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USC Trojans offense much improved in victory over Oregon State

The Trojans got back in the win column at home against the Beavers

Oregon State v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

USC defeats Oregon State 38-10 this afternoon at home. Darnold spread the ball out to plenty of receivers as the offense broke tendencies while the defense continued to dominate.

The USC Trojans were coming off their first loss in a calendar year. The USC offense struggled in the last three games while an outstanding defense has played well despite injuries and fatigue beginning to take a toll. The Trojans played two road games in six days against teams that are surpassing expectations while the Trojans’ depth chart is riddled with injuries. USC does not have a bye week until the end of November and difficult opponents in the Utah Utes and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are on the horizon. The Trojans needed to get right and get healthy ahead of the second half of their schedule making it a great week to play an inferior opponent at home.

USC has been dealing with problems in play calling and execution on offense along with plenty of injuries on both sides of the ball with an amazing number of players both out and playing with injury. Oregon State was coming into the game struggling even when healthy but this afternoon they had plenty of key injuries of their own at critical spots to deal with. It was a perfect opportunity to correct issues and rest players saddled with injury.

First Quarter:

On the first drive for the Trojans’ offense they mixed some things up. The bounced a run to the outside for 8 yards then followed it up back inside for another 4 yards. Next it was yet another short, quick comeback route to Tyler Vaughns for 4 yards. It was the same exact pass play they ran over and over against Washington State. Another wrinkle came afterward when Velus Jones Jr. ran the ball on a jet sweet. They went back to the run on the next two plays before hitting Vaughns again for another 9 yards. Darnold then finished the drive with a fairly crisp pass to Vaughns in the end zone for a touchdown.

It was an effective, efficient, 8-play 78 yard drive for a touchdown. They added in a new wrinkle, they continued to establish Tyler Vaughns as a credible receiving threat, successfully threw the deep ball, and not only did they not over rely on Deontay Burnett, they did not throw to him at all.

On the first drive for the USC defense they returned to form making quick work of the Beavers. Uchenna Nwosu got heavy pressure on quarterback Darell Garretson forcing a throw and Jack Jones jumped the route and intercepted the pass.

The Trojans offense went back to work with a pass to freshman Trevon Sidney for his second target on the season. This was good for 23 yards. Then a quick throw Velus Jones for 5 yards and the drive finished with an option run to Ronald Jones II for a touchdown. Darnold and Rojo both ran to the outside, with only one defender to greet them Darnold pitched to Rojo, (even though he maybe should have kept it) and Rojo bounced off a defender and ran into the end zone.

Another nice drive, with new looks, new wrinkles, and different receivers. Deontay Burnett was not targeted and neither was Vaughns. New offensive weapons and formations were beginning to emerge and offensive coordinator Tee Martin began to show an offense that could adapt making it clear that the same defensive plan used by Texas, Cal, and WSU would work so easily.

The defense forced another quick punt on their second trip but Ajene Harris fumbled the punt and the Beavers recovered with a very short field. The Trojans defense again forced a quick stop and a field goal try. Kenny Bigelow Jr. would block the try keeping the score 14-0. Darnold then fumbled on the ensuing play. The USC defense forced another field goal try and again the Beavers missed.

The Trojans took over again and the offense stalled with a vanilla 3 and out. Two straight runs with Vavae Malepeai picked up a net one yard gain forcing another obvious passing situation where predictably and incomplete pass ended the drive. The Beavers responded with a 38-yard drive and finally hit a field goal for a 14-3 game.

Second Quarter:

The USC offense once again regressed to predictable tendencies. A forced pass to Steven Mitchell Jr. went incomplete. They went back to the quick comeback pass to Vaughns for a solid gain. Rojo went for 5 yards and then another forced pass to Mitchell. On third down they went to Mitchell again and connected. The next play went back to Mitchell incomplete. On second down he connected with Burnett for the first time in the game for 4 yards. An incomplete pass to Vaughns on third down forced a punt. Until a roughing the punter penalty gave the drive new life.

After a holding call Darnold finally got Rojo back into the passing game for a nice 16 yard gain on a screen pass. Another incomplete pass and a 7 yard run by Rojo set up a 16-yard touchdown strike to Burnett for a touchdown. Spreading the ball out and not over relying of Burnett created softer coverage allowing Burnett a better opportunity to get free and Darnold threw an accurate pass for the easy touchdown.

