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Tape Review: USC-Oregon game notes

Notes on USC players and scheme after re-watching Saturday's game against Oregon.

USC/Oregon Game Notes

- Ajene Harris in for Pie Young on kickoff coverage for first two kickoffs, then Young for two kickoffs and then back to Harris for the rest of the game.

- USC isn’t always good at disguising its blitzes, but the defense does a great job on third-and-long the first drive. Cameron Smith comes from the weak side on a zone blitz as Uchenna Nwosu comes upfield outside on the opposite side, but takes the running back in the flats. Oregon’s center shifts to the left, but the left guard is already occupied by Rasheem Green, giving Smith a free lane with Porter Gustin attacking hard outside on the same side. Smith comes screaming in, but takes too much of an arc and can’t pull Herbert down when the Oregon quarterback steps up in the pocket. If Smith had aimed for a spot in front of Herbert, Gustin is coming from the outside and there would have been nowhere for Herbert to avoid the rush. Instead, Smith’s diving attempt comes up short and Herbert is able to run for a +3 yard run rather than a 6-8 yard loss. The play overall was successful because it forced a punt, but could have been an early impact, momentum play if USC could have got the sack.

- Oregon cornerback Tyree Robinson likely saved a touchdown on Oregon’s first punt. USC had almost everyone on the Ducks’ punt unit fooled with its “rat return” where the opposition all “chases the cheese,” which is Adoree’ Jackson on the opposite side of the field. Only Robinson and the punter knew where the ball was actually booted and ran the right direction before Michael Pittman caught the ball. Robinson is being blocked by James Toland IV but moves perpendicular down the 45-yard line, cutting off the outside from Pittman. Robinson ends up being blocked out of bounds and never getting close to the tackle, but by stringing the play out and forcing Pittman back inside, two Ducks were able to catch up and make a tackle to keep a 28-yard return from being even bigger and possibly even a 63-yard touchdown.

- Sam Darnold gets bailed out on USC’s first offensive play by a pass interference call on a ball that should have been intercepted by Brenden Schooler regardless of what the cornerback did on the play. After a play fake, Darnold stares down the left side of the field where he tries to hit JuJu Smith-Schuster on a double move, but Schooler reads it all the way and cuts across to nearly catch an underthrown ball.

- The broadcasters are absolutely right about how choppy the gameplay is early because of the officials’ whistles.

- Oregon is all over USC’s first two official offensive plays. The linebackers immediately go wide to meet Ronald Jones II for a one-yard loss on a outside zone run. Then a pair of Ducks defensive linemen take one step past the line of scrimmage and immediately jettison their pass rush attempts to get out wide where the Trojans are trying to run a jailbreak screen to Deontay Burnett. Darnold wisely recognizes the screen isn’t there and takes off running the other direction for a short gain.

- Deontay Burnett drops the pass on his first target. A reception may have been a third down conversion. Burnett will make up for it the rest of the first half with his seven catches for 87 yards.

- Anyone thinking Stevie Tu'ikolovatu wouldn’t be missed in the middle of the defensive line should watch how he blows up potential running plays. When Oregon tries to pull its right guard on the first play of their second drive, Tu’ikolovatu bursts off the line into the center, pushing him back into the guard’s path, effectively blowing up the play before it can get started. Porter Gustin dips inside of the attempted reach block by the tight end, pushes aside the guard that is late pulling and makes USC’s first of seven tackles for loss on the day.

- Possibly the most underrated part of Adoree' Jackson's stellar game is his tackling ability. He may only be 5-foot-11, 185, but he is one of the most sure tacklers around, even against a big back like Royce Freeman.

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- USC builds off the jet sweeps they ran when under center last week against Cal with a play action that has Tyler Petite wide open, but Sam Darnold overshoots him. Personally, I think I would have run the jet sweep once before using the play action. If they had run the sweep on this particular play, Burnett gets at least five yards and has one safety and one linebacker at most to beat.

- JuJu Smith-Schuster does a great job breaking off his route and presenting himself as a target for Sam Darnold on a scramble drill play on USC’s second drive. Smith-Schuster appears to be running an inside-breaking route — either a post or deep curl — but when he sees Darnold step up in the pocket and spring to the right, Smith-Schuster also takes off toward the right and catches a throw coming back to the ball and running toward the sideline. Even if Darnold misses and throws it too far in front, the defense isn’t going to have a shot at the ball. Instead a good throw gets nine yards and sets up a second-and-1.

