we need our special teams to make a big play. When our defense is playing pretty well and our offense isn’t going, you need a spark and we didn’t get that from our special teams. But they didn’t make a mistake. But in tight games like this, someone has to come through on special teams. Get a turnover, return a kick, do something. Because when it comes down to it, there’s three phases of the game and special teams is one of them. I felt like we kind of just played them even there, In tight games, you have to win special teams.”