After a disappointing 0-2 start, USF looks to get its first win of the year when FCS program South Carolina State comes to town.
The Bulldogs are coming into Tampa 2-0, with wins over a preseason FCS top-10 program (Wofford) and a Division II school that went 3-6 last season (Lane College). It’s hard to tell exactly what the Bulls will see from S.C. State, but we can look at their season numbers and some film from their upset of Wofford to learn more about the Bulldogs.
General Game Management
Marino Rule Plus
As stated weekly, having a positive turnover margin and converting third downs are always huge factors in winning games. Last week we added field position to the mix. How do the Bulls and Bulldogs stack up in these areas?
Neither team has been particularly good on third down. Offensively, both teams have fewer than ten third down conversions through two games. Defensively both have given up eleven conversions, with SC State defending one more third down than USF.
There is a ten yard difference in average starting field position, with USF starting on their own 25 and S.C. State starting at their own 35 yard line. That discrepancy is some small part explained by the third factor in the Marino Rule Plus, turnovers.
Through two games, USF remains -2 in turnover margin. This number still lingers from game one against Wisconsin, as the Bulls broke even in turnovers with Georgia Tech (2-2). This number is currently tied for 100th nationally.
On the other side, South Carolina State has a +6 turnover margin. This number is tied for second nationally in the FCS. Turnovers were a large part of their upset against Wofford. The Bulldogs intercepted four Wofford passes on their way to victory.
Another general key to the game will be penalties. USF has been flagged 18 times in the first two games. S.C. State has also had problems with penalties, having 13 called on them thus far.
S.C. State Offense
South Carolina State runs a no-huddle offense featuring 10 (1 back and 0 tight ends), 11 (1 back and 1 tight end), and 12 (1 back and 2 tight ends) personnel. They don’t seem to run at a crazy fast tempo, but they will get lined up early so their coaches can see the defense and call a good play.
Their offensive coordinator labels himself as a run-and-shoot coach. The run and shoot is a pass first offense that is predicated on wide receivers reading coverages and adjusting their routes on the fly. The traditional run and shoot is also almost entirely 10 personnel. Think Hawaii.
Against Wofford, S.C. State threw the ball 27 times and ran the ball 28 times (somewhat inflated by trying to run clock with a big lead). As we stated above, they also used various personnel groupings, and most of the time they were in 11 personnel. Based on this information it would be safe to say that S.C. State isn’t running the full-fledged, traditional run and shoot. Still there are some run-and-shoot elements in the offense that are worth examining.
One thing the Bulldogs did early and often was taking shots down the field. On several second-and-longs, a down where many coaches are trying to get back into third-and-manageable, S.C. State ran all vertical routes and let it fly. On one memorable sequence, the Bulldogs took a shot on second-and-ten and the ball fell incomplete. So, what did they do on third-and-ten? A screen? A draw? A route combination right at the first down marker? Nope, they threw it deep again. The pass fell incomplete and they had to punt. Even though it didn’t always work out, S.C. State remained aggressive most the game. Even when trying to run out the clock, they threw a smoke screen out to a receiver instead of just handing it to a running back.
If they are running a modified version of the run and shoot, that could allow them to stay aggressive while also mitigating some risk. One staple of the run-and-shoot is converting routes based on coverage. Let’s look at, what I believe to be, an example from game one.
In the second quarter, S.C. State has the ball on their own 40 yard line. They come out with 10 personnel and in a Trips Open formation. Having been burned by the deep ball previously, Wofford is playing off coverage.
Based on other plays in the game, and the OC’s self-labeled run-and-shoot moniker, I believe that the receiver will have the option to run a vertical or a hitch. If the defender bails, run a five-to-six yard hitch. If the corner is playing up, or not bailing, run a go.
At the snap, the defensive backs bail. The receiver all hitch up at five to six yards. You can see the cushion that the receivers have even after the ball has been thrown. The Bulldogs complete this pass and move the chains for a first down.
Baylor also ran a modified version of the run-and-shoot. One particular S.C. State play reminded me of something I’d seen Baylor do when they really had their offense rolling. Baylor used to run a concept they called “Deep Choice”. Baylor wanted to attack the defense down the field, and a safe, effective way to do that was deep choice. In this concept, one particular receiver is tagged and that’s who the QB will be looking for exclusively. That receiver, based on where he is lined up, has a variety of options to choose from down the field.
(For a great, in-depth look at Deep Choice read here)
S.C. State comes back, after converting a first down, and calls what looks like a version of deep choice. They come out in 11 personnel with two receivers on the right and a wing tight end and receiver on the left. Wofford is playing the corners off and one-high deep safety.
The outside receivers run verticals, and the defender over the slot is playing outside leverage. With outside leverage and a deep middle safety, the bender coming across the field would be the best choice for the slot receiver.
Post snap the outside linebacker to the two receiver side blitzes. The rolled down safety maintains outside leverage and the slot bends into a huge open window.
The QB makes a great throw and allows the slot to catch the ball on the run. He takes the ball all the way down to the one yard line and S.C. State would score plays later to take a 14-3 lead.
One other interesting wrinkle that the Bulldogs used in game one was putting their formations into the boundary. When a team is on the hash, there is wide side of the field (field) and short side of the field (boundary). Typically teams will put their strength, especially when it’s dictated by wide receivers, to the field. One thing offenses have done in recent years to stress defenses is starting to put the strength of their formation into the boundary. If a defense doesn’t follow suit, the offense will have a numbers advantage. If the defense does adjust, the offense may have a lot of space for one player. S.C. State used this concept on their first drive of the season.
