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Weekly Film Review: USC (by Ryan Bridges)


Harrison Wier
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Coaching a team as a 17-point underdog is never easy. You must have — and instill in your team — a healthy fear of your opponent. But you also have to convince your players that they belong on the same field, and that they can win. You do this by telling them no one’s giving them a chance, telling them they’re going to shock the world, telling them they’re going to punch the opponent in the face and keep punching until the referees stop the fight. That was the attitude Texas took into the game. The defense executed it, but not the offense (or special teams).

It’s not enough to tell your players that this is your plan — you have to demonstrate it through your actions. This is why I understand and appreciate decisions like going for it on 4th & 2 on the first offensive series (even when you don’t convert), and throwing deep on 1st down from your own 1-yard line (even when it’s intercepted). It’s why I would have gone for two in overtime. Seventeen-point underdogs don’t secure upsets by playing for field goals and field position.

Moving on…

The Defense

I haven’t had a chance to do a full rewatch yet, but it sure seems like this unit is figuring things out. I do think that schematically, Todd Orlando’s defense matches up well with what USC tries to do — maybe we’ll get into that during the bye week. There are also still problems in the back end: every offense so far has targeted Kris Boyd and Brandon Jones; two of them had success doing so, and one was a couple of misconnections away from it. But let’s start with positives.

Just wow. On 4th & Goal, USC tries to punch it in with inside zone. They get two double teams on Chris Nelson and Poona Ford, which you’d expect to be enough for Roland Jones to gain a few inches and six points. Instead, Nelson goes nowhere, and Ford splits his double team. The real key, though, was Malcolm Roach. He’s lined up on the inside shoulder of the tight end, who’s drawn the near-impossible task of cutting him off. You can see how that goes. Note that Texas has two defenders on the far right in position to stop the zone read.

I think this makes Charles Omenihu the team’s sack leader. It’s been cool to watch him grow into the player Charlie Strong thought he could be. This was USC’s second offensive series of the second half. They were up 14-10 and had just connected on a long pass to get out from their own 13-yard line. At this point in the game, the Texas defense’s performance felt unsustainable. Then Omenihu came through. He leaned into USC’s right tackle, apparently got his inside hand under the tackle’s pec and eased him right out of the play. Daniel could tell you more about what went wrong with the tackle’s technique. It’s scary how effortless Omenihu made this look.

USC’s first two touchdowns were flukey.

On the first score, they were trying to exploit Boyd’s tendency to jump underneath routes. The No. 1 receiver sets up for a flash screen, and the tight end fakes like he’s blocking then runs the fade. The Texas defense is doing something you’ll see a lot of in this post: playing Quarters coverage with a solo call on the single-receiver side. This allows them to bring the free safety over to cover the No. 3 receiver if he runs a deep route. But the weakside corner wasn’t completely on his own: the defense was also dropping the B-backer to take away the quick game to that side.

Boyd blew me away with his discipline on this play (little victories). Sam Darnold has to improvise. No. 3 has run a deep route, so the free safety, DeShon Elliott, is on him. I can’t even get mad at this play — that’s an almost impossible throw and catch. I would have been far more upset if Darnold had run this in, which he might have been able to do since the pass rush had been washed out.

The second touchdown, however, involved a lapse worth getting upset about.

First, let’s admire Breckyn Hager. I don’t know that anyone on the team approaches every play with the unbridled rage and tenacity that he does. Now, to the ugly stuff. The pass rush and deep coverage forces Darnold to check it down, which is exactly what the defense wants. At this point in the play, USC has, hypothetically, four blockers (one is behind the defense and can’t help) to take on seven defenders. The only thing the defense has to do is funnel the ball into a smaller and smaller area until Roland can either be tackled or shoved out of bounds. Somehow, Holton Hill still doesn’t understand leverage (and he’s far from the only one guilty of this — just look at their kick coverage). This is JV stuff, and it’s infuriating.

