Joe Moore Award Big Ugly Spotlight Game Review – Week 3: USC vs Texas
Perhaps the greatest college football game in the history of the sport was played in 2006 between the University of Texas and Southern California for the National Championship. Two teams chock full of future NFL talent and two Heisman Trophy winners battling for a coveted spot in football immortality.
Flash forward to 2017. Neither program has reached the heights they attained since then, with Texas reaching the National Championship in 2010, and USC dealing with NCAA discipline and other sanctions since the early 2010’s.
To provide perspective on the matchup, let’s take a look at each team from a scheme and personnel perspective up front:
Tom Herman brought his spread, zone heavy offensive run scheme to Austin. The Longhorns will look to spread you out and run where you’re not. A staple of this is his especially wide splits for slot receivers, which forces the defense to dedicate a linebacker or defensive back to leave the “box” to cover, thus lightening the box for the run game. Pass protection is also very “spread” utilizing full line slides with the back cutting on the edge, and moving the pocket to take advantage of their athleticism at quarterback.
LT Connor Williams – JR 6’5” 320
LG Patrick Vahe – JR 6’3” 320
C Jake Shackelford – SO 6’2” 296
RG Jake McMillon – RS JR 6’3” 300
RT Tristan Nickelson – RS SO 6’8” 322
Connor Williams is the stud of this group, and has already generated some potential buzz to be a first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft were he to declare. He’s an impressive athlete, and the prototypical left tackle.
How They Can Succeed
Texas will need to utilize its tempo-based offense to wear down the Trojans defense. If Texas can develop a run game early, they can force USC to crowd the box, which will open up some opportunities in the passing game.
The Trojans, under offensive coordinator Tee Martin, use mostly 10 and 11 personnel, using the tight end to force the defense to dictate a strength call. USC is almost solely a zone blocking scheme, and their smaller and athletic offensive line is able to use their lateral agility and quickness to stress the defense horizontally, allowing their running backs to make them right. In pass protection they’re pretty basic. Full line slides and half-line slides in 5 and 6 man protection.
LT Toa Lobendahn – RS JR 6’2” 295
LG Chris Brown – RS JR 6’5” 300
C Nico Falah – RS SR 6’4” 312
RG Viane Talamaivao – 6’2” 315
RT Chuma Edoga – 6’3” 290
Having endured four offensive line coaches in five years, the Trojan offensive line has multiple body sizes and types. Toa Lobendahn is the best of the bunch, having played every position on the line other than right tackle. Brown is their most effective puller, and Edoga is a powerful run blocker, as his arm length offsets his shorter stature.
How They Can Succeed
To combat the Longhorns’ 3-3-5 base defense, being able to run the ball effectively in the “box” is essential to force Texas to bring defenders into the box, in order to make the Longhorns thinner against the pass. Texas’ defensive front, due to scheme, isn’t made to face interior run teams.
Good vs Good
Connor Williams vs Porter Gustin. Williams and Gustin are both former blue chip recruits and have succeeded thus far in their collegiate careers. Gustin is the best pass rusher on the Trojans, and Williams is the best lineman, and maybe player, on the Longhorns roster. If Texas has any chance to pull this upset, Williams will need to negate the pressure on the blindside by the Trojans.
The first sellout for USC since 2013 in the Coliseum lived up to the hype, as Texas and USC played in a knock down, drag out classic. While both offenses generally struggled for the first half, three touchdowns (one INT return) in the final 3 minutes set the stage for an exciting second half.
Texas appeared to seal the win with only :46 seconds left but USC would come back to kick a FG as time expired in regulation to tie the game and send it into overtime. Both teams struggled to run the ball the whole game, and overtime became a showdown of the two quarterbacks, as they both faced constant pressure throughout the night.
USC would prevail in the 2nd overtime, following a fumble by Texas’ freshman QB inside the 5, followed by another field goal, this time putting the Trojans up for good, 27-24.
Plays of Note
About halfway through the 3rd quarter, the Trojans nearly ended the game early. USC went for it on 4th and 3, and Texas sent six. USC keeps in six to protect Sam Darnold, and they do an excellent job sorting through the pressure to get everyone blocked up. If the receiver makes the defender miss, USC likely goes up a touchdown or more, and the game is likely different.
Early in the 4th quarter, Texas is pinned near their own goalline. USC sends a zone blitz, and the Texas offensive line does a nice job of not allowing the Trojans to knock their freshman quarterback off of his spot. The Longhorns are able to get some breathing room by connecting on this throw, and the Longhorns’ line, while they struggled to creates any lanes in the run game, protected good enough to keep them in the game.
While Texas would lose the game, they made plays down the stretch to nearly win the game on the road. The Texas line, again, gives their freshman quarterback enough time to launch a deep ball down the left side. The Texas line wasn’t overly spectacular throughout the game, but ultimately was good enough to help give the team a chance at a win in the final minute on the road against the #4 team in the country.
In summary, neither team’s offensive line performed particularly well. Both teams struggled to run the ball throughout the game, but fought as effectively as they could in pass protection. Ultimately, both teams’ units gave their team’s chances to win, but Texas’ late game turnover was the final nail in the coffin.