USC went up 21-3 in the second quarter. Tee Martin blamed mental mistakes, blown assignments and lack of execution for the struggles of the offense. Many of those problems were still there. Darnold is still forcing some passes, penalties and turnovers were still problems and there were still struggles on the interior running plays and of course Oregon State’s defense is less talented and more injured than USC’s offense. The key difference for the Trojans though was a much different offensive game plan. Martin’s game plan still was not perfect but it was substantially improved from the last three games.

The Oregon State offense shows some life:

The Beavers started bringing a ton of creativity on offense testing just about every spot and player on the defense. They strung together a decent drive. The Beavers quarterback made some nice throws and decent improvisation. The Trojans defense also helped out with penalties. The Beavers drove inside the Trojans 15 yard line before they failed to convert a 4th down attempt. The Trojans would go back to work on offense but not before another injury to the defense this time Malik Dorton.

Darnold throws his 9th interception on the season:

With under 3 minutes left in the half the Trojans went to work with an inside run, followed by a quick pass to Mitchell who took it for a huge gain. Darnold then finally got Tyler Petite on a deep pass over the middle for an 18 yard gain. Another screen pass to Rojo would have went for another huge gain but an amazing open field tackle blew it up. Tyler Petite would get injured and head to the locker room early.

Then Darnold threw into triple coverage attempting to hit Burnett. Burnett was double covered and had not even turned around yet once the pass was in the air. Darnold also stared him down giving linebacker Manase Hungalu plenty of time to get into the passing lane and intercepting the ball.

The Trojans defense forced another quick punt and allowed roughly a minute left for USC to try and score before the half. The Beavers defense dropped guys in coverage forcing darnold to scramble for a few yards. Darnold followed it up with a first down pass to Mitchell. Darnold fired into Rojo on a crossing route that went through the hands of Rojo, it was a catchable pass Rojo but a little more touch and a little less zip would have helped immensely. Darnold then forced an off target pass into some seriously heavy and Mitchell was not able to come up with the pass.

Facing the prospect of third and long with about a half a minute left and not wanting a disastrous play to swing momentum USC ran a draw play and took a 21-3 lead into the half time break.

First Half Check list:

Earlier we published a list of adjustments Tee Martin needed to make in order to reset this offense and get it going again. Here is an abbreviated version:

Do not over rely on Burnett - In fact, use him as a decoy while you establish other receivers.

Establish Vaughns as clear WR2 and Lewis as a clear WR3 - Lewis and Vaughns are still young and learning but if the staff uses this opportunity to build these two into more elite players then they will pair incredibly well with Deontay Burnett and a healthy Mitchell. To do this they have to keep throwing to Vaughns and Lewis though and Martin has shown a tendency to just abandon new things even when they are working.

Establish Petite and Rojo as consistent viable passing threats - These guys could provide a huge boost to the offense. If you never throw to them and the defense knows it, however, then they are just sub par blockers out there on passing downs.

Get reps and targets for the younger receivers - yes its is true that Michael Pittman Jr., Velus Jones Jr., and Josh Imatorbhebhe are young players that have not exactly impressed in their limited opportunities thus far. Meanwhile guys like Trevon Sidney, Josh Falo, and Erik Krommenhoek have hardly even seen the field.”

Deontay Burnett did not see the ball come his way until early in the second quarter. He only had a couple targets but still scored a 16-yard touchdown pass. He also cleared the way for other receivers to get open and make plays.

Tyler Vaughns definitely continued his success catching both short and deep passes. Vaughns once again made it clear that he is a receiving threat that has to be dealt with by opposing offenses. Lewis did not see any action but other receivers did. Mitchell also definitely got back into the rhythm of the game and it seems clear that the Trojans now have three viable wide receiving threats to spread the ball to.

Tyler Petite did see one target for an 18 yard catch but it would have been nice for him to see more. Ronald Jones saw about three targets. One was for a nice 16-yard gain. Another went for only a yard after an amazing defensive play otherwise that pass would have went for a big play. Another was zipped right through his hands. It was a mixed bag for Petite and Rojo but overall it was mostly positive in this small sample size.

Finally Trevon Sidney saw a pass come his way and took it for 23 yards. Velus Jones had one target for a 5 yard catch and he ran the ball on a jet sweep for four yards. Pittman, Falo, Krommenhoek, and Josh Imatorbhebhe did not see the ball in the first half. These six players had a combined 14 targets coming into the game so 3 targets/touches for this group in one half is a small improvement.

