What just happened?
That's the question many USC Trojan fans were asking last night after the mighty men of Troy fell 37-31 at Boston College -- a team coming off a 30-20 loss to Pitt.
What exactly went wrong against the Eagles?
The problems started in the trenches where USC was dominated on both sides of the ball. Boston College was able to run the ball seemingly at will, giving the Trojans a variety of looks on the read option. While USC was able to limit BC's inside runs, quarterback Tyler Murphy and the running back corps found copious opportunities on the edge.
According to ESPN, Boston College rushed for 342 yards and all five of its touchdowns outside of the tackles. The Trojans were unable to keep containment and struggled making the right calls as multiple players noted communication issues.
"A lot of it was miscommunication on the defensive side," hybrid safety/linebacker Su'a Cravens said.
"Sometimes we just had brain farts. We messed up on our own," cornerback Chris Hawkins said. "We didn't do what we needed to do."
Antwaun Woods, Leonard Williams and the rest of the big bodies were able to stymie the middle rushes, but option keepers and quick sweeps gave the Trojans trouble throughout the game. The Eagles were able to regularly break containment on an undisciplined defense, resulting in six plays of more than 20 yards on the ground. In USC's first two games this season, it had allowed 30 yards total outside the tackles.
"We knew that they wanted to get the ball outside," Cravens said. "We just didn't execute. We didn't do what we needed to do."
The defense looked great in the first quarter when the Trojans took a 10-0 lead, but quickly fatigued and BC took advantage. USC didn't tackle well in open space, which turned into tons of yards after contact. The Eagles just plain wore down a thin Trojans' front seven and USC's offensive ineptitude in the second and third quarters did not help.
After scoring a touchdown on its first touch of the second quarter, USC punted on eight of the next nine drives with the only exception being the end of the first half. Not counting the end-of-half, one-play possession, The Trojans had six consecutive three-and-out drives as Steve Sarkisian tried to force feed the ball to the running backs despite the offensive line getting dominated.
For the first time this season, the offensive line's youth became apparent as there were routinely unblocked defenders charging into the backfield. Boston College finished with 16 tackles for loss!
"They did a good job getting to me," junior quarterback Cody Kessler said. "We missed some assignments up front. We should have made some better calls on my part and the o-line's part."
After two unsuccessful rushing attempts, USC would finally try to get the ball into the hands of its playmakers in space, but it's hard to do that when the quarterback is under a constant barrage of defensive line attacks.
"They were defeating us in one-on-one scenarios and then we didn't block some things I know we are capable of blocking," head coach Steve Sarkisian said, before reiterating: "We got defeated in a majority of the one-on-one settings."
Cody Kessler rarely had the time to breath, much less deliver a catchable ball. The Eagles finished with five sacks, but it definitely seemed like much more since they were constantly harassing Kessler. (USC, on the other hand, managed just one).
"We just got beat today," junior center Max Tuerk said of the offensive line's performance. "They came out strong and played better than us."
While the numbers may not show it, USC also struggled punting the ball. Kris Albarado finished with a respectable 37.5 average on his 10 punts, but he shanked a pair (18 yards, 28 yards) and had five punts that traveled less than 35 yards. Albarado was also fortunate not to have been tackled or have his punt blocked on his first attempt when he muffed the snap that hit him right in the hands.
While Adoree' Jackson had a nice 50-yard kick return, he also fumbled a kickoff that ended up pinning USC at the 10-yard line. The Trojans also struggled with the squib kicks of Boston College, including a slip by JuJu Smith when he and Soma Vainuku both tried to field a kick at the same time. When he slipped, Smith went down and was in pain, having to be helped off the field, though he would return later.
There are plenty of things to clean up for USC in all three phases of the game. It's a good thing the Trojans have a bye this week.