This was one of the turning points of the game. The potential game-saving sack was dangled in front of us, then The Darnold did his thing. I think it was around this point in the broadcast that Joel Klatt was saying Texas couldn’t sit back and had to keep attacking. On the previous play — the first of the series — they’d played zone and allowed an easy completion over the middle. This time, they went Cover 2 Man and tried to overwhelm the left side of USC’s offensive line. Darnold and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin did a great job targeting the weakest link in the coverage: Anthony Wheeler on a running back up the seam. Wheeler seems to anticipate a route to the flat and overruns it, letting the back cut inside, but he did an impressive job of recovering for a big man. That doesn’t make it any less painful.

Here’s the same coverage against trips that I said you’d see again. USC releases the back to the trips side, actually giving them a 4×1 look — and 4-on-4 matchup to that side, since the Rover is blitzing and the B-backer is dropping underneath the No. 1 weak. Roach is beating the right tackle up like Omenihu did on his sack, but the solo receiver is able to get separation (way too much) on Boyd on the slant route in time for Darnold to find him. The rest is just luck. Watching Elliott return this pick, though, makes me wonder why anyone ever thought this guy would be a linebacker.

I’m not entirely sure what Texas was going for on this one; someone definitely screwed up, but I’m not sure whether it’s Hager or Jefferson. What likely confused them was the late motion by USC, which changes the look to the field side from deuces to trips. Neither Hager nor Jefferson seemed to notice. My guess would be that initially Hager was supposed to drop to account for the back while Jefferson would spy Darnold and rush if he saw a lane. I would then guess that their responsibilities should have flipped once the back flipped. Either way, someone needs to carry that tight end up the seam. Darnold handed Texas a gift with this play.

This one gave me flashbacks to Notre Dame scoring on the first play of overtime last year. It’s trips again from USC, and the same coverage adjustment from Texas. Boyd’s receiver gives a jab step to the corner before cutting to the post, and that’s all it takes to get separation — but Boyd should have inside help from Jones. Instead, Jones is jumping the deep route by the No. 3 receiver, who is already covered low by Wheeler and high by Elliott. If you need something to cheer you up a little, watch Jefferson maul Roland.

The Offense

There’s something we’re not being told about the running backs. I’m sure of it. There is no way that these coaches made it this far into their careers if they were so bad at evaluating that they legitimately think there’s no difference in the abilities of Chris Warren and Kyle Porter to carry the football. Herman said in Monday’s press conference that Warren was averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. He got only four carries. This is what we call a small sample size. But if that’s the company line, let’s compare Warren’s 3.8 ypc to Porter’s 1.8. There’s a big difference between 2nd & 6 and 2nd & 8, and an even bigger difference between 3rd & 2 and 3rd & 6. This is always true, but especially when your offense is struggling. It doesn’t have to be about generating explosive plays. This is as simple as helping out your freshman quarterback. (By the way, it’s 10 yards for a first down. 3.8 x 3 = 11.4. 11.4 > 10.)

Porter is a better blocker. I get it. That’s a good reason to use him as a blocker; it’s not a good reason to give him Warren’s carries. Use 20 personnel. Do something. Don’t make him the lead blocker for your quarterback when you’ve only got 1 ½ healthy quarterbacks and pretend that it was a good idea. This is up there with 2014, when Shawn Watson gave Johnathan Gray so many carries over D’Onta Foreman. Maybe Warren isn’t practicing as hard as the coaches would like; Herman noted, after all, that a lack of work ethic in practice had been costing Armanti Foreman snaps. That’s fine. (Well, it’s not, but you know. They’re trying to change the culture or whatever.) But don’t pretend that the two are equals. Warren or the freshmen need to get more touches. That’s step one to fixing the run game. I’m afraid that we’ll continue to see them rely on Sam Ehlinger until he’s knocked out of a game, at which point he’ll be replaced by the unimaginative package with Jerrod Heard back there. [/rant]

I’m starting this one with the fun stuff only because Ehlinger had an opportunity to make a similar throw to the one Darnold made for the touchdown in OT. Before the snap, it looks like USC is going to bring the house, but they actually rush only four, drop two underneath defenders to spy Ehlinger and pick up any crossers, and play what looks to me like off man behind it. Ehlinger, of course, does a nice job extending the play and finding Foreman, but he missed the fact that Lorenzo Joe’s route was going to run off the safety, leaving Lil’Jordan Humphrey open on the exact same route that beat Boyd. It’s still a great play; I’m just illustrating that there’s plenty of room for growth. You have to like the way Foreman keeps working to find an opening and give Ehlinger somewhere to go with the ball.

