Virginia Power Runs vs. USC Defense

USC did not impress much in its home opener versus the University of Virginia. The offense struggled most of the evening and the defense played well only in spurts. I suspect that with a new coach in Mike London at Virginia it was difficult to prepare for the style of offense and defense that the Cavaliers would play. It was significantly different from the squad that USC faced in 2008 in all dimensions. Lingering thoughts from the easy 52-8 victory in 2008 may have been in some players minds as well.

Regardless of the outcome one thing I did take out of the game was that the USC defense once again struggled defending the basic power game. Stanford ran the off tackle power play at will again and again versus USC last season. Oregon ran their inside zone game and gashed the Trojan defense with the counter play as well.

The Virginia rush attack kept USC off balance most of the evening and found more success than I had expected. Virginia ran some one back sets that were in the standard inside zone family of plays. Those plays did not generate much success from what I saw. The Cavaliers found much more success with their version of the off tackle power play, the counter play, and a version of USC’s old student body right with both guards and the full back pulling. (Click here for the video of the plays.)

There are multiple versions of each of these plays and power and counter can look virtually identical when using the back side guard and fullback as the lead blockers. Virginia seemed to run the power play to the strong side and the counter play weak. Stanford runs power from under center while Oregon runs the counter play out of the shotgun. I put the dozen or so Virginia power family of plays into a 3 minute video for review for interested parties in the video link up above. Stopping these types of plays will be a major key point for USC heading into the Oregon and Stanford games. On a positive note the USC defense did defend the power plays better as the game wore on. Most of the damage was done in the first 2 quarters. Several were shut down in the 3rd quarter and Virginia did not run any in the 4th quarter late in the game.

Below here is a graphic of the general power play that Steve Sarkisian detailed in his 2009 Nike Coach of the year clinic. The blocking schemes change depending up on the front faced (over or under) so don’t get too caught up in the details. Both power and counter feature a backside pulling guard and one more pulling player either the full back or a H-back. The power plays seeks to double team the 5 technique DE versus the under front which is normally what USC aligns in versus an I formation in 21 personnel. In addition to the double team block the guard and fullback lead up on the linebacker and the strong safety. Here is one example versus and under front:

Note: UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian details some points about the play in this file (click here for a pdf of the explanation).

Here is an example using the sideline view of one of the Virginia power plays that gained considerable yardage in images. LB’s Kennard and Morgan were slow to read the play and it bounced all the way outside into the D gap.

The University of Minnesota will also probably test USC with their version of the power play which is an A gap power play and not just an off tackle C or D gap power play. Here is a diagram of their favorite run play versus an over front from Coach Tim Brewster’s 2009 Nike Coach of the Year Clinic. Click here for several pages of explanation in a pdf file.

5 comments to Virginia Power Runs vs. USC Defense

  • Wade

    As always, an enjoyable and informative article. I was wondering if you could give any insight on how the power run play should be “correctly” defended from USC’s base defense. Thanks.

  • Chris

    It seems the cornerback should also be involved in keeping the play inside. Do you agree? On the frame by frame example, Nikell Robey (37) is caught inside. I believe that happened to him on at least one other play, if not more. Great site!

  • Nick

    In USC’s scheme, the corner on the playside doesn’t have run responsibility; he has pass. Even versus a run, he plays pass first for sake of a trick play. The force has to come from the Sam backer- in this case, the player being “kicked out” by the fullback. However, in the play above the Sam backer fails to keep outside containment (D Gap). Under Pete Carroll, the Sam would have “spilled” a pulling guard or kick out block from a fullback (to spill means to “wrong arm,” which means to essentially cut out the blocker at the knees with your outside shoulder. Although Monte and Pete run the same basic scheme, there are some small deviations. Perhaps this is one of them, because the Sam did not spill here. This would bump the play outside and allow the backers to scrape hard off the edge. However, the backers here are slow to see the play develop- even though both the guard and fullback show power. Because the backers are slow and fail to attack the power head on and down hill, and because the Sam loses contain, you end up with a back on corner matchup.

    In short, USC’s linebacking core looked poor on this play, and they played slow.


    Thanks for the comments. I agree the LB play was pretty shoddy this game and has been for some time now for USC dating back to last year. Normally USC is in an under front with cover 1 or cover 3 versus and I formation teams on run downs…I don’t think they dared to play Over front / Cover 2 schemes on run downs in this game. However since I don’t know the exact call the DC made I refrained from guessing. So I don’t know if the SLB was trying to wrong arm the play or not on some of the plays in the video. The question is who was the force player on some of the calls above (especially the one that bounced outside). One odd thing was that the normal SLB for USC #17 Morgan was aligning weak on a lot of these plays and into the field. Not sure who they actually had lined up strong due to the viewing angle. Regardless the LB reactions and lateral flow on a lot of these left a lot to be desired…we’ll see how they do versus Minnesota next week.


  • […] from previous teams to beat USC and tried to run right at the Trojan defense. Last week as noted Virginia had considerable success running various power plays in their loss to USC. The strategy worked reasonably well for keeping them in the game. Last season […]