This post initiates the countdown to Fayetteville. Today we're talking about USC's offense. I only have a few brief points.
A lot of what happened in Knoxville was a matter of us taking what the Vols gave us. The Vols were committed, first and foremost, to stopping the downfield passing game. They kept a safety in a deep zone on most plays, primarily to make sure that Alshon Jeffery, who they reasonably saw as our primary playmaker, didn't break open for a big play. In the first half, we tried to throw downfield, and we couldn't get much going, both because of the deep zone and our line's inability to protect Connor Shaw. In the second half, we began trying to move the ball through the zone read. With lots of room in the middle of the field to run the ball and the offensive line actually getting a nice push, Shaw and Brandon Wilds teamed up on a long drive featuring one of the nicest strings of rushing gains that we've had all season. Although we didn't put up any more points after Shaw's rushing TD, the duo continued to run the ball fairly well for the rest of the game. Kenny Miles even got in on the action with a couple of decent runs, although it seemed clear that Wilds is the better back.
Whether or not Arkansas will come out in a defensive scheme that is favorable towards running the ball like that is unclear. The perception is probably still there that we can't run the ball without Marcus Lattimore, so it wouldn't surprise me if they do, and if that's the case, I hope the coaching staff doesn't take an entire half to move to a zone-read heavy approach. If the Hogs come out stacking the box, though, the most important thing is that we don't go back to trying to pass the ball out of the I. This team has been more effective out of the shotgun, spread formations. That's probably even more true now, as the line had a lot of difficulty pass blocking for Shaw last weekend. We simply don't appear to have the personnel on the line to allow for five- and seven-step drops and deep routes. What we can do is run zone read when the box isn't stacked and run short spread and screen routes, perhaps with a handful of fades to Jeffery thrown in, when it is. Vanderbilt had a lot of success with both against the Hogs, and with more talented offensive personnel, the potential is there to see dramatic offensive improvement if our coaches take what the Hogs give us and play to our strengths.