Stanford was able to control the ball for nearly twice as long as USC, holding possession for 39:29 of the 60 minutes and with that came a slow, methodical pace of play. Not only did the Cardinal’s ball control offense effectively keep the explosive USC offense off the field in the second half, it also changed USC’s substitution pattern.
All fall we’ve heard about “platooning” rather than subbing. That wasn’t the case on Saturday night though. Defensive starters played 78 percent of the snaps and the offensive starters were on the field even more often, participating in nearly 82 percent of the snaps. It’s understandable that the offensive starters wouldn’t have needed extra rest with so little time of possession, including just 8:40 in the final 30 minutes.
But how come the defensive players didn’t substitute or platoon more regularly to try to get fresh bodies in to battle with the Stanford offensive line that was getting solid push and playing on the Trojans’ side of the line of scrimmage?
According to USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, the coaching staff wanted players on the field they could trust to be lined up correctly so that they didn’t give up any easy, big plays on blown assignments due to miscommunication:
“Stanford really taxed us mentally in the game. They gave us just a myriad of personnel groupings, formations, Wildcat. They really gave us a lot of stuff to try to make us think. We just tried to keep the guys out there that we felt could do the best of getting aligned, getting assigned and operating fundamentally and just not giving them anything cheap in the game.”
Defensive line coach Chris Wilson said the higher snap counts for starters was due to a combination of factors, but ultimately it came down to matchups.
“You just want to create matchups, so what you try to do is put the right personnel matchups in regards to what you’re going to see.”
Here’s some more participation notes from a game that saw 12 USC players that had been significant contributors in the first two games not get a single snap on offense/defense while another group of players saw just a handful of plays:
Another thing Stanford’s style of play did was limit the number of USC offensive plays. The Trojans ran only 60 plays, which also played into changing the platoon substitution system.
The football Moonlight Graham
Redshirt junior wide receiver Christian Tober earned a scholarship and some early playing time with his significant contributions during fall camp. He got a good opportunity to show he could be a valuable asset as a backup slot receiver during the Arkansas State game, but he and Cody Kessler couldn’t hook up on a couple of third down attempts. After seeing his offensive snap count dwindle from 11 to two in the first two games, Tober picked up a DNP (Did Not Play) against Stanford.
But wait a second, Tober was on the field for a play. However, the final drive play Tober participated in, a pass attempt to Darreus Rogers, featured a yellow hanky on the field and the penalty — pass interference — negated the offensive play and produced a “NO PLAY” in the boxscore. So even though Tober ran a route during a play, he is essentially football’s version of Moonlight Graham from Field of Dreams.
With so many offensive weapons, Steve Sarkisian is constantly trying to find enough touches for everyone. Explosive playmakers like Tober and even more so freshmen Dominic Davis and Ronald Jones II have only seen the ball so many times this season. But it’s hard to get the ball to everyone a lot, particularly non-starters. Dominic Davis played just three plays in the loss, but did get a pair of carries, rushing for 16 yards.
After Davis had a strong practice that featured a couple of explosive plays on Wednesday, Sarkisian said they would love to get him the ball more, but the minute he gives the ball to Davis, he’s simultaneously taking an opportunity away from another one of his playmakers.
“We try to find enough balance in there to get the ball to as many people as we can because we’ve got a lot of explosive people and our numbers are showing us that. We’ve created a lot of explosive plays. Our average yards per play is really good, but sure, we’ve got to fight to continue to find ways to get 16 the ball as well as everyone else.”
One explosive playmaker that didn’t see the ball at all offensively on Saturday was Adoree Jackson. Jackson played only nine offensive plays with eight of them coming on the final drive of the game. His only target — if you even want to consider it a target for Jackson — was Cody Kessler’s final heave into the end zone where Jackson was in the area along with Darreus Rogers and another receiver.
With Kevon Seymour missing the game with a left knee injury, Jackson was needed more on the defensive side of the ball.
“We felt like we needed him there and in the return game, he had some plays…that took its toll on him a little bit,” Sarkisian said of a couple of long special teams runs. “Ideally, sure I would love to have him touch the ball a little bit more offensively.”