Both Martin and Darnold did slip back into some bad tendencies at times. Martin overly condensed the playbook and got predictable again. Darnold reverted to forcing passes into coverage and staring down receivers. Two first half turnovers from Darnold were also a concern as well as some penalties. The offense is still extremely inexperienced and needs work but they are improving and Tee Martin is showing the ability to put them in a position to succeed.

Second Half:

On the Trojans’ first offensive drive of the half USC continued to mix it up. RoJo was able to run the ball well, Aca’Cedric Ware was not. Darnold kept forcing the ball to Mitchell for mixed results. What was interesting however was three different tight ends had catches on the drive. Darnold hit Petite for 22 yards. Erik Krommenhoek picked up four yards on a pass. 4 different players caught a pass and two different players ran the ball.

Welcome to the show Josh Falo:

Josh Falo on his second target of the season scored a touchdown. Falo is a raw, inexperienced freshman tight end. He is also listed at 6’6” and 235 pounds. Falo is a big, big man. He is also deceptively fast and athletic. His first target on the year came last week again WSU in the endzone. He had man coverage against a defender who was 9 inches shorter than him and about 80 pounds lighter. The defender tied him up and Falo couldn’t shake him off. Darnold also opted to throw a comeback pass underneath rather than going up to the taller receiver as called. It was clearly a defensive penalty that was not called but a bad decision by Darnold and a lack of aggression by Falo turned what should have been an easy touchdown into a near interception.

Today was different though. Falo was able to find a big hole in the Beavers pass coverage and Darnold was able to hit him in stride. Falo then ran the ball in for a 30-yard touchdown pass. One of the upsides of having a tendency to always throw to the same two players all game generally means that when you actually do break that tendency and throw to someone else they are usually open. USC broke tendency and big Josh Falo picked up his first career reception and first career touchdown. The Trojans led 28-3.

Pittman and Imatorbhebhe get involved:

After an Oregon State fumble killed an otherwise good drive the Trojans began to spread the ball around some more. Malepai had an ineffective run and Josh Imatorbhebhe had a 2-yard reception. Michael Pittman Jr. had two balls thrown his way on this drive after only 4 targets the rest of the year and zero catches. Pittman caught both balls, one went for 14 yards, the other went for 10. A fumble by Darnold that was recovered by Toa Lobendahn all the way back inside the Trojans’ one killed the drive though.

The Beavers were set up with nice field position and able to finally cross the goal line for a touchdown drawing to within 18. Oregon State has had a dreadful season this year and this game was not going much better but Oregon State competed relentlessly in this game and kept fighting all the way to the end. You have to respect those guys.

A return to gun slinging:

After the Beavers made it 28-10 the Trojans came back out with a mix of run and pass. Given that it was late in the game and the Trojans had a sizable lead it is understandable that the Trojans would want to run the ball and drain the clock. Jones and Ware both had solid runs on the drive but impressively Darnold threw a deep pass to Tyler Petite who had beaten his coverage. Darnold unfortunately overthrew him and missed another easy touchdown on a deep pass. USC went right back to the long ball and hit Ware on another deep pass. Two deep passes on the same series? One to the tight end and the other to the running back? Yes the game was no longer in doubt, and no there really was not much of a risk but it is absolutely refreshing to see it dialed up from Martin.

Welcome Matt Fink, welcome back Jake Olsen!

USC would extend the lead to 31-10 and the Beavers were once again stopped for no points. With a 21-point lead and under 8 minutes left in the game Darnold was done for the day. Freshman Matt Fink made his career debut. Ware ran the ball for 4 yards then followed it up with a 13-yard run. Then Fink kept the ball himself ran to the right found a running lane and went 51 yards for a touchdown. Much like Falo Fink’s first touch was a special one for a big touchdown. USC would go up 38-10 and Steven Mitchell Jr. was penalized for coming off the sideline to celebrate.

As USC lined up for a routine extra point they called a timeout. The reason for the timeout was to get Jake Olsen into the game so that he could snap the ball. The stadium roared in approval as Olsen ran onto the field and again when he snapped ball cleanly to the holder.

Oregon State fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff return and the Trojans ran the ball down the field killing the clock.

Trojans win 38-10 looking much improved but still need to correct. Utah and Notre Dame are on deck for the Trojans.