The Bulldogs come out in 11 personnel with two receivers and a wing tight end into the boundary and a single receiver to the field.
The lone receiver is outside the opposite hash and is going to run a skinny post. Having the formation into the boundary gets the lone receiver to the field more room between himself and the safety. He will basically be one-on-one with the corner and have a lot of room to operate.
Post-snap, the receiver wins inside leverage with a good route. The safety is racing to get back into the play, but there is too much ground to cover. The receivers to the boundary are holding their respective defensive backs.
The safety is unable to get back underneath the post route. The quarterback throws the ball up and allows his 6’5” receiver to go up and get it. The Bulldogs would score their opening touchdown a few plays later.
S.C. State Defense
Defensively, S.C. State is an even front team. By personnel they would appear to be a base 4-3 defense, but the outside backer that they often apex out to the two receiver side is built and moves a little like a defensive back. They like to use this outside backer as a wide overhang player. Using wide overhangs is something that has really come into vogue with more and more schools going to a Tite front. S.C. State used a wide overhang against Wofford to both take away easy uncovered throws while also being able to help in the perimeter run game. There is a good example of this wide overhang from early in game one.
Wofford has the ball on their own 41 yard line in the first quarter. They are in 11 personnel with two receivers on the right and a wing tight end and receiver to the left. S.C. State comes out in what functionally looks like an under front, but they set the overhang wide.
Wofford is going to run jet sweep to the inside receiver up top. He will motion into the backfield, receive the handoff and follow his blockers. Ideally, the offense want to reach the edge player with the tight end and allow the back to get outside of that block. This would allow him to lead the jet sweep runner into the alley right outside the hash. With the overhang being so wide, the tight ends block will be much tougher to execute.
At the snap, the overhang defender recognizes the motion and flies up-field. It will be difficult for the tight end to reach the overhang now.
The tight end is unable to reach the overhang and instead has to almost kick him out. The back leading the way is forced inside and the ball carrier is forced to cut up inside behind his lead blocker. The wide overhang has pushed the ball back inside to all his help.
Another thing that jumps out on the film is the play of the safeties. Against Wofford, S.C. State often came out in two-high safety looks. Sometimes they would stay two-high post-snap, but other times one of the safeties would spin down with the other rotating to the deep middle to play cover 3 or cover 1.
When playing two-high safeties, the Bulldogs appear to be playing some variation of quarters coverage. This allows the safeties to play run more aggressively. In many quarters schemes, the safety will be reading the No. 2 receiver to his side. If the safety reads run, he can get in the play allowing the defense to basically play with 9 players in the box. When the S.C. State safeties read run, they fly upfield.
In the first quarter of game one, Wofford has driven the ball into the red zone. They will come out in 20 (two backs and 0 tight ends) personnel with two receivers to the field, one to the boundary, and a split backfield. S.C. State come out in a two-high safety look.
Wofford is going to run stretch into the boundary. The number two receiver to the boundary is actually the running back that is lined up to that side. That is who the safety will be reading.
When the safety sees the back go to lead block into the alley, he flies up to fill. A counter that offenses have added to this scheme is to run play-action or a stretch/glance RPO. Either way, the safety filling for the run leaves open a big void behind him. You can also see the safety to the field eyeing the No. 2 receiver to his side.
With the safety’s aggressiveness, you can see the hole that is created on the back end.
Wofford saw the aggressiveness of the safeties but was unable to take advantage. Wofford has traditionally been a triple-option team, like Army or Navy. For whatever reason, be it a large scheme change or game plan, Wofford didn’t run much triple option. Unfortunately for them, they still have triple-option quarterbacks that struggle to throw.
Later on the same drive as the previous play, Wofford runs a play action pass. They come out in 12 (1 back and two tight ends) with two receivers to the field and an inline and wing tight end on the left. Wofford faked the same stretch play they ran previously. The safety to the boundary side will be held by the fake. To the two receiver side Wofford will fake a bubble screen with the outside receiver coming in to crack the safety. The safety, with eyes on Np. 2, will take off towards the bubble. The corner will also hesitate a little. The Wofford receiver will not be crack blocking the safety, but instead running up the open seam.
The boundary safety is held by the fake. The field safety flies out to the bubble, leaving a ton of space for the wideout. A good throw on a line is an easy touchdown.
Fortunately for S.C. State, the quarterback puts a lot of air under the ball and basically throws it out the back of the endzone. I would imagine the USF quarterbacks will be sharper.
S.C. State is a boom or bust team. They have some really talented players on offense, especially at quarterback and receiver. When they were able to generate explosive plays with those receivers, they move the ball well and scored points. When they didn’t connect on those deep shots, their offense struggled against Wofford. They may take a similar tact against USF. They don’t have anything to lose.
They also were able to generate four Wofford interceptions. Why Wofford threw the ball so much, I have no idea. Regardless, S.C. State took advantage of short fields and scored points.
If USF plays a relatively clean game, and the weather cooperates, they should win this game easily. South Carolina State is a well-coached team with some talent. However, they are nowhere near as talented as USF. Hopefully, the Bulls can start fast, finish strong, and grab some momentum going into the bye week.