If you watched USC face-off against Hawaii last night, you learned a valuable lesson about defending the run-and-shoot version of the spread offense. Hawaii lost the game -- because they couldn't stop anything on defense -- but picked apart the USC defense all night. From the get-go, the game was a track meet, and only a brilliant performance by the high-powered USC offense saved them from an embarrassing loss.
I don't fault the defense itself, nor do I think Monte Kiffin's scheme is broken. USC will be fine. The scheme, however, was executed incredibly poorly and Hawaii took advantage. The defensive playcalling and coverage schemes used against the run-and-shoot gave us all a lesson in defending the spread, but not in a good way.
After the jump, what went wrong and what we should hope to avoid tomorrow against Oklahoma State.
The USC defense
Monty Kiffin runs a stock Tampa 2 defense. It's popular at the professional level, but hasn't caught on in college because of the personnel required to run the scheme. It takes NFL-type speed and versatility from all 11 players. A well-executed Tampa 2 is very difficult to pick apart and what we saw last night was not a well executed Tampa 2. It was very poorly executed and ill-suited to take on Hawaii's spread attack.
Pistol? Oh no!
It turns out the Trojans did not know the Warriors would be running the "Pistol" offense - a spread attack in which the running back lines up behind the quarterback - until defensive boss Monte Kiffin saw it on the news Wednesday night.
It doesn't matter that Hawaii lined up in the pistol. In fact, it would've been better if USC just ignored that fact. The scheme Hawaii ran is the same scheme they've run for years. It was still a fast-paced, run-and-shoot spread variant. Just because the running back moved about five feet in the formation is no excuse for the USC defense.
Short routes early
Hawaii used short routes to set up their entire offense early on. Little crossing routes and 10-yard comebacks were the norm early in the game. Hawaii was sending receivers across the middle with drag routes, before breaking to the sidelines and turning upfield. This is important because the Tampa 2 is designed to clog the middle of the field. Hawaii utilized the space in front of the linebackers then made plays in space. Missed tackles by the USC defense obviously didn't help.
Deep seam late
After establishing the short routes, Hawaii waited for USC to make adjustments at half. The USC defense began cheating up, allowing Hawaii to send slot receivers right up the gut for deep passes over the middle. The seam was there for the taking in the second half and Hawaii took advantage. There were multiple occasions in the second half where Hawaii receivers were running free in the deep-middle part of the field.
Draw play 101
When USC brought out six defensive backs and played in dime coverage, Hawaii used the draw play. With only the middle linebacker to beat, running becomes infinitely easier. The offensive line allowed the Trojans to pin their ears back in obvious passing situations, only to burn them with a running back, or quarterback, draw. Again, missed tackles didn't help, but Hawaii was easily able to get past the backers and into space in the USC secondary.
Lack of deception and pressure
It was clear what USC was doing every play. There was little in the way of deception, allowing the quarterback to make easy pre-snap reads and adjust as necessary. The Trojans relied on their front four to create pressure -- and they did at times -- but rarely blitzed to throw of the offenses rhythm. A defense simply cannot allow a run-and-shoot quarterback to drop-back and find holes in the coverage. Whether it takes a 3-, 4-, or 5-count, the quarterback will always find a hole. Hawaii did just that.
In obvious passing situations, USC dropped their backers 10+ yards off the line of scrimmage before the snap. The hole between levels was so blatantly obvious that Hawaii simply checked to a run and gashed them for big gains. The rest of the time, the backers hit their drops right after the snap, covering the deep middle and outside, but leaving the underneath routes open. Again, Hawaii took advantage.
What did we learn
When asked what Hawaii figured out before halftime, head coach Lane Kiffin said "Nothing. They figured out the we hit the guy late, okay?" Fact of the matter is, Hawaii figured out how to pick apart the USC defense running the same run-and-shoot scheme they have for years. Without pressure or deception, the Tampa 2 was a sitting duck against Hawaii's offense. Take note, this was not the way to cover the spread.