Couple of quick notes to go with the USC-Alabama Kickoff Classic participation breakdown chart:
- Players that were injured at the end of last season that returned to the field: Cameron Smith, Matt Lopes, Toa Lobendahn, John Houston Jr., Issac Whitney.
- Players that were out with injuries: Jamel Cook, John Plattenburg, Vavae Malepeai.
- Players that were injured and did not finish the Kickoff Classic: Chuma Edoga, Noah Jefferson.
- Players that were suspended: Isaiah Langley, Osa Masina, Don Hill.
- Players that ejected from the game: Jabari Ruffin.
- Players that made their USC career debuts: Jack Jones, Michael Pittman, John Houston Jr., Sam Darnold, Ykili Ross, Chris Tilbey, Wyatt Schmidt, Jordan Iosefa, Daniel Imatorbhebhe, Christian Rector, Connor Murphy, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, Josh Fatu.
- USC used 60 players in the game with snap counts varying from Uchenna Nwosu and Zach Banner's 76 snaps each to Jacob Daniel’s single snap filling in for Stevie Tu’ikolovatu when Tu’ikolovatu’s helmet came off and he was forced to leave the field.
Last season, Adoree' Jackson was the only USC player to eclipse the 1,000-total play benchmark. In the season opener, Jackson was only tied for eighth in total snaps with 65. He only entered the game on offense once, which ended up being a 5-yard loss on sack by an unblocked Jonathan Allen. He returned kickoffs and punts and played every snap on defense until midway through the fourth quarter when he was removed for precautionary reasons with a tight hamstring.
USC used five different cornerbacks in the game and none to cover the slot receiver as the nickel back. Along with starters Jackson and Iman Marshall, Ajene Harris got seven first-team reps. Because Marshall is on the punt coverage team, Harris was twice prepared to start a drive at cornerback to give Marshall a breather only to have a timeout and a penalty provide the break for Marshall. Harris didn’t play on either of those drives, but was on the field for one of Alabama’s three-play scoring drives in the third quarter. He also got the first drive when Jackson was taken out.
Interestingly, Harris wasn’t used on Alabama’s final drive when almost all backups were on the field. The second-team secondary that was used included Jack Jones, Jonathan Lockett, Ykili Ross and Matt Lopes.
Sticking with Starters
Ajene Harris was one of only a handful of non-starters that got into the game before mop-up duty. Rasheem Greene took over for Noah Jefferson after Jefferson injured his shoulder and Malik Dorton subbed in when Clancy Pendergast wanted to use three down lineman, but neither of those is really using a backup for depth.
The only substitutions of backups coming in to give the starters a breather were Harris, Khaliel Rodgers subbing in at nose tackle and Matt Lopes coming on for two plays after an equipment issue for Marvell Tell III. Maybe it was just because USC was playing Alabama or maybe Pendergast is planning to use his depth chart like that of an NFL team and only use backups when someone goes down for some reason. He was heavily reliant on his starters in 2013, but that was chalked up to USC’s depth issues from the sanctions.
The lack of substitutions makes it more difficult to pick out any noticeable trends of what defensive players helped slow Alabama. The notable exception is Jefferson. The sophomore defensive lineman played 21 snaps and the Crimson Tide managed just 53 total yards on those snaps — 2.5 yards per play. Alabama averaged 9.5 yards per play for the other 42 snaps.
While 6.6 yards per play isn’t great, Leon McQuay III has the next best ypp number for a significant contributor.
Impact of Suspensions, Ejection
All four of the players that USC was missing by the end of the game were on the defensive side of the ball with one inside linebacker, two outside linebackers and one cornerback all out. At cornerback, Isaiah Langley may have got the handful of reps that Ajene Harris got, but there wouldn’t have been much difference in the substitution pattern anyways.
At linebacker, Clancy Pendergast didn’t use a single substitution until the final drive. But even then, Uchenna Nwosu and Porter Gustin were still on the field. Gustin played every defensive snap. Don Hill or Jabari Ruffin may have got a couple of snaps at the end of the game, but they wouldn’t have seen any significant action at linebacker. The same goes for Osa Masina since Michael Hutchings and Cam Smith were on the field together for the first 57 defensive plays.