As I said above, I love this play-call because actions speak louder than words. If you want to communicate to your team that you’re coming for the Trojans’ throats, a QB sneak isn’t the way to do it, but max protect three verticals is. USC doubles Collin Johnson at the top, and they’ll get a de facto double team on Humphrey in the slot, but Devin Duvernay is matched up one-on-one. Tim Beck likes this more than he should — recall that Shane Buechele threw a pick to Duvernay on this same concept against Maryland. The throw is late, and I wonder if this is the max of Ehlinger’s range, but that’s not really the issue. With the off coverage, this should be converted to a deep comeback, in my opinion. Make that determination pre-snap based on the coverage if you have to, but take the 15-yard gain and first down. It doesn’t matter how much faster Duvernay is than the other guy if (1) the quarterback doesn’t get the ball out in time to lead him, or (2) the corner is so far off that Duvernay can’t overtake him.

This should have been a flag. I know the hand was at Ehlinger’s neck, but something — maybe the defender’s hand, or maybe his glove — caught Ehlinger by something, probably the chin strap. By rule, grabbing and pulling the chin strap is the same as grabbing and pulling the facemask. Even worse, by rule, it’s a flag if there’s any doubt. You’re a blanking idiot if you don’t have doubts as to whether it was a facemask.

But beyond that, this is the sort of play that was lacking in the first half. A good rule of thumb is that when you hear the announcers gushing about how fast a defense is, the offense should be serving up a healthy dose of misdirection, screens and draws. Texas doesn’t seem to have a slow screen in the whole damn playbook (and I’ve been lamenting this fact for years), but at least they made an effort to slow USC down later in the game with misdirection (reverses, throwback, etc.).

Window dressing aside, this was a major play in Herman’s playbook — a concept I highlighted in my breakdown of his offense during the offseason. I wish we had the all-22, because I’d bet Johnson was open on the deep crossing route. The jet motion removed the curl/flat player to the playside, the corner doesn’t have leverage on the in-breaking route, and at less than five yards’ depth, none of the underneath defenders should be a threat. What keeps this from being a short gain, though, is that tight end Cade Brewer got hung up on the blitzing outside linebacker. That disrupts the timing, lets USC’s defense recover from the misdirection and gives that defender time to GRAB EHLINGER BY THE FACE WHAT THE HELL ARE THE REFS DOING?

As annoyed as I was at the personnel decisions and absence of misdirection in the offense, this was a terrific play-call. Another play that Beck and Herman love is the snag or spot concept. It was all over the place in the Maryland game, for instance. (Apologies — I should have started that clip with a trigger warning.) If I know that, USC certainly does. The defense overreacts to the sprint action, and no one accounts for Brewer coming back across the formation.

Let’s overreact. Hook ’em.

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Great stuff as always, Ryan. 

Right tackle from USC is going to get Darnold several more times this year if he keeps opening up the gate like that and turning his shoulders. Along with that he is letting guys get underneath him (low man always wins) and into his body and guys like Omenihu who are really long are going to give him fits. Omenihu making that look so easy is what made him such an intriguing recruit coming out. When you get a pass rusher who is that strong combined with that kind of length, he be a real b**** to block as 72 found out on Saturday. 

Neil Callaway (USC's OL coach) was my head coach at UAB. If I know Coach C like I think I do, I know he is wearing his right tackle out in film session right about now. 

