Stat to watch: Blocked kicks

From 2006 to 2008, USC outscored its opponents by 15 points per game on average and the Trojans rarely played close games. A few points gained from superior special teams play would likely have not made a major difference in USC’s record.

Beginning in 2009, the Trojans dominance slowed, and they began to play much closer contests. Five of the twelve regular season games were decided by six points or less, and blocking a punt or kick might have had a palpable effect on their record. USC, however, only notched two block kicks and turned in a rather unimpressive performance on special teams.

2006: 4 blocks

2007: 2 blocks

2008: 4 blocks

2009: 2 blocks

2010: 7 blocks

When USC coach Lane Kiffin was hired to replace Pete Carroll in January 2010, he decided to put a major emphasis on special teams and hired guru John Baxter away from Fresno State to serve as associated head coach and special teams coordinator.

In his first season, Baxter’s unit compiled seven blocks, 58 percent of the number it took USC to record in the previous four years. The most concrete example of Baxter’s influence came against Arizona State, when the Trojans won 34-33 after blocking a PAT and returning it for two points.

In 2011, the Trojans have already blocked two kicks in two contests, and both had important consequences. Against Minnesota, USC narrowly escaped 19-17. Although the kick USC blocked was a long, low percentage attempt, it prevented the kicker from sneaking one through the uprights and giving the Golden Gophers a crucial three points.

Most importantly, blocked kicks saved the day against Utah in the first ever Pac-12 football game. The Utes had a chance to send the matchup in to overtime with all of the momentum by making a field goal, but junior left tackle Matt Kalil blocked it with his forearm and sophomore cornerback Torin Harris was able to scoop it up for six to seal the victory.