USC-Washington State Game Notes
USC came out of the gate like they should have against Texas. With Stephen Carr running power and stretch. WSU gave the Trojans a 5 or 6 in the box look, just like Stanford and Texas did the previous weeks. Instead of trying to throw into heavy coverage like against Texas, USC came out with a nine man front and ran it right at WSU. I liked how USC came out and established the run right off the bat. Stephen Carr looked great, no Aca’Cedric Ware which was nice to see. Andrew Vorhees was still missing his blocks. (Seriously can’t we replace him with the Freshman Brett Neilon). After a long Carr run, USC was able to punch it with Malepeai behind some great perimeter blocking by Tyler Petite and a great lead block by Chris Brown.
The second series on offense the wheels started to fall off. USC should have stayed with the run, but a bad snap by Toa Lobendahn put the Trojans in a second and very long situation. USC tried to get cute with a WR handoff that fell flat. Then on third and forever, USC tried to pass and had a complete breakdown in pass protection, which lead to a sack. Andrew Vorhees, Toa Lobendahn, and Chuma Edoga all picked up the wrong man. The defense had overloaded that side of the ball and instead of picking up the three most dangerous inside rushers, the OL allowed a free runner up the middle, which resulted in a sack. I believe the TV commentator said that its JT Daniels job to see that blitz and hit his hot read, and it is. However, it is the job of the offensive line to make sure the man coming free is the most outside of the four defenders, which buys a QB some time. It’s impossible to hit your hot read, when a man comes free up the A gap.
By the third series, USC’s offense was starting to become very predictable. This is allowing WSU, to overload certain areas based off USC’s tendencies. This is really slowing down USC’s offense. USC started going to max protection, which means we have an extra tight end and running back in pass blocking, to keep the QB safe. WSU was starting to stuff the run and USC was just too predictable. The Trojans also don’t pass or run block very well up front. I think it would benefit USC’s offense, to mix in some weak side run, counter and misdirection. Two of the first three series end up in three and out.
USC was still stuck in max protection during the fourth offensive series, just to give Daniels time to throw the ball. The downside of max protection is that it throws off USC’s ability to overload WSU coverage, because USC has fewer receivers out on routes. With fewer receivers and JT Daniels still staring down his targets, it’s gonna be hard to throw the ball effectively. By the fourth game, shouldn't he be showing some improvement in this area, looking off receivers? USC’s second bobbled snap puts the Trojans behind the sticks and forces a throw. A couple of great catches from Tyler Vaughns and Velus Jones bails USC out and gets points on the board again. Its concerning to me, and other USC football alum have voice similar concerns, this doesn't feel like USC football. Weakness in the run game, relying on the QB to bail them out in tight spots. Consistently bad offensive line play. The success of the offense hinging on a few big catches from WRs. This will beat the WSU’s of the world, but its also the reason USC gets drummed by Alabama and Texas.
As we get into the middle of the second quarter, we start to see Daniels throwing off his back foot again. This is causing problems with the accuracy of his long ball. USC has all but given up on the run. WSU is now dropping eight men into coverage, which makes it impossible to be successful passing. WSU helped USC out with two penalties, but we gave it all back with a bad snap, our third of the day. Bad Center/QB exchange is unacceptable at the college level. The high school team I coached went all season with only two bad snaps, so that is on the staff for poor preparation. Andrew Vorhees missed blocks on two of five plays, and Austin Jackson missed his block on second down. USC has to be better than this. TIME TO PLAY THE YOUNG LINEMAN. I know Helton is known for having a lot of loyalty to his older players, but this poor line play is killing USC. At one point in the second quarter, WSU was getting pressure on USC’s QB with a two man pressure. Unacceptable! Regardless of the outcome this is not USC football. We have some good young linemen, let’s use them (why do we have Neilon playing FB on goaline, when he should be starting at Center). Before the end of the half, after running a strong two minutes drill to get down to a first and goal situation, USC was unable to punch it in. USC needs to be able to recruit, or develop guys, who can impose their will on team like WSU. USC should have been able to line up three times in a row and hammer that ball in for a touchdown. Instead the Trojans settled for a field goal before half.