But Sark also noted that the USC offense was doing plenty well enough creating big plays without Jackson’s assistance, so they decided to give him some extra rest and have him ready to try to stop Stanford’s offense:
“We were explosive in our own right. I think we averaged over 7 yards per play, so we didn't feel like we needed to generate explosive plays. I thought we were doing it pretty well without him at the time and felt like it was more important to try to get stops on defense.”
Justin Davis looked great in his return against Idaho, rushing for 74 yards on five carries, but he only participated in nine plays. Saturday against Stanford gave us a much better indication of how much the coaching staff plans to use him and Tre Madden. And the verdict? An even split. Both running backs were on the field for 22 offensive plays. Some of that may have had to do with Madden tweaking his left knee/upper calf early in the second half, but he said on Tuesday that he could have carried the ball, if he was asked. So maybe the backs are true co-starters?
The rest of the backfield saw 17 offensive snaps and eight carries. Fullback Jahleel Pinner was used a little less, participating in 10 plays after averaging 18.5 in the first two games.
Where’d they go? (Part 2)
Last week, we wondered where the starting offensive line unit went during the second quarter as Damien Mama and Zach Banner didn’t see the field on offense. This week, it’s our turn to wonder where the second string offensive line unit went. The grouping of Chuma Edoga, Viane Talamaivao and Chris Brown usually come in to do some damage after the first couple of drives. That occurrence began with the Trojans’ first possession of the second quarter. But it was only Edoga and Talamaivao as Toa Lobendahn stayed in, moving to left guard. USC needed just eight plays and 3:08 to drive the ball 92 yards for a touchdown to go up 21-10 with Edoga and Talamaivao on the line. But that would be the last time the duo would be seen together on the offensive line Saturday night.
Talamaivao did get three additional plays subbing in for Mama during the Trojans’ first drive of the second half, but it was the only other offensive action for any of the second-team line members as Lobendahn, Chad Wheeler and Max Tuerk played all 60 offensive snaps.
USC went with more three- and four-wide looks against Stanford, which meant an uptick in reps for the starting receivers. The Trojans trio of Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell Jr. and Juju Smith-Schuster all eclipsed the previous high for receiver snaps this year, which was the 38 both Rogers and Smith-Schuster both had against Idaho. Rogers’ 52 snaps is now the new top mark this season.
Formation breakdown -
Quick and dirty formation breakdown, which means I may have miscategorized a couple, but this gives a general feel of how the Trojan offense lined up against Stanford:
26 - Three-wide, tight end, running back
7 - Four-wide with running back (three WR + TE)
6 - Four-wide with running back
5 - Two-receiver, tight end, running back, fullback wide
3 - Five-wide (four WR + RB split wide)
3 - Two-receiver, tight end, running back, fullback at H-back
2 - Three-wide, two backs
2 - Two-receiver, tight end, two backs
1 - Two-receiver, fullback at RB, tight end, running back split wide
1 - No-back, four-wide with tight end
The Iron Man award for most snaps in this week’s game was Su’a Cravens, who did not come off the field defensively. Cravens played all 73 defensive snaps as well as another 11 on special teams for snap total of 84. He had averaged 39 total plays in the first two games, so he saw his workload more than double. That’s one of the factors that enabled him to rack up a team-high 13 tackles. Cravens is one of nine players averaging more than 50 plays per game through the first three contests.
Here’s some other defensive participation notes:
Leading the way for most plays on the season, and therefore, highest average snap count per game remains freshman cornerback Iman Marshall. Marshall made his first career start against Stanford and played 68 of the defensive snaps, exiting the game only when USC went to its goal line defense. Marshall’s defensive snap count for the year is currently higher than all but two players total snap count and he leads the team in average total snap count by more than 12 snaps per game with an average of 71.7 total snaps each week.
There were a number of notable players that didn’t see a defensive snap against Stanford as the Trojans really shrunk their rotations. Here’s a look at some familiar faces that made significant contributions defensively in the first two games, but were only seeing the field on Saturday if they were playing special teams: Leon McQuay III, Michael Hutchings, Quinton Powell, Olajuwon Tucker, Matt Lopes, Jacob Daniel and to a lesser extent Malik Dorton. Throw in Kevon Seymour and there were eight defenders that had averaged more than 15 plays the first two weeks that didn't see a single snap on defense.