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14 hours ago, Harrison Wier said:

Porter is a better blocker. I get it. That’s a good reason to use him as a blocker; it’s not a good reason to give him Warren’s carries. Use 20 personnel. Do something. Don’t make him the lead blocker for your quarterback when you’ve only got 1 ½ healthy quarterbacks and pretend that it was a good idea. This is up there with 2014, when Shawn Watson gave Johnathan Gray so many carries over D’Onta Foreman. Maybe Warren isn’t practicing as hard as the coaches would like; Herman noted, after all, that a lack of work ethic in practice had been costing Armanti Foreman snaps. That’s fine. (Well, it’s not, but you know. They’re trying to change the culture or whatever.) But don’t pretend that the two are equals. Warren or the freshmen need to get more touches. 

Well said.  

I watched TH presser and he got very defensive with the question about the 4 carries.  TH says well he was only averaging 3.8 and then comments 20 carries = 72 yards.  He was obviously irritated by the question but how do compare averages with only 4 data points is just a bad excuse.  You cant have a run game if you never try to establish a run game.  News flash it takes more 4 carries before you say "We tried but it failed."   Beck called Porter and Warren equals.  Porter should not be carrying the ball.  I remember watching the play where both Porter and Warren were in the backfield and handed off to Porter with Warren leading blocking.  Yea that makes sense doesnt it.  :blink:

I would like to see more Carter and Daniel.  

TH seems to instill a little fear in reporters.  Check out his presser about 20:38 when he was asked about Beck and Warehime.  Notice at the end how he says "Thats an interesting question" and proceeds with blanket stare at the reporter for a few seconds.  ROFL  I couldnt tell but it sounded like Bohls was the recipient which makes it even better if so.

 

 

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Sam Darnold's ability to throw his WRs open is off the charts NFL level stuff. I mean that 1st TD. He threw it where he wanted the WR to go and where the knew the Texas defenders couldn't get to it, even though there were 2 defenders between him and Burnett.

It's impressive and something our QBs struggle with immensely.

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7 hours ago, NLeininger said:

Sam Darnold's ability to throw his WRs open is off the charts NFL level stuff. I mean that 1st TD. He threw it where he wanted the WR to go and where the knew the Texas defenders couldn't get to it, even though there were 2 defenders between him and Burnett.

It's impressive and something our QBs struggle with immensely.

well said.....We lost to a degree on Darnolds immense ability to make a play when needed. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other guy. The pass you describe and that jump pass were special.

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10 hours ago, NLeininger said:

Sam Darnold's ability to throw his WRs open is off the charts NFL level stuff. I mean that 1st TD. He threw it where he wanted the WR to go and where the knew the Texas defenders couldn't get to it, even though there were 2 defenders between him and Burnett.

It's impressive and something our QBs struggle with immensely.

 

2 hours ago, oldhorn2 said:

well said.....We lost to a degree on Darnolds immense ability to make a play when needed. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other guy. The pass you describe and that jump pass were special.

I just re-watched the game last night and all I can say is I agree 100%!

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7 hours ago, oldhorn2 said:

well said.....We lost to a degree on Darnolds immense ability to make a play when needed. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other guy. The pass you describe and that jump pass were special.

I was in awe of Darnold's ability to jump up into the pocket to avoid Malik(game over if he makes that sack), and then jump again to pass the ball to the RB.

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Great breakdown, Ryan! This is easily the best analysis of the football game each week. The Cade Brewer touchdown was almost an exact copy of the play the UH offense would run over the past two years, with Herman and Applewhite calling that same play to McCloskey of UH on numerous occasions in the red zone. I was at the game on Saturday, and the jump pass by Darnold was incredible. The blitz was on Darnold in half a second. Darnold shuffled his feet forward quickly and immediately released it over the top. There's not really anything the D can do about that. His first touchdown pass was just as good in terms of touch and timing. It was a great game, and I am hopeful that the team will continue to build off of it.

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I read that some genius....maybe it was one of yall, said that the first TD, Darnold literally "threw the receiver open"...That is, the receiver ws NOT open, but Darnold threw it where only the covered receiver could get it regardless of how difficult the catch would be. I have rewatched that play and it is obvious. You cannot defend against that. We have players that can make those same kind of plays if they learn how to trust one another.

Yes, we could have, maybe should have won that game, and yes, maybe USC is not all that, but they have some guys that can always put them in a position to win. Hats off to them.

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