This past Saturday night the USC Trojans hosted a late-night PAC 12 bout against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Herm Edwards just recently got let go from the program so the Sun Devils were looking for their new identity. Fortunately, they didn’t have help doing so playing this new and improved USC program. The Trojans never trailed in this game after a decent first half for the offense while the defense allowed ASU to move the ball effectively.
USC By The Numbers
Three Hundred Forty-Eight
Caleb Williams was back to form Saturday night throwing for 348 yards with 3 touchdowns and a rare interception. Williams had a great night with a QBR rating over 90 and completed 27 of his 37 attempts. 72 percent completion percentage is right around where Williams’ average is this season so far. I expect the 73 percent completion percentage to hover around 75 as the season continues and he develops a rhythm in the offense again.
Williams found Jordan Addison for 8 passes for 105 yards. Which by this team’s standards is an average game. That puts Addison in the top 25 in the country in receiving yards, with more touchdowns than the ten players ahead of him with 10 fewer receptions. So basically if he was the only option for the offense he’d be top 10 in the nation statistically.
Another player who may have surprised Trojan fans is Brenden Rice. Although he only caught three passes, two of those passes were for first downs to keep those drives alive. Rice demonstrated extremely strong hands catching away from his body and boxing out defensive backs. By now it’s clear USC has one of, if not the deepest receiver room in the country.
As you can tell from earlier in the article the score was indeed nowhere near close. However, if you watched the game in its entirety you’d end up feeling it was closer than it was. That’s because ASU had a total of 20 first downs. The reason that is important is that USC had 29 themselves and scored 45 points. Meaning, against better offensive units this game could have easily turned into a shootout.
Now credit to ASU’s quarterback Emory Jones for manufacturing a majority of those first downs either with his legs or from extending plays. The Trojans didn’t allow a ton of yards through the air, however, it seemed like they could never get off the field aside from a few self-inflicted mistakes made by the Sun Devils.
Allowing 243 yards through the air isn’t terrible however that along with around 80-100 yards on the ground can be costly. The Sun Devils had 331 yards in total offense but had 25 points to show for it. USC needs to play more sound defense, especially against Washington State. The Trojans play them next week.
We’re Five weeks in and it’s clear what are the Trojans strengths and what are their weaknesses. I’m going to sound like a broken record, but this defense will be the deciding factor if this team makes it deep into bowl season.
Playoff aspirations are bold however if USC can get past Utah and Notre Dame they very well have an opportunity to make the Fiesta Bowl and have a shot against Clemson or Michigan. However, if they drop one or two games the very least the reality is the Rose Bowl which is still a huge win for Lincoln Riley’s first year with the program.
USC’s offense is far from the problem, in fact, I think their best defense is their offense. If you’ve noticed throughout the years in college football or in the NFL it’s extremely rare you have a top-five offense and defense. That is unless you’re Nick Saban and Alabama.
My point is your defense has to be at least average to even out your offensive success if you want to win games. Scoring points is not the Trojans problem, it’s the 3rd down defense and rushing yards allowed. These two statistical categories don’t sound too detrimental to a team’s success but I’d argue they’re near the most important.
If a defense can’t get off the field and afford the offense new drives it obviously increases the chances that the opposing offense scores points. Not looking at it from a numbers standpoint it also tires a defense out tremendously not only on that drive but for the rest of the game. You can have the perfect package and play call defensively but that’s not going to matter if your players are gassed.
Rushing yards have been a problem for this program even going back to last season. If you get taken advantage of on the ground the offensive coordinator’s job gets 100 times easier. He doesn’t have to go deep in his playbook and he tires your defensive front out in the meantime.
This team under Riley can make it very far this year if they can get off the field and stop the run. If these are cleaned up we might see USC playing for more than just a bowl game.