One player whose snap count went down, but saw a more prominent role was Noah Jefferson. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound freshman from Las Vegas only played 14 snaps after averaging 19 in the first two games. However, his 14 snaps were in big situations. Jefferson became the Trojans’ bulldozer in the middle of the line when they wanted to try to get some more girth up front. When the USC coaches were expecting a run against Stanford’s power formations, particularly in the fourth quarter, Jefferson was called on to create a four down lineman lineup, playing defensive tackle alongside Antwaun Woods and Cody Temple.
Eight times, the Trojans went with this defensive counter to the Cardinal’s jumbo looks with seven of those occurrences coming in the fourth quarter. Of those seven fourth quarter instances, Jefferson was there to contribute on four tackles. For the game, he was there helping on six tackles, being credited with two solo tackles and two assists. (When there are multiple defenders helping take down a ball carrier not everyone gets a tackle credit, just the primary and secondary defenders as judged by the official scorers.)
Jefferson wasn’t in on any of Stanford’s 30 dropback attempts in the game, but defensive line coach Chris Wilson believes Jefferson has the talent to do that as well in the future, saying he sees him as a defensive lineman that can play all three downs.
“I really liked what Noah did,” Wilson said. “He did some really good things and I really believe that Noah has a chance to help us in the near future.”
Mentioned above in the offensive section is the fact that Adoree’ Jackson didn’t see much time on the offensive side. The coaches felt they needed him more on the defensive side of the ball. Jackson played all but 15 of the defensive snaps, being replaced on 13 of those plays by Jefferson when the Trojans went with an extra defensive lineman and only three defensive backs. The other two plays went to Jonathan Lockett.
After starting last week, those were Lockett’s only two defensive plays the entire game.
If USC really wanted to use Adoree’ more on offense, they could have used Lockett more, but maybe they didn’t have faith in Lockett against Stanford’s bigger receivers?
Another player that didn’t get into the game much defensively was Uchenna Nwosu. Of course, that is very difficult when the starter in front of Nwosu, Su’a Cravens, plays every snap. Nwosu was in for some of the action on the goal line, entering for four snaps.
Return of 55
Lamar Dawson missed the first two games, but came back to play 35 snaps against Stanford. Dawson was happy his return coincided with the Cardinal since they feature a downhill rushing attack that comes at the inside linebackers.
“It feels good having all the action coming towards me and just being in the mix.”
Dawson was given opportunities at both his traditional MIKE linebacker role as well as the WILL linebacker spot beside freshman Cameron Smith. Dawson said he rotated in at both spots and that he was willing to help out in either position. After the game, Smith was excited about Dawson’s return and getting to play next to him:
“I was kind of hoping at some point in the season that would happen because he’s an awesome player. It’s an honor to play next to him. I think we really feed off each other, not just verbally, but mentally we’re able to feed off each other to know what we’re doing and stuff, so it’s cool to play next to him.”
Going up on a Saturday
With the coaching staff not trusting their backups as much against Stanford, the starter snap counts shot up despite Stanford’s slow, plodding offensive approach. Every starter set a new season high for defensive snaps. The biggest jump came from John Plattenburg. He more than doubled his defensive snap count, playing 54 snaps against Stanford after getting 53 defensive plays in the first two games.
Kevon Seymour’s absence also meant that everyone moved up a rung on the special teams depth charts as well. Seymour’s spot had to be filled on the kickoff and punt coverage units and Marshall was also taken off punt coverage, so the Trojans went with freshman Isaiah Langley. Langley became the 15th true freshman to play this season, burning his redshirt to participate in five special teams plays.
Again, while I believe these to be 100 percent correct, because I am pulling this from the televised game footage rather than having access to All-22 film (end zone angle), I can not promise 100 percent accuracy since a safety could switch in for one single play and switch back out or something of that nature.