Top Play Counts
Nwosu ended up being the most used defender. He played 76 total snaps thanks to his 20 reps on special teams. Gustin wasn't very far behind. Along with playing every defensive snap, Gustin also was in for six special teams plays for a snap count of 69. He would have played more, but was taken off of the punt coverage and kickoff return teams in the middle of the game. Zach Banner was the most used offensive player, accumulating 76 snaps — 66 on offense and another 10 on special teams where he is one of the team’s “Bomb Squad” field goal/PAT blockers.
Two players that were subbed in and out still finished in the top eight for total play count. Damien Mama split playing time at left guard, but participated in 70 total plays after amassing the most special teams reps (31). Leon McQuay III was on and off the field when USC switched in and out of its nickel package, playing 38 defensive plays. He added another 28 on special teams.
As could be expected, graduate transfer defensive lineman Stevie Tu'ikolovatu played the most of any newcomer with 48 defensive snaps. Behind him, freshmen Michael Pittman led Jack Jones and Jordan Iosefa by one snap for the most plays participated in by a true freshman.
On the offensive side of the ball, USC used subs more frequently, but players were given entire series at their position unless their was a long, sustained drive, which happened only once. Junior college transfer wide receivers De’Quan Hampton and Isaac Whitney were the first receivers off the bench on the outside with Jalen Greene also getting one rep in the second quarter and the final two drives of the game. In the slot position, Deontay Burnett came off the bench and ended up playing the exact number of offensive snaps as starter Steven Mitchell Jr., but only eight of his 31 snaps came in the first half while eight of Mitchell’s snaps came in the second half.
JD Leads Reps, Ced Leads Production
At the running back position, Justin Davis saw the bulk of the action, playing 36 snaps to Ronald Jones II’s 22. Aca’Cedric Ware also participated in eight snaps, getting carries on six of those. Despite Jones’ 46-yard run, Ware had the best yards per play of the group at 3.8.
The overall ypp numbers are not very good sitting at 3.2 for the team. The two players that were in when USC averaged more than five yards per play were Hampton at 5.2 ypp on 15 plays and Tyler Petite’s 7.1 ypp on eight plays. It helps that Petite was in for RoJo’s long run.
Mama Wins Left Guard Battle?
The one position that was still being battled for in this game was the left guard spot. Chris Brown earned the start and rotated with Damien Mama for the first half. Brown actually got one more series than Mama — five to four —but Mama was in for four more snaps. The first half back-and-forth trial gave way to Mama taking over the job in the second half. He played the first five drives before USC went with primarily backups in the middle of the fourth quarter.
No Rest for the Weary?
USC’s offensive tackles struggled with Alabama’s edge rushers throughout the game. But instead of Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler being able to lick their wounds while some younger guys got some playing time at the end of the game, those two guys were kept in for the final two drives. Maybe they just wanted them to regain some confidence against Alabama’s backups? Regardless, it seems ill-advised to keep Wheeler in during garbage time since he has been battling a plantar fasciitis injury.
Spread ‘Em Out
USC did not use a fullback on a single play. Only once did they go with the classic two-back, one-tight, two-receiver set and that wasn’t an I-formation or Pro-Set formation. That was a two-running back look out of the shotgun.
The Trojans did use two tight ends on six plays. Interestingly, two of those plays involved USC lining up with one tight end on the line and Daniel Imatorbhebhe split out wide along with two receivers and a running back. It’s possible, USC was trying to get Alabama to go to a bigger lineup and then use Imatorbhebhe’s athleticism in a one-on-one matchup. It was something they did not use at all last year. They also unveiled a three-receiver, two-tight formation on the one play that Adoree’ Jackson was on offense. It didn’t end well.
USC also went without a tight end for nine plays. Six of those were the Aca'Cedric Ware three-receiver, two-back set that the Trojans broke out for this game. Three times, they used a four-wide set without a tight end and once they went five-wide with a tight end. Twice they went empty backfield with the running back spread out wide, but the tight end still on the line to block.
