Putting on the blitz

The Trojan defense has been under pressure this season, but how often is Justin Wilcox's group turning the tables and applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks?

No Power Five conference team has blitzed less than the USC Trojans in 2014.

Last season the Trojans defense, led by first-year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, ran a high-risk, high-reward scheme, bringing pressure by blitzing its opponents on 27.3 percent of their dropbacks, third-highest rate in the Pac-12.

This season, under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Trojans have relied much more on rushing four linemen and playing everyone else in coverage.

USC clearly isn't blitzing as much, but just how often are the Trojans bringing pressure and rushing more than four players?

When we asked Wilcox on Monday, we couldn't get any hard numbers out of him, either how often the Trojans blitz or what his target numbers were for blitzes in a game.

But thanks to our friends over at ESPN Stats & Information, we can tell you exactly how many times USC has blitzed this year, and it isn't a lot.

As we stated above, USC has blitzed its opponents fewer times than any Power Five team in the country. The Trojans blitzed on only 10 percent of their opponents' dropbacks (which includes pass attempts, sacks and quarterback scrambles). For a point of reference, the average Power Five programs blitz 27 percent of the time.

Here is the data on the plays where USC blitzed this season:

The Trojans are middle of the road when it comes to sacking the quarterback, ranked No. 60 in the country with 20 sacks in nine games (average 2.22/sacks per game). Three of those 20 sacks came on plays when USC blitzed. This is a very limited sample size because the Trojans blitz so infrequently, but overall USC has a 50 percent higher sack rate on blitzes vs. rushing four players or less.

The USC defense also allows 1.3 fewer yards per play when it blitzes. On the 42 blitzes this season, the Trojans have allowed 189 yards for a 4.5 yards per play average, compared to 5.8 yards per play on dropbacks with no blitzes.

Here are some more notes on USC blitzing this season:

  • In its three losses to Boston College, Arizona State and Utah, USC blitzed only five times, or 1.67 blitzes per game. The Trojans did not blitz at all against Boston College (27 total dropbacks, 14 pass attempts and 13 quarterback runs).

  • In its six victories, USC blitzed 37 times, or 6.17 blitzes per game.

  • Stanford performed the best against the blitz, completing four of four passes for 72 yards with one sack on seven plays (9.9 yards/play).

  • Arizona and Colorado did the worst against the blitz. Arizona completed one of four passes for nine yards on four plays (2.3 yards/play) and Colorado was five of nine for 25 yards with one sack on 11 plays (2.3 yards/play).

  • USC blitzed Sean Mannion of Oregon State the most (24.3 percent of the time), limiting him to five of eight passing for 39 yards with one sack (3.4 yards/play). The Trojans beat the Beavers 35-10.

  • Outside of Boston College, USC blitzed Arizona State (twice), Utah (three times) and Washington State (twice) the fewest. Interestingly enough, each of those teams scored a touchdown against the blitz, the only three touchdowns given up by the Trojans on blitz plays this season.

  • Pac-12 foe Arizona State came into Saturday's game against Notre Dame blitzing an astounding 55 percent of the time, second most among Power Five programs. That number went up further when the Sun Devils blitzed Everett Golson on 73 percent of his dropbacks, forcing him into a career-high five turnovers.

Dan Weber asked Steve Sarkisian about USC's blitz rate after Tuesday's practice. Here are his responses.

USC blitzes the least amount among the Power Five conference teams. Does this surprise you?

"No, we have a really good front seven, that we take pride in our front four and what we can do," Sarkisian said. "We also understand that we have some youth in the secondary, that we need to take care of those guys to make sure we are minimizing the big play and defend the pass extremely well. Even though we haven't blitzed as much, our run numbers have been fantastic, our ability to defend the run has been great, we haven't had to devote an extra defender to the box, which in turn has helped us in our pass coverage."

Will the blitz rate change if secondary gets more experience?

"It could, it could," he said. "You always just try to really play to the strength of your team. You try to do what's in the best interest of your football team, to put them in the best position to be successful. There is going to be games and, or years when offensively we throw it a lot more than we run it, or vice versa. There's going to be games and years where we blitz a bunch or we don't blitz a bunch. It all depends on who you are playing, what the strength of your team is and how you put your players in the best position to be successful."

Ryan Abraham has been the publisher of USCFootball.com since 1996. You can follow him on Twitter at @InsideTroy or email him at ryan@uscfootball.com .

Special thanks to ESPN Stats & Information. You can follow them on Twitter at @espnstatsinfo.

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