I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate the wait between football seasons. That’s why I started breaking down the film, to bring to you a little taste of football from USC non conference games last year (don’t worry we’ll get to the conference games during the season, pace yourself). We all see the highlights of the games, and to a certain extent we understand, however very few take a deep dive into the complicated world of X’s and O’s. Through breaking down some of the biggest games from last season (starting here with Alabama), we’re gonna to try to show you what USC players and coaches watch so closely and what they see every second of every game.
(I know Trojan fans, I know)
The good news: USC played Alabama tough for the first quarter and some change (and was winning I might add).
The bad news: Alabama tsunami’d (roll tide pun) over the Trojans to a 52-6 victory.
While the outcome certainly wasn’t what USC fans expected and hoped for, let’s look at key plays that went right and wrong for our beloved Trojans.
Best Offensive Play: Max Browne to Darreus Rogers for 36 yards
On the first drive, USC’s game plan seemed pretty obvious. Utilizing quick tempo, energy and emotion, they wanted to put Bama on their heels straight out of the gate. To begin it worked, and credit this play that sparked the Trojan offense early on.
USC’s offense lines up in pistol formation with two receivers split out wide, another in slot on the right, and a tight end on the right side of the line. Alabama sits in nickel defense (however it could be argued a 3-3-5 due to the position flexibility of their DE/OLB) which means 4 down linemen, 2 linebackers, and 5 DB’s (extra corner to cover the slot). Bama plays man on all three wideouts for USC and leaves the 2 LBs to pick up the TE or RB out of the backfield. Free safety from left side moves into box pre-snap providing run support, leaving lone safety up top in Cover-1 playing “centerfield”.
(Above) With Browne’s play action momentarily baiting both LBs and the FS and assigned extra run support, it leaves the entire left side of the field open with one on one coverage Rodgers vs Averett. Browne notices it quickly and throws up a perfect pass to allow Rogers to go up and get it (Below).
Worst Offensive Play: Humphrey Pick Six Late 2nd Quarter
While this was not the worst offensive play fundamentally from the Trojans, this play took a serious toll on USC’s already depleting confidence. After slowly losing momentum all 2nd quarter with Alabama set to receive the ball to start the 2nd half (and now leading), this play built a 14 point lead which only ended up growing from then on.
Lined up on the right hash inside their own 15, Trojans sit in shotgun with 3 wide receivers, RB and a tight end. (#9) JuJu stays off the L.O.S. on left hash for RB to motion out of the pocket to the far left. This leaves Browne in shotgun with 3 spread out on the left, one to right and tight end lined up on right off the L.O.S. (short side of field). Alabama stays in nickel (4-2-5), the motion of the RB far left causes DBs to shift one over leaving Mike LB to cover slot. Man coverage on all wideouts with Cover-2 over the top and four rushing the passer.
Browne notices the advantage with LB on slot receiver, however LB is given inside advantage from pre-snap alignment. Because of the inside positioning and lack of creativity on the route, Mike LB stays with the slot well in coverage forcing a small window. Browne partially misses window, slot unable to hang onto the catch, and Humphrey comes off playing man to catch deflection from pass and score. An unfortunate bounce off deflection, throw rushed because of pressure, d-line winning 4 on 5 against USC. Had Browne been given more time, slots speed would’ve outran Mike, or from replay #1 (Rogers) was turning open on an outside route.
Best Defensive Play: Michael Hutchings 11 yard sack
Again, no shocker the best plays were early on in the game when the Trojans were playing their best football.
Bama lines up in shotgun formation two receivers split out wide, another in slot on the right, and tight end on the left off the L.O.S. The Trojan defense typically runs a 5-2-4 system, however eliminated the NT position for majority of the game, running nickel and rushing linebackers up the middle.
Both middle linebackers line up opposite side of center to bluff double A-gap blitz, nickel back McQuay covering in slot bluffs corner blitz a couple times pre-snap. When snaps made, Mike LB and both DEs drop back into zone coverage. Will and both DTs rush up the middle, McQuay, who had bluffed coverage, comes from right side on blitz, and safety up top takes over coverage of slot receiver for him.
McQuay uses speed move to blow by RT, Center gets one block on Hutchings up middle and then expects help from LG/RB on left side, however both move away to help opposite sides leaving Hutchings open path to QB. With tight man on outside WRs and zone coverage LBs all over the field, Barnett needs more time for play to develop but doesn’t get it. McQuay and Hutchings collide into him for a big 3rd down sack.
Worst Defensive Play: Stewart 71 yard TD
Both the worst offensive and defensive plays are extremely excruciating to watch, as they ended up being vital plays to start the rout that could easily have been avoided.
Bama remains in shotgun, 2 receivers out wide, another slot on the left, and a tight end on the right side off the line. USC remains in their hybrid 5-2/nickel once again bluffing double A-gap blitz. After snap, Mike LB and both ends drop back into coverage, leaving the Will LB and both DTs to rush. Nickel back covering slot on left side and corner on wideout on short side (#22, #8) break off position to blitz.
Through this blitz both safeties over the top are supposed to pick up open wide receivers from each side, however miscommunication kills a well drawn play. The blitz is supposed to include the outside rush off two corners, however the strong safety also comes in to blitz from right position. Now both DBs are gone from right side. No one is there to pick up Stewart, DE not expected to get there in time, Hurts notices finds Stewart right away for an easy touchdown.
Had this game been at a different time of the year with a red hot USC team with Darnold at the helm, who knows what would have happened? After a fast start and successful game plan, Bama made the necessary in game adjustments that USC could not match. Bama was just flat out great, and they got better as the game went on. While this game was painful to watch, it built character for the team that year and the film is extremely valuable to review and improve from. Should USC meet Alabama later this year expect to see a much different outcome.
Don’t worry Trojan fans we ripped off the band-aid, there are plenty of great highlights from other USC games (Penn State, Notre Dame) to come on X’s and O’s.