|Off/Def Snaps||ST Snaps||Total Plays|
|1 - Darreus Rogers||16||11||9||16||52||8||60|
|2 - Adoree' Jackson||17||18||16||15||66||15||81|
|4 - Max Browne||0||-|
|4 - Chris Hawkins||17||20||17||15||69||5||74|
|6 - Cody Kessler||18||16||10||16||60||60|
|7 - Steven Mitchell||12||13||9||15||49||49|
|7 - Marvell Tell||5||10||15||12||27|
|8 - Iman Marshall||17||20||16||15||68||10||78|
|9 - JuJu Smith-Schuster||11||11||8||14||44||15||59|
|10 - Jalen Greene||2||5||1||3||11||11|
|13 - Kevon Seymour||0||-|
|14 - Isaiah Langley||0||5||5|
|15 - Isaac Whitney||5||4||2||11||11|
|15 - Michael Bowman||0||-|
|16 - Dominic Davis||2||1||3||3|
|17 - Kris Albarado||0||3||3|
|18 - Quinton Powell||0||16||16|
|19 - Conner Sullivan||0||5||5|
|19 - Michael Hutchings||0||10||10|
|21 - Su'a Cravens||17||21||18||17||73||11||84|
|22 - Justin Davis||5||1||9||7||22||22|
|22 - Leon McQuay III||0||10||10|
|23 - Tre Madden||10||9||1||2||22||22|
|23 - Jonathan Lockett||2||2||6||8|
|24 - John Plattenburg||17||15||17||5||54||3||57|
|25 - Ronald Jones II||3||5||6||14||14|
|26 - James Toland||0||-|
|28 - Aca'cedric Ware||0||1||1|
|29 - Christian Tober||0||-|
|29 - Kevin Carrasco||0||-|
|31 - Soma Vainuku||1||1||21||22|
|34 - Yoofi Quansah||0||-|
|34 - Olajuwon Tucker||0||-|
|35 - Cameron Smith||15||19||13||14||61||13||74|
|37 - Matt Lopes||0||2||2|
|38 - Jahleel Pinner||5||3||1||1||10||8||18|
|38 - Jalen Jones||0||-|
|39 - Alex Wood||0||11||11|
|40 - Jabari Ruffin||6||6||16||22|
|42 - Uchenna Nwosu||1||1||2||4||19||23|
|44 - Malik Dorton||0||-|
|45 - Porter Gustin||8||9||5||22||4||26|
|47 - Cyrus Hobbi||0||-|
|47 - Scott Felix||9||15||10||14||48||3||51|
|48 - Taylor McNamara||15||5||10||3||33||5||38|
|50 - Toa Lobendahn||18||16||10||16||60||5||65|
|50 - Grant Moore||0||-|
|51 - Damien Mama||18||8||7||16||49||5||54|
|51 - Joel Foy||0||-|
|52 - Delvon Simmons||12||18||14||11||55||6||61|
|54 - Reuben Peters||0||-|
|55 - Lamar Dawson||9||8||8||10||35||35|
|56 - Jordan Austin||0||-|
|56 - Anthony Sarao||8||10||10||7||35||15||50|
|58 - Osa Masina||2||7||5||3||17||2||19|
|59 - Don Hill||0||-|
|60 - Viane Talamaivao||8||3||11||5||16|
|62 - Khaliel Rodgers||0||-|
|64 - Richie Wenzel||0||-|
|65 - Erick Jepsen||0||-|
|70 - Chuma Edoga||8||8||8|
|72 - Chad Wheeler||18||16||10||16||60||60|
|73 - Zach Banner||18||8||10||16||52||10||62|
|74 - Nico Falah||0||-|
|75 - Max Tuerk||18||16||10||16||60||60|
|77 - Chris Brown||0||5||5|
|80 - Deontay Burnett||0||-|
|81 - Connor Spears||3||3||4||10||5||15|
|82 - Tyler Petite||6||6||6|
|83 - George Katrib||0||9||9|
|85 - David Mellstrom||0||-|
|86 - Robby Kolanz||0||-|
|89 - De'Quan Hampton||0||-|
|90 - Claude Pelon||5||7||4||6||22||6||28|
|91 - Noah Jefferson||2||3||9||14||14|
|92 - Jacob Daniel||0||-|
|92 - Zach Smith||0||8||8|
|93 - Greg Townsend||13||16||16||13||58||6||64|
|94 - Rasheem Green||4||3||2||2||11||11|
|95 - Kenny Bigelow||1||3||3||7||1||8|
|98 - Cody Temple||4||3||5||7||19||9||28|
|99 - Antwaun Woods||12||17||11||11||51||4||55|
