There is a saying in football: "The game is won and lost in the trenches". This refers to the battle between the offensive line and the defensive line and in week 3's USC at Stanfurd game it was Stanfurd that won the trench warfare. We will take a look at how the Furd defense attacked the USC offense, including all five sacks of Matt Barkley. USC's strength, however, is their passing attack and that is where we will start.
As we saw in Part 1 USC likes to get Marqise Lee the ball in space. There was one play they have run multiple times in every game out of several formations where Lee takes a step back and receives a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage. Against Stanfurd, USC used that play as bait...
USC is lined up with four receivers spreading the field, the Tight End will motion across the formation bringing the safety with him. #9 Marqise Lee is by the sideline at the top of the screen. Stanfurd has five defensive backs (a Nickel personnel package - a Dime package is six DBs), three D-linemen and three linebackers all showing blitz. USC's starting center, Khaled Holmes was out with an injury for this game so Matt Barkley is calling the pass protection for the freshman backup center (you can see him pointing out the blitzers).
After the snap, Lee jumps into the air like the pass is coming his way and the Stanfurd DBs on that side of the field bite hard. It is a fake! The Tight End sneaks by into open field, Stanfurd doesn't have a defender deeper than the 40 yard line, there is no one between the Tight End and the End Zone. But USC isn't the only team using bait on this play... All three of Stanfurd's linebackers took a hard first step toward the line of scrimmage to get USC's linemen to commit to blocking them. With six rushers to account for USC leaves the one on the end unblocked and Matt Barkley throws his "hot" read instead of the designed play to the Tight End. Stanfurd, however is only rushing four and dropping two of the linebackers into shallow coverage.
The pass is nearly tipped by the dropping linebacker, but Barkley's pass is on the money, #15 freshman Nelson Agholor, grabs it and turns it into a huge gain.
From the quarterback's view you can see the edge rusher and how small the window for the pass really is. You can also see how open the tight end is down the side line.
USC really only had two big plays all game and no run game (77 positive yards on 23 carries and 51 yards lost via sacks and other negative plays). Stanfurd smothered the running game by dominating the line of scrimmage. This play in the 4th quarter is probably the best example:
USC lines up in the I-Formation, a traditional run set, with the fullback and running back directly behind the quarterback (like an "I", those old coaches were so creative with naming), they have double tight ends with one just a step behind the offensive linemen and a token receiver. Stanfurd has five defenders lined up at the line of scrimmage (looks like 3 D-linemen and 2 linebackers), two linebackers at the second level and a couple safeties respecting the pass. USC plans to have the left side of their line block down (blocking the defender diagonally to their right), the fullback will kick out the linebacker at the end of the formation and the right Guard will pull and block the playside middle backer. As it is designed this play shouldn't be stopped until the safety (who is deep off the screen) is able to try to tackle the running back.
The play looks great against chalk but against the Furd nose tackle it all falls apart. The nose tackle pushes the center back into Matt Barkley, tripping him, and impeding the pulling guard,
Barkley somehow manages to toss the ball to the running back before falling down, but the entire Stanfurd defensive line is on the USC side of the line of scrimmage (nicely illustrated in blue) before the running back can hit the hole. This play was lucky not to be a loss of yardage.
The USC center was a freshman backup, but this offensive line's problems go far beyond one backup. What follows is a chronicle of the litany of sacks that USC endured in this game. I am going to focus on the pass protection and where it broke down instead each play as a whole.
Sack #1 came at the start of the second quarter. USC was 17 yards from scoring when Barkley got hit and fumbled. Only a heads up play by Marqise Lee (who was running a crossing route 10 yards away) prevented a turnover.
Stanfurd has five guys rushing, the USC line plans to slide right on pass protection, probably because Lane Kiffin does not trust his center to pass protect. All five offensive linemen will block the guy to his right, the left tight end will block the outside linebacker (a mismatch for the defense) and the running back will fill the hole between the left tackle and the tight end. Making this shift means that the center does not have a man to block and can provide help where needed.
With eight men blocking, USC has only two (very good) receivers running routes but there are six defenders in pass coverage. Lee is covered by the linebackers on the shallow route so Barkley has to wait for Woods to come open deep. Unfortunately even with max protection he will not have that kind of time. The nose tackle, #58 David Parry has beaten the Left Guard, the center had to help the right guard who was also about to get beat and the OLB is flying around the tight end.
Cue the GIF. You can see that neither Lee nor Woods gets open and Barkley gets crushed. Even though Lee recovers the fumble USC loses 14 yards. Only a great run after the catch on 4th and 22 by Woods will keep the drive alive (USC has not attempted a field goal this year).
Sack #2. USC has the same slide right protection scheme as the previous sack.
This time it is the Left Tackle (#70) who whiffs on his block and the running back must wear blinders because he misses the defensive end , #49 Ben Gardner, too. #2 Robert Woods is off screen right, he is running a deep double move pattern and you can see Barkley pump fake to set up the move, but Woods has no chance to get open before the sack.
Sack #3. This looks to be a slide left protection so each lineman will step left this time and block the defender on his left. Stanford brings five rushers for USC's seven blockers.
This time it is the Right Tackle who is slow out of his stance and misses his block completely. The Center and Left Guard get abused as well. The Right Guard looks foolish but he was actually blocking the empty space he was assigned.
Sacks #4 and #5 come in the last minute of the game as USC is trying to mount a desperation drive to tie the game.
For Sack #4 Stanfurd disguises the blitzers and actually rushes four at the right side of the offensive line. The running back #22 is supposed to pick up anyone who comes free but he doesn't see #93, Trent Murphy, on a stunt from the Outside Linebacker spot who loops around to get the sack.
Sack #5 comes on the very next play. Stanfurd only rushes four, but one of those four is #44 Chase Thomas who is lined up outside the tight end. The tight end runs a pattern leaving the Left Tackle to block Thomas, but the Left Tackle doesn't have the speed to reach Thomas who does an outside speed rush (often referred to by the practice drill name "running the hoop") to sack Barkley untouched.
USC has amazing skill players at every position but if the offensive line cannot provide pass protection or run blocking then those skill positions can't have the impact on the game they are capable of. This USC team is showing the lack of depth that came from the scholarship restrictions. Injuries to the kicker, center and temporarily to both running backs all contributed to their loss. But this game came down to the battle in the trenches and Stanfurd outplayed USC. The score was closer than the game.
This was another long column and you are a champ if you made it all the way through both parts, thank you.
A year ago I knew nothing about slide protection schemes and everything I know I learned from Ben Muth and his articles at Football Outsiders. The linked article talks about Pete Carroll's Seahawks slide protections.