After USC's 38-34 defeat on the final play from scrimmage, head coach Steve Sarkisian sat in the post-game press conference and tried to explain what exactly went wrong and why he made his disconcerting fourth quarter decisions.
You can watch the entire post-game press conference with senior linebacker Hayes Pullard (and running back Buck Allen, who is never asked a question), but here are the highlights/lowlights from Steve Sarkisian:
"In the end, it’s the old adage: ‘That’s why you play 60 minutes, that’s why you play four quarters.’ When you go up at the end of the game like that with three minutes left, it’s never over. You learn the hard way in games like this. I feel bad for our kids, I thought they fought hard, competed well and gave amazing effort. But we didn’t get it done in the end. We have a great group of guys and tremendous leaders. We’ll bounce back and fight back and play a hard-fought game on Saturday night (at Arizona)."
You should feel bad for the kids. With a nine-point lead and less than three minutes remaining, the Trojans never should have lost that game. They were let down by their coaching staff. They were unprepared in the final three minutes of the game and that falls on your shoulders Steve.
(On why Cody Kessler was punting)
"Our starting long snapper [Zach Smith] was out with a concussion. We didn’t feel great about the operation of our normal punting team. We went with a spread punt with Cody, and we felt that gave us the best chance."
Your starting punter, Kris Albarado, kicked a career-long 65-yarder and finished with a 59.5 average...even with snaps that you may not have been happy with. Sometimes you have to trust the players to get the job done...even Peter McBride.
(on the 73-yard ASU TD pass before the Hail Mary)
"It looked like the quarterback flushed to his right. It looked like a curl route that turned to an out route. Kevon [Seymour] went to knock the ball down to undercut the play and missed, and then there was nothing but green grass. That’s what I can [say] now until I watch the film. I know we were in double coverage on [Jaelen] Strong, and that left Kevon isolated. Hopefully we can learn from it and live to fight another day."
Why wasn't there a safety high over the top? There's one thing you can't do when you are up late with a two-score lead -- get beat deep. When one missed tackle/poor decision to go for the ball ends with an untouched 73-yard touchdown, that's the same as getting beat deep.
(on if he thought ASU was going to throw the Hail Mary)
"That’s the tricky part with seven seconds left. We were trying to plan for both. Hindsight is 20/20, you defend the Hail Mary, but we didn’t get it done. It was an awkward Hail Mary. The ball floated back to the middle of the field, and it was a heck of a play by 21 [Jaelen Strong] tracking the ball and making the play on it."
Safety Gerald Bowman said after the game that the defense made a last-second change to a Cover-2 scheme. Why was the call changed? Why were the players unprepared on the penultimate play? You could easily play an outside in technique, but play it 15 yards back. Once the defenders see the receivers going long, they make sure to get back to the goal line, find the ball and knock it down!
(on defending a Hail Mary)
"Strength in numbers is one thing. You like to have a lot of people around the ball when it’s there. Again, you have to ask [Arizona State]. I don’t know if that ball was thrown where it was intended to be thrown. Sometimes when it’s not how it’s drawn up, it’s better. We would have liked to have more bodies around the ball. You have to identify certain guys who can jump up and make a play. But I’ll have to see the film to tell more specifically."
USC had four players end up near the ball in the end zone when Strong made the catch -- none of them are your best secondary players. Instead of Adoree' Jackson, Su'a Cravens and Gerald Bowman being there, it was linebacker Hayes Pullard, safety Leon McQuay III and cornerbacks Kevon Seymour and Chris Hawkins. And if you are going to make sure there's one player that can't make a play, it has to be Jaelen Strong.
(on whether Hail Marys come down to luck)
"I hate to say it’s luck. Since first grade you play ‘three flies up’ and if you catch it you get to throw it. Now it’s how many years later and I’ve seen two (in two weeks), and I’ve never seen one before. You try to practice and execute, and you try to get people on both sides of the ball. We practiced it and I’m sure ASU did too, and they made the play."
Arizona State made the play because the USC defense wasn't in the right spot, but Steve...you've never seen a Hail Mary before? Like, not even a Hail Mary by Arizona State before? Say...perhaps a Hail Mary from ASU against your Washington team in 2009? Does this Hail Mary not count for some reason?
(on the offense’s inconsistent rhythm)
"Physical errors are physical errors. If a guy drops a pass, I don’t know if he’s not focused, it’s a physical error. Sometimes that’s going to happen. It feel like we had the opportunity on offense to make some big plays. I’m proud of Buck [Allen] challenging people to miss in the open field. He did a good job of that tonight. There are areas of our team that got better tonight, and there are areas that we need to get better from tonight."
You challenged Buck Allen and he responded. Now it's time to challenge yourself and your hand-picked defensive coordinator.
(on where this leaves the team)
"It leaves us with one loss in conference play. It leaves us stinging, with a sick feeling in our gut. It leaves us a chance to show who we are and our mettle and our resiliency. We have a tough game coming up at 7:30 at Arizona. We need to get ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally ready to play, and I’m confident that we will do it."
That's the one thing still going for this USC squad this year -- there are still several opportunities to win big games and play its way to a quality bowl game and potentially even a Pac--12 championship.