Here's also a look at the total numbers for the first three games of the season:
|OFF/DEF SNAPS||TOTAL PLAYS|
|Arky St||Idaho||Stan||Season||Arky St||Idaho||Stan||Season|
|1 - Darreus Rogers||34||38||52||124||1 - Darreus Rogers||41||48||60||149|
|2 - Adoree' Jackson||8||38||66||112||2 - Adoree' Jackson||12||46||81||139|
|4 - Max Browne||13||18||0||31||4 - Max Browne||13||18||0||31|
|4 - Chris Hawkins||53||40||69||162||4 - Chris Hawkins||59||44||74||177|
|6 - Cody Kessler||52||54||60||166||6 - Cody Kessler||52||54||60||166|
|7 - Steven Mitchell||32||30||49||111||7 - Steven Mitchell||32||30||49||111|
|7 - Marvell Tell||45||50||15||110||7 - Marvell Tell||58||64||27||149|
|8 - Iman Marshall||54||48||68||170||8 - Iman Marshall||70||67||78||215|
|9 - JuJu Smith-Schuster||35||38||44||117||9 - JuJu Smith-Schuster||37||41||59||137|
|10 - Jalen Greene||10||13||11||34||10 - Jalen Greene||10||13||11||34|
|13 - Kevon Seymour||49||33||0||82||13 - Kevon Seymour||61||44||0||105|
|14 - Isaiah Langley||0||0||0||0||14 - Isaiah Langley||0||0||5||5|
|15 - Isaac Whitney||28||20||11||59||15 - Isaac Whitney||28||20||11||59|
|15 - Michael Bowman||0||1||0||1||15 - Michael Bowman||0||1||0||1|
|16 - Dominic Davis||7||8||3||18||16 - Dominic Davis||16||9||3||28|
|17 - Kris Albarado||0||0||0||0||17 - Kris Albarado||6||3||3||12|
|18 - Quinton Powell||0||29||0||29||18 - Quinton Powell||0||48||16||64|
|19 - Conner Sullivan||0||1||0||1||19 - Conner Sullivan||8||9||5||22|
|19 - Michael Hutchings||35||14||0||49||19 - Michael Hutchings||38||19||10||67|
|21 - Su'a Cravens||44||32||73||149||21 - Su'a Cravens||46||32||84||162|
|22 - Justin Davis||0||9||22||31||22 - Justin Davis||0||9||22||31|
|22 - Leon McQuay III||36||21||0||57||22 - Leon McQuay III||50||34||10||94|
|23 - Tre Madden||33||16||22||71||23 - Tre Madden||33||16||22||71|
|23 - Jonathan Lockett||55||25||2||82||23 - Jonathan Lockett||63||35||8||106|
|24 - John Plattenburg||32||21||54||107||24 - John Plattenburg||34||25||57||116|
|25 - Ronald Jones II||10||24||14||48||25 - Ronald Jones II||10||24||14||48|
|26 - James Toland||0||4||0||4||26 - James Toland||1||6||0||7|
|28 - Aca'Cedric Ware||9||9||0||18||28 - Aca'Cedric Ware||12||14||1||27|
|29 - Christian Tober||11||2||0||13||29 - Christian Tober||17||10||0||27|
|29 - Kevin Carrasco||0||10||0||10||29 - Kevin Carrasco||0||12||0||12|
|31 - Soma Vainuku||7||10||1||18||31 - Soma Vainuku||22||27||22||71|
|34 - Yoofi Quansah||0||3||0||3||34 - Yoofi Quansah||0||3||0||3|
|34 - Olajuwon Tucker||26||17||0||43||34 - Olajuwon Tucker||33||17||0||50|
|35 - Cameron Smith||43||38||61||142||35 - Cameron Smith||53||47||74||174|
|37 - Matt Lopes||16||24||0||40||37 - Matt Lopes||29||38||2||69|
|38 - Jahleel Pinner||13||24||10||47||38 - Jahleel Pinner||15||27||18||60|
|38 - Jalen Jones||0||10||0||10||38 - Jalen Jones||0||13||0||13|
|39 - Alex Wood||0||0||0||0||39 - Alex Wood||16||19||11||46|
|40 - Jabari Ruffin||19||12||6||37||40 - Jabari Ruffin||29||25||22||76|
