How to Stop the Talented Trojans

Kenjon Barner 121, USC,12,KC

Ok, so I’m just going to keep doubting the Ducks. That’ll mean that they keep winning … right?

No, in all honesty, this is why I love and hate college football! It’s so maddening that the Ducks are playing as well as they are now. This means that they clearly should not be 7-3 whatever the reason: injuries, bad play calling, Adams finally getting comfortable, or anything else.

This is why I love college football, though; just when it seemed as though Utah and Stanford were on a collision course for a Top 10 matchup and a possible playoff play-in game in the Pac-12 title game, here came Oregon looking to crash the party.

Speaking of crashing the party, let’s not forget about USC. The Trojans are in the midst of a disappointing season, like the Ducks. Early season losses made everyone panic and wonder how such a talented team could fall so flat.

Then, in typical USC fashion, there came turmoil at the head coach position. The Trojans fired Steve Sarkisian and in stepped the interim coach. At that point, everyone thought USC was done for the season … everyone except the locker room. Since then, the Trojans have gone 4-1, including a drubbing of Utah.

This USC team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, as always. Now that they are playing to their potential, they are extremely scary on offense.

Similar to Stanford, USC will methodically drive down the field, pounding it first and foremost, only to then open it up and send JuJu Smith-Schuster or do-it-all star Adoree’ Jackson down the field.

The Trojans pro-style offense is the type of offense that can neutralize the Ducks offense.

From video

The Trojans’ pro-style offense is the type of offense that can neutralize the Ducks offense.

The first play we are going to look at is a simple power play, a favorite for USC. As you can see in the screenshot above, the Trojans offense is lined up in a pro set. The Notre Dame defense is lined up in a 4-3 defense across from them.

The pulling linemen lead the way for the running back.

From video

The pulling linemen lead the way for the running back.

At the snap, the center and right guard pull to lead the way for the running back. The left tackle and left guard are blocking whoever is trying to flow toward the playside.

The right tackle and tight end are blocking the two defenders in front of them. When the running back gets the ball, he is following the pulling linemen who find defenders to flatten.

The USC running backs are extremely talented.

From video

The USC running backs are extremely talented.

The fullback and pulling guards find the linebackers and create a small hole which is big enough for one of the many talented USC running backs to squeeze through.

The power play sets up the big play off of play-action for the Trojans.

From video

The power play sets up the big play off of play-action for the Trojans.

The threat of the play-action keeps the safeties from cheating up, so when the running back gets through the hole, he isn’t touched until nine yards downfield. This is a play every pro-style offense has. It is one of the first plays you learn in your football career, because it is extremely effective.

As I said, the threat of play-action is always looming for the defense since the Trojan passing attack is so potent.

The quarterback, Cody Kessler, is one of the most efficient passers in the country with a 162.9 passer rating. He also has the luxury of throwing to some of the most electrifying receivers in the country with Smith-Schuster and Jackson out wide.

The corners are backed far off the receivers, giving the receivers a lot of space.

From video

The corners are backed far off the receivers, giving the receivers a lot of space.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at how USC may use the threat of run and the big play to get easy completions.

In the screenshot above, the Trojan offense is in the gun with a three-receiver set and a tight end. The Notre Dame defense is in a 3-3-5 defense opposite them. If you look at the secondary, though, you’ll see that they are playing far off the ball.

If you look, you can't even tell it's a pass.

From video

If you look, you can’t even tell it’s a pass.

With the snap, the entire team is selling the run. Just take a look at the screenshot. If I hadn’t told you that this was going to be a pass, you would have to take a few looks to check if it was pass or run.

Now imagine having to make that decision in a split second on the field. Impossible. USC knows this, so they use it to their advantage.

The receiver just runs a short hitch and when he gets the ball he has time to turn and run.

From video

The receiver just runs a short hitch and when he gets the ball he has time to turn and run.

The receiver wide right, runs a hitch/curl/hook. He is wide open, nobody within five yards of him. The cornerback is playing way off of him because of the dangerous big play off play-action, so it is an extremely simple pitch and catch for Kessler and his receiver for a gain of eight.

Kessler has the easiest pitch and catch of his life for a gain of 8 yards.

From video

Kessler has the easiest pitch and catch of his life for a gain of 8 yards.

The Trojans’ weak spot this year is their defense. They are young and inexperienced at linebacker and in the secondary. This doesn’t bode well for them, as they are now facing one of the best running backs in the country in Royce Freeman.

Despite this, they are still able to make game-changing plays, as they did versus Utah (freshman linebacker, Cameron Smith, had three interceptions).

USC is going to take risks on defense to see if they can force the Ducks into mistakes.

From video

USC is going to take risks on defense to see if they can force the Ducks into mistakes.

In this play, the Huskies offense is lined up in twin back, two-receiver set. The Trojans’ defense is lined up, across, in a 3-4 with two linebackers showing pass rush.

The Trojans trust their corners to win the one-on-one matchup and make plays in the run game.

From video

The Trojans trust their corners to win the one-on-one matchup and make plays in the run game.

At the snap, the Trojans send the two linebackers who were showing rush, into the backfield to try to make a play. Along with them, the corner is sent on a blitz. They are taking a big risk here, essentially leaving a receiver uncovered with the middle linebackers also coming up to stop the run.

The Trojans are very athletic in the secondary.

From video

The Trojans are very athletic in the secondary.

The idea is that their corner is fast enough to be able to get to the quarterback before he can get a pass off, and if it’s a run, he takes away the quarterback. The quarterback sees this and hands it to the running back. The very athletic USC defense has many playmakers and their corners are some of the best.

The Ducks need to find a way to make USC pay for the big risks they take.

From video

The Ducks need to find a way to make USC pay for the big risks they take.

The corner is able to stop and make a tackle on the running back, who is forced to slow up because of the log jam at the line created by the defensive front.

The Trojan defense loves to take risks, forcing the offense to panic and make a bad play. This also leaves them very vulnerable, though. This is something the Ducks need to exploit.

If the Ducks properly scheme, this game should be riddled with big plays. The Trojans will most likely also have huge plays in the passing game this week, despite the progress the Ducks secondary has been making.

The Trojans lost their all-American center for the season earlier this year, but they have been excelling without him, surprisingly. The new center has an interesting way of snapping the ball that may lead to some bad snaps, like there were in the Stanford game last week.

This makes me think that the game is going to come down to a turnover battle, which I think the Ducks will win. I expect Freeman to have a huge game and lead the Ducks to an exhilarating 52-41 win.

“Oh, how we love to learn about our opponents on FishDuck.com.”

Rory Davidson
Football Opponent Analyst for CFF Network/FishDuck.com
Eugene, Oregon

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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Rory Davidson

Rory Davidson

Rory Davidson: Rory (Football Analyst) is a sophomore at Oregon in the fall (Class of 2018). He has been a devout Stanford football fan since he was 2 months old and is excited about the energy and greatness Oregon sports has to offer. For the past 6 years he has been doing advanced data analytics for his high school football team and working alongside the coaches to understand how they strategize about the game. He wants to integrate more statistics into his analyses and try to help readers learn about and understand the future of sports.