- Nico Falah and Viane Talamaivao do a nice job of each turning their blocks outward to give Ronald Jones II a nice lane between the two on his 23-yard touchdown run. Damien Mama gets tripped up and can’t get to the linebacker, but Jones breaks his arm tackle and one from the safety, who over pursued upfield, giving Jones nothing but daylight when he broke through. And yes, Chad Wheeler did appear to get away with a hold.

- Like Cal, Oregon misses an easy touchdown early when Darren Carrington drops a deep ball. Blame definitely falls on Carrington, but on a deep crossing route, if Justin Herbert throws the ball more in front of the route rather than vertical up the seam where Carrington has to bend his route and catch it over his shoulder, it would have been an easy catch. Jake Browning has been very accurate with the deep ball this season, so don’t expect that to come from Washington as well.

- Adoree’ Jackson is the ultimate decoy on offense. Wherever he goes on the field, the defense follows, leaving holes open behind him. He runs a streak, taking the corner and safety out of a play, allowing Taylor McNamara to be open while running a deep crossing route for a 27-yard gain.

- Great call for the backside tight end screen at the 9-yard line. If Chad Wheeler gets any kind of push on Troy Dye, Petite walks in for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Dye runs right by Wheeler and is able to stop the play for a short three-yard gain rather than a score.

- Oregon has the exact right defense called on first-and-goal. They shoot the gaps, beating both guards and a pulling Wheeler has no chance to get across the face of the defensive linemen. Zach Banner has a strong block initially but gets away with some grabbing as Ronald Jones II turns disaster into delight, bouncing off a would-be tackler in the backfield, spinning away and then rushing to the right corner of the end zone for his second score of the day.

- Great open field tackle by Leon McQuay III to come up, avoid a Tony Brooks-James stiff arm and make a stop at the line on a third-and-3.

- When you have the pylon cam, why would you ever need to review whether the ball crossed the goal line on a punt spot? It should take one glance from the replay official to determine they don’t need to look at it further. Refs must have an air-time quota to meet.

- Chris Brown and Chuma Edoga check in with USC backed up to its own goal line. Brown gets beat bad on the second down play and Jalen Jelks makes the tackle at the 1-yard line. It is the third straight play that USC has run under center and third straight play that Oregon has hit the back at or behind the line of scrimmage.

- Uchenna Nwosu has become quite a dynamic player on the edge for USC. Trying to block him with a tight end just doesn’t work anymore. He fights off a Pharaoh Brown block to make a stop five yards behind the line of scrimmage.

- When he takes off running, Sam Darnold has become much better at knowing when he needs to dive head first for yardage versus when he has already picked up a first down and can go into a slide. Both of which are better than taking on direct hits unless you are trying to break a tackle to fight for a first down conversion.

- After a sack by Rasheem Green, pressure by Porter Gustin causes a late, across-the-body, on-the-run throw by Justin Herbert that Marvell Tell III nearly intercepts. Gustin has been so close on probably six or seven potential sacks this season.

- Sam Darnold makes a wrong read on a read option in the two-minute drill, handing the ball off to Ronald Jones against an overloaded line that is in the backfield and hits Jones for a 5-yard loss. Darnold gets at least a positive gain, if he keeps it.

- USC slides protection to the right, but Oregon runs a zone blitz, leaving a free rusher coming on the left. Darnold recognizes and quickly delivers the ball for an 8-yard gain on a pass over the middle to Taylor McNamara. The routes weren’t fully developed, but Darnold knew he had to get rid of the ball in a hurry and did so.

- On Ronald Jones II’s 66-yard touchdown, RoJo picks up his teammate. Nico Falah misses his block, but Jones breaks an arm tackle and is off to the races thanks to Zach Banner washing the defensive tackle down the line and Viane Talamaivao doing a nice job of chipping with Banner and then working to the second level to pick up the linebacker. Taylor McNamara with a nice reach and seal block as well. Jones does the rest making safety Brenden Schooler look silly with a little shake and bake move.

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- One of the things that may get overlooked in Iman Marshall's game is the different ways he uses his strength. It’s not just his ability to jam at the line of scrimmage. He makes it really tough for receivers to hold on to catches because of how hard he can chop down on receivers’ arms. He causes Darren Carrington to bobble and drop a pass with a hard chop as he is making the tackle.