- Three receivers, one tight end, one running back: 31 plays, 147 yards (4.7 ypp)
- Three receivers, one tight end split out, one running back: 15 plays, 32 yards, (2.1 ypp)
- Three receivers, two running backs: 7 plays, 25 yards (3.6 ypp)
- Two receivers, two tight ends, one running back: 3 plays, 5 yards (1.7 ypp)
- Four receivers, one running back: 3 plays, 4 yards (1.3 ypp)
- Three receivers, one tight end, one running back split out: 2 plays, 4 yards (2.0 ypp)
- Two receivers, two tight ends (one split out), one running back: 2 plays, 0 yards
- Four receivers, one tight end split out: 1 play, 0 yards
- Two receivers, one tight end, two running backs: 1 play, -1 yard
- Three receivers, two tight ends: 1 play, -5 yard
USC vs. Alabama Participation Chart
|OFF/DEF SNAPS||ST||TOTAL PLAYS|
|1 - Darreus Rogers||19||14||14||47||5||52|
|1 - Jack Jones||6||6||17||23|
|2 - Adoree' Jackson||11||21||18||4||54||11||76|
|4 - Max Browne||21||15||10||3||49||49|
|4 - Chris Hawkins||10||21||18||8||57||57|
|6 - Michael Pittman||1||1||24||25|
|7 - Steven Mitchell Jr.||13||10||8||31||31|
|7 - Marvell Tell III||10||21||16||8||55||12||67|
|8 - Iman Marshall||10||21||15||8||54||19||73|
|9 - JuJu Smith-Schuster||19||14||14||3||50||5||55|
|10 - Jalen Greene||1||10||11||11|
|10 - John Houston Jr.||0||14||14|
|13 - De'Quan Hampton||2||1||4||8||15||15|
|14 - Sam Darnold||6||11||17||17|
|15 - Isaac Whitney||2||6||8||8|
|16 - Dominic Davis||4||4||4|
|18 - Quinton Powell||6||6||8||14|
|19 - Michael Hutchings||10||21||18||8||57||2||59|
|22 - Justin Davis||15||12||6||3||36||2||38|
|22 - Leon McQuay III||7||18||11||2||38||28||66|
|23 - Jonathan Lockett||6||6||6|
|24 - Ajene Harris||3||4||7||16||23|
|25 - Ronald Jones II||5||3||9||5||22||22|
|26 - James Toland IV||1||1||3||4|
|28 - Aca'Cedric Ware||2||1||2||3||8||11||19|
|30 - Ykili Ross||6||6||8||14|
|34 - Olajuwon Tucker||6||6||9||15|
|35 - Cameron Smith||10||21||18||8||57||8||65|
|36 - Chris Tilbey||0||12||12|
|37 - Matt Lopes||2||6||8||8|
|39 - Matt Boermeester||0||5||5|
|40 - Jabari Ruffin||0||9||9|
|42 - Uchenna Nwosu||10||21||13||12||56||20||76|
|44 - Malik Dorton||2||1||15||4||22||1||23|
|45 - Porter Gustin||10||21||18||14||63||6||69|
|46 - Wyatt Schmidt||0||2||2|
|47 - Reuben Peters||0||26||26|
|48 - Taylor McNamara||14||13||11||9||47||23||70|
|50 - Toa Lobendahn||21||15||16||3||55||55|
|51 - Damien Mama||13||7||16||3||39||31||70|
|56 - Jordan Iosefa||0||23||23|
|60 - Viane Talamaivao||21||15||16||3||55||2||57|
|62 - Khaliel Rodgers||2||5||8||15||15|
|68 - Jordan Simmons||11||11||2||13|
|70 - Chuma Edoga||21||9||30||30|
|72 - Chad Wheeler||6||16||14||36||36|
|73 - Zach Banner||21||15||16||14||66||10||76|
|74 - Nico Falah||11||11||2||13|
|77 - Chris Brown||8||8||11||27||2||29|
|80 - Deontay Burnett||3||5||10||13||31||1||32|
|82 - Tyler Petite||4||2||2||8||8|
|88 - Daniel Imatorbhebhe||3||1||4||6||10|
|89 - Christian Rector||0||19||19|
|90 - Connor Murphy||0||10||10|
|91 - Noah Jefferson||10||11||21||21|
|92 - Jacob Daniel||1||1||1|
|92 - Zach Smith||0||14||14|
|94 - Rasheem Green||1||13||16||14||44||44|
|96 - Stevie Tu'ikolovatu||10||17||13||8||48||0||48|
|98 - Josh Fatu||8||8||8|