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Trojans have problems in trenches

It was a night to forget for the Trojans after going into Boston College and getting outplayed and outcoached by an Eagles team that wasn’t expected to do either.

That’s why they play the games, however, because on any given night this can happen, especially to a USC team that appeared undermanned and underprepared as opposed to the hosts, who came out fired up and ready to play.

The game actually started off well for the Trojans with an early lead after a Cody Kessler to George Farmer touchdown pass, but then there was a dropped pass by Bryce Dixon that surely would have been a score and the Trojans had to settle for a field goal and a 10-0 lead at the start of the second quarter.

The Eagles answered with a touchdown but missed the extra point, and after Kessler hit Javorius Allen with a short pass that he took for a 51-yard touchdown, the score was 17-6 and it looked like the Trojans were well on their way to another big night. From that point on, however, the game belonged to the Eagles, who answered with two touchdowns before half to go into the locker room with a 20-17 lead.

What was puzzling at that point was that Boston College seemed to be controlling both sides of the line of scrimmage, something that wasn’t anticipated coming into the game. Sure, the Eagles had five graduate students on the offensive line, but USC was countering with All-American Leonard Williams and several upperclassmen around him. To see the halftime rushing totals showing Boston College with 197 yards and USC with 24 was truly astounding, and nothing changed in the second half. When all was said and done, the Eagles piled up 452 yards on the ground and the Trojans had 20 (72 actual yards gained but 52 lost).

There is a lot of attention being paid on Sunday to the adjustments, or lack thereof, by the USC coaches. On offense, the run game clearly wasn’t working and the offensive line was allowing a lot of pressure from Boston College, which sacked Kessler five times. Kessler did have 317 yards and four touchdowns on 31-of-41 passing, and it seemed as if the passing game could have done even more if given the chance. Defensively, the Trojans had a lot of issues with maintaining assignments and covering the read-option with Eagles quarterback Tyler Murphy, who ran for 191 yards on 13 carries (14.7 yards per attempt) but threw for only 54 yards.

After the game there were plenty of mea culpas from the coaching staff on down, and this one will stick for an extra week as the Trojans have a bye next Saturday. There is a train of thought that says it would be best to get back on the field to get the bad taste from this game out of their mouths but this is also a USC team that could stand to take a break right now, get a little healthy, and regroup as much as possible before the Oregon State Beavers come to town in two weeks.

Notes from the sidelines

It was the third time in the past four games that Kessler has thrown four touchdowns. … Hayes Pullard sat out the first half and ended the game with five tackles and a pass breakup. His leadership and knowledge of the defense certainly could have been a benefit in the first half to prevent BC from gaining critical momentum. … Gerald Bowman has been playing well lately and led the Trojans with seven tackles, but it’s not usually a good thing when a safety leads your team in tackles.

Extra points

  • When Farmer opened the scoring for the Trojans with an 8-yard catch it was the first touchdown of his USC career.
  • There was another first as well when cornerback Chris Hawkins nabbed his first interception as a Trojan in the second quarter.
  • USC punter Kris Albarado got a full night’s work with 10 punts for 375 yards, including a brilliant effort to get a good kick after an errant snap.

Game plan

To see the Eagles dominate on both sides of the line of scrimmage is not what the Trojans had in mind. The Eagles defense had given up 213 yards to a Pitt runner the previous week and broke a 15-year old BC record for most rushing yards allowed in a game. Naturally, the Trojans figured a big rushing day was in their future, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. It doesn’t help when USC running backs get only 22 carries, but they could have doubled the rushing attempts and it probably wouldn’t have helped. The young Trojans offensive line had too many miscommunications to think things would have been much different. On the defensive side of the ball, a read-option quarterback continued to give the Trojans fits as time after time the Eagles ball carriers seemed to have too many yards before initial contact. It helped BC that they had five graduate students forming a veteran offensive line but it doesn’t begin to explain all that went wrong for the Trojans.

Final thoughts

OK, so much for talk of an undefeated season, and the early season top 10 ranking goes away as well. If that’s the reality right now, so be it. A 2-1 start is likely a record that most USC fans would have accepted; the loss just didn’t come to the expected opponent. Now the bigger questions turn to the issues that were exposed against Boston College. 1) What is the identity of the USC offense? The uptempo offense that was so touted produced 59 plays last week, 70 this week, while the opponents ran 68 plays in each. 2) What can be learned to face future read-option teams that will look at this game and smile? You know that future opponents will look at the BC game plan that gained over 500 total yards and attempt to do similar things. Is it a matter of getting a few key injured guys back? Is it a matter of trust between coaches and players? This is still a staff that has only been in place at USC for three games so it stands to reason that there is plenty of learning curve left to go. Whatever it is, it better be in place quickly because Oregon State, Arizona State and Arizona are three teams with offensive-minded coaches who can get very creative.

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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