- Leon McQuay III gets lucky after getting fooled on a play action. He turns and runs and is in no man’s land, but Justin Herbert's throw is a hair to high for Evan Baylis, who has a 15-yard crossing route with plenty of room in front of him go off his hands.

- USC had been so aggressive in the first half. Oregon finally tries to take advantage of it in the second half with some quick hitters and screens to the outside.

- Great discipline from Porter Gustin on the fourth down batted pass. He stays at home on the play action and then attacks the quarterback. But even if he doesn’t swat the ball down, Chris Hawkins did a nice job trailing the receiver coming across the line of scrimmage and probably would have knocked the throw down as well. The first play on the next drive he does a great job of getting his hands on the offensive lineman and knocking him off balance with a stiff job to the shoulder. He comes off and makes a tackle on the running back for a five-yard loss.

- Concentration level 100 for Daniel Imatorbhebhe on the tipped ball catch while taking a hit.

- Next play goes for 17 yards on the ground. Nico Falah does a good job helping outside and then turning back inside to pick up the linebacker trying to shoot the gap. Falah turns him inside and Ronald Jones II has a big hole to run through. He doesn’t get touched by a defender until eight yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

- Sam Darnold avoids the free rusher and then fires out to Taylor McNamara. Michael Pittman clears the way for McNamara to stroll into the end zone for the 7-yard touchdown.

- When you get teams backed up on third-and-longs, you can do more with your pass rush. On a third-and-13, USC runs a stunt with Porter Gustin and Rasheem Green. Gustin does a good job selling his upfield rush before cutting inside. The guard stays with Green, but he splits between the tackle and guard. The running back does a cut job of cutting Gustin down as he comes around, but with pressure coming from Uchenna Nwosu on the backside, Justin Herbert has nowhere to go. He tries to step up, but Gustin is at his feet and Green has gone past the guard and swallows him up in his arms as Nwosu joins the sack party from the back. 

- When you can make two defenders run into each other, it usually results in a big gain. Ronald Jones II does just that on a screen pass on third-and-13. Oregon defenders have a shot at him 10 yards shy of the first down marker, but Jones jukes one defender and uses the block of Damien Mama sprinting to the outside to cut back inside and get upfield where he’s able to pick up 16 yards.

- Nico Falah again does a really nice job of keeping his head on a swivel while pulling in front of Ronald Jones II. He spots a linebacker trying to shoot the gap, turns him out and then the combination of Michael Pittman on the outside with Chad Wheeler and Taylor McNamara open up a seam at the numbers, allowing RoJo to turn upfield where he picks up 31 yards to set up his one-yard plunge two plays later.

- Josh Fatu has an explosive first step. It isn’t uncommon that he is making contact with an offensive lineman but the time the ball hits the quarterback’s hands on a shotgun snap. Sometimes the rest of the defensive line has yet to even come out of their stance.

- What an effort from Quinton Powell on his sack of Justin Herbert. Tony Brooks-James cuts him just behind the line of scrimmage, but gets only Powell’s right leg. Rather than go down, he does a pirouette on his left leg with his right leg coming around like a roundhouse kick. Powell maintains his balance while doing a full spin, re-orientates himself and then flies after Herbert hitting him from behind for his first sack of the season and the third of his career.

- Jack Jones continues to show that despite his frame, he is fearless when it comes to attempting to tackle ballcarriers. His hit on Charles Nelson on kickoff return even drew an exclamation from former USC special teams maven Soma Vainuku on the sideline.

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- Christian Rector narrowly misses his first career sack as Dakota Prukop avoids his rush, steps up and fires a deep ball for a 35-yard gain. Defensive linemen have to make the most of their opportunities because when you miss a sack that provides that much extra time for receivers to get open and often big plays can result out of what should have been a negative play.

- Connor Murphy tries to do too much on a read option and it goes for a 15-yard touchdown run. Instead of just taking his responsibility of the quarterback keeper, he wants to pursue after the running back going away from him and when he does, Dakota Prukop is able to run right by him. A tackle for loss turns into a touchdown.

- James Toland IV shows nice patience and strength during his eight straight carries to milk the final 5:41 off the clock.

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