|42 - Uchenna Nwosu||34||17||4||55||42 - Uchenna Nwosu||54||38||23||115|
|44 - Malik Dorton||25||8||0||33||44 - Malik Dorton||25||8||0||33|
|45 - Porter Gustin||42||24||22||88||45 - Porter Gustin||44||27||26||97|
|47 - Cyrus Hobbi||0||7||0||7||47 - Cyrus Hobbi||0||7||0||7|
|47 - Scott Felix||28||27||48||103||47 - Scott Felix||29||28||51||108|
|48 - Taylor McNamara||36||24||33||93||48 - Taylor McNamara||36||24||38||98|
|50 - Toa Lobendahn||43||37||60||140||50 - Toa Lobendahn||52||45||65||162|
|50 - Grant Moore||11||0||0||11||50 - Grant Moore||11||2||0||13|
|51 - Damien Mama||35||23||49||107||51 - Damien Mama||49||31||54||134|
|51 - Joel Foy||3||12||0||15||51 - Joel Foy||8||23||0||31|
|52 - Delvon Simmons||42||39||55||136||52 - Delvon Simmons||45||39||61||145|
|54 - Reuben Peters||7||15||0||22||54 - Reuben Peters||14||27||0||41|
|55 - Lamar Dawson||0||0||35||35||55 - Lamar Dawson||0||0||35||35|
|56 - Jordan Austin||0||4||0||4||56 - Jordan Austin||0||4||0||4|
|56 - Anthony Sarao||30||27||35||92||56 - Anthony Sarao||39||33||50||122|
|58 - Osa Masina||28||31||17||76||58 - Osa Masina||28||35||19||82|
|59 - Don Hill||0||15||0||15||59 - Don Hill||0||17||0||17|
|60 - Viane Talamaivao||31||44||11||86||60 - Viane Talamaivao||39||52||16||107|
|62 - Khaliel Rodgers||13||20||0||33||62 - Khaliel Rodgers||13||20||0||33|
|64 - Richie Wenzel||0||5||0||5||64 - Richie Wenzel||0||5||0||5|
|65 - Erick Jepsen||0||7||0||7||65 - Erick Jepsen||0||7||0||7|
|70 - Chuma Edoga||23||48||8||79||70 - Chuma Edoga||23||48||8||79|
|72 - Chad Wheeler||52||51||60||163||72 - Chad Wheeler||52||51||60||163|
|73 - Zach Banner||42||23||52||117||73 - Zach Banner||56||35||62||153|
|74 - Nico Falah||9||23||0||32||74 - Nico Falah||9||23||0||32|
|75 - Max Tuerk||56||54||60||170||75 - Max Tuerk||56||54||60||170|
|77 - Chris Brown||21||31||0||52||77 - Chris Brown||29||40||5||74|
|80 - Deontay Burnett||0||9||0||9||80 - Deontay Burnett||0||9||0||9|
|81 - Connor Spears||14||15||10||39||81 - Connor Spears||22||23||15||60|
|82 - Tyler Petite||14||23||6||43||82 - Tyler Petite||14||23||6||43|
|83 - George Katrib||0||9||0||9||83 - George Katrib||15||25||9||49|
|85 - David Mellstrom||1||11||0||12||85 - David Mellstrom||1||11||0||12|
|86 - Robby Kolanz||2||7||0||9||86 - Robby Kolanz||2||9||0||11|
|89 - De'Quan Hampton||25||7||0||32||89 - De'Quan Hampton||25||7||0||32|
|90 - Claude Pelon||0||25||22||47||90 - Claude Pelon||0||30||28||58|
|91 - Noah Jefferson||20||18||14||52||91 - Noah Jefferson||20||20||14||54|
|92 - Jacob Daniel||17||18||0||35||92 - Jacob Daniel||17||20||0||37|
|92 - Zach Smith||0||0||0||0||92 - Zach Smith||14||12||8||34|
|93 - Greg Townsend||39||39||58||136||93 - Greg Townsend||42||40||64||146|
|94 - Rasheem Green||20||17||11||48||94 - Rasheem Green||20||19||11||50|
|95 - Kenny Bigelow||26||14||7||47||95 - Kenny Bigelow||26||15||8||49|
|98 - Cody Temple||33||23||19||75||98 - Cody Temple||48||36||28||112|
|99 - Antwaun Woods||37||37||51||125||99 - Antwaun Woods||39||37||55||131|