Balanced offense powers USC's turnaround
After they started the month of October with consecutive losses against Washington and Notre Dame, USC was able to bounce back. They first beat then-undefeated Utah and further went on to Berkeley to beat a good Cal team. What’s behind the sudden turnaround?
It all started with the offense and the pass-run balance. Quarterback Cody Kessler dropped back to pass 51 times against Notre Dame and the Trojans ran the ball only 25 times. Against Utah there were 32 dropbacks and 37 running plays, while at Cal Kessler dropped back to pass only 27 times compared to the 40 run plays.
While Kessler’s role seemingly decreased in the two wins due to the shift in the balance, he played a crucial role in both victories by taking really good care of the football. Against Utah he completed 80.8 percent of his aimed passes and he was especially accurate within 10 yards. On Saturday he was able to top this performance against the Golden Bears as he completed 81.8 percent of his throws. Overall in the two wins Kessler completed 31 of his 32 passes within 10 yards.
Obviously with putting a bigger emphasis on the short passing game, the Trojans needed playmakers to step up either to turn these short completions into big gains or to break off big runs. Against Utah it was JuJu Smith-Schuster who caught eight of his 11 targets for 143 yards of which 87 came after the catch. Smith-Schuster is currently our third-highest graded wide receiver in the Power-5 conferences and is second behind only Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant with 442 yards after catch. His ability to turn short passes into big gains decreases the pressure on Kessler to go deep with the football.
While Smith-Schuster had a quieter game against California, USC still managed to gain 100 of their 220 passing yards after the catch. In addition, the Trojans got some big boost from their running backs as Ronald Jones II forced two missed tackles on ten carries and had two runs go for more than 15 yards.
As the past two weeks have shown, the Trojans’ offense does not need big plays from its quarterback when their other playmakers step up. If the offense can continue to complement an improving defense, USC will be a very tough opponent to face in the month of November.