USC-Stanford participation breakdown

Stanford's slower pace and ability to control the ball and the clock caused USC to revert back to normal substitution patterns rather than the platoon system they've been using throughout the fall. See how many snaps each USC player participated during the Stanford game and what it may mean going forward.

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:

OFFENSE

Play shortage

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.

Finding touches

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.”

Not needed

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.”

Splitsies

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.

Three-wide

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

DEFENSE

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:

First start

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.

Notable DNPs

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.

Jumbo attack

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.”

Adoree’ sub

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?

Goal line

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.

Goodbye redshirt

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.

BREAKDOWN

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
1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q Total
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

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