For the first time since the UNLV game USC won the halftime adjustment battle. I think half time adjustments have been an issue for Helton and his staff since the beginning. They were able to fix the pass protection, which allowed more receivers to go out on routes. The OL started picking up the rights guys, and the middle pressure stopped. These adjustments directly led to the long Pittman touchdown at the beginning of the second half. USC was still plagued by bad snaps and the occasional missed blocked, but things were cleaner in the second half. Our offense looked patient, spread the ball around to other receivers. USC didn’t play bad, but didn’t play well either. Andrew Vorhees was still a liability. WSU was just making more mistakes than USC was. USC won the second half because of some great individual athletic plays by Pittman and St. Brown, and some great throws by Daniels. USC had success using play action, faking power, and throwing. But the Trojans are still losing the battle physically up front, which is why they take some really embarrassing losses every year. USC is only having success running the ball when the other team isn’t expecting it. USC today reminds me of a Bob Toledo, UCLA team. They can’t line up across from you and beat you heads up.
USC came out of the gate with an eye to limit the pass. They started off playing five or six men in the box. When you’re playing a Mike Leach team, it’s always a balance between coverage and pressure. Too little pressure he picks your secondary apart, bring too many men up and they can hurt you deep. Early in the game USC wasn’t able to get pressure. The Trojans were blitzing backers in the A gap and WSU was picking those blitzers up. No pressure on the QB, plus no linebackers back in coverage, leaves the middle open for slants and crossing routes. That hurt USC early. If Porter Gustin isn’t coming off the edge, USC doesn’t really have anybody else who can bring it. USC managed to stop WSU on the first series, but eventually WSU would get in a groove and start breaking down USC’s weak secondary.
Coming into the second series WSU is starting to dink and dunk USC’s defense to death. A penalty on the punt gave WSU great field position and despite a decent stop by the defense, WSU ended up with a field goal. Our coverage was holding well into the third series, but with the WSU QB having as long as seven seconds to throw the ball that wouldn’t last. By the fourth series WSU was starting to pick USC apart. To combat this, the Trojans moved an extra DB into coverage and starting rushing three defensive lineman. WSU was making fewer mistakes (USC had five penalties in the first Quarter). USC was missing Porter Gustin on the edge and giving too much time for the QB to throw. The back-up LB was not getting any pressure, big drop off from Gustin. USC was giving up big fourth down conversions, (how does USC not have the back covered coming out the backfield on fourth down!). Crossing routes were causing big problems for the USC defense. Poor tackling by the secondary especially Isaiah Langley and Marvell Tell, WSU was picking on Langley all game. Tell had a rough day, poor tackling, average in coverage, and got ran over by 190 pound tailback from WSU for an early TD. USC is lacking overall team strength; the Trojans get bullied across the board every week, physically. It’s athleticism that saves USC.
By the end of the first half, USC was dropping seven into coverage, and still couldn’t stop the pass, Rector was invisible in the pass rush (again). When USC did blitz, WSU was picking it up and finding holes in the middle of the field vacated by the blitzing backers/and or safeties. Blown coverage by Greg Johnson resulted in another big WSU touchdown late in the half.
After half WSU came out picking on Langley with some screens. Safeties and Backers are getting beat 1 on 1. WSU had great timing down on the slants. WSU scored a touchdown on a blown run contain by Kana’i Mauga. Tell and Talanoa Hufanga didn’t even try to come up in run support. I think SC could really benefit from recruiting some nastier DB’s, they play so soft.
Everything started to change when Gustin came back in. Gustin was able to deliver pressure on the WSU QB. Pressure he hadn’t seen all game. This completely threw WSU out of sync in the pass game. Even when he wasn’t getting to the QB, he was close to him. You could see a big change in the demeanor of the WSU QB, in the third quarter. Getting pressure from Gustin allowed USC to drop the backers back into the middle of the field, taking away the slants/outs that had been killing the defense in the second quarter
Later in the game USC’s defense looked better in every facet of the game. They were tackling better, squeezing down the cushions on WSU receivers, stopping plays for shorter gains. Gustin’s tempo seemed contagious. This tightening down on defense was really the spark behind the comeback. USC ended up giving away up another touchdown, but the defense did enough in the second half for USC to win.
Besides one big penalty, that gave WSU great field position early in the first half, I thought USC won in the Special Teams game. I thought USC and WSU played each other to a wash on Offense and Defense, so the difference ended up being Special Teams. The Kickoffs made it into the end zone, preventing any big returns. Punt game was solid. The difference in the game ended up being a huge blocked Field Goal by Tufele late in the fourth, that sealed the USC victory.