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.