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Beaten But Not Broken: Observations on Saturday's Loss At BC

JuJu Smith can't come up with a catch on a back-shoulder throw.
JuJu Smith can't come up with a catch on a back-shoulder throw.
Shotgun Spratling/Conquest Chronicles

USC's 37-31 loss to an unranked Boston College squad was disappointing, but a lot of it is fixable, and USC has the potential to be much better.

Here are some notable points from the game:

  • I’ve been saying this since the start of the season, but Leonard Williams play against the run continues to stand out. The way Williams uses his long arms to get off blocks and the quickness at which he dominates the linemen across from him to get into the backfield is JJ Watt-like, really. Williams was one of the only bright spots in the run defense.
  • Speaking of the run defense, Su'a Cravens can set the edge nicely at times. But he isn’t a linebacker—asking him to play around the line of scrimmage so often will wear him down, as he's still smaller than linebackers, who are asked to take on offensive linemen consistently. That’s what happened toward the end of the game, on Boston College’s final 66 yard touchdown run — Cravens had edge responsibilities, but was washed out easily by an offensive lineman to spring the long Tyler Murphy run.
  • As a unit, the edge-containment of defense repeatedly disintegrated. I got the sense that USC was not well-prepared on how to defend the read-option. Defending such an offense comes down to the players simply playing their assignments, with the defensive end usually crashing down on the running back with a linebacker or defensive back scraping over the top to take the quarterback.

    USC defenders seemed to not know who to take, and there were multiple plays where USC defenders ran into each other as they were going after the same player. Leonard Williams was also picked on late in the game, as he was left alone to guard both the quarterback and the running back for some reason. Williams is athletic, but he isn’t athletic enough to chase down Tyler Murphy in the open field. There was either extreme disorganization or poor USC game-planning on the defensive side of the ball.
  • Sarkisian’s playcall on the 51-yard touchdown pass to Buck Allen was beautiful. USC’s offense, with so much presnap movement and play selection possibilities out of a single formation, has a lot of options and potential surprises to be thrown into the mix in terms of play calls. Allen’s receiving touchdown is a great example of this, as the play started off looking like a normal play action with the option to pass to the receiver in motion in the flat. But after multiple fakes, Kessler instead threw a middle screen to Allen, catching the defense totally off guard. Good variety from Sarkisian there, but more of this creativity would have been nice to see throughout the game.
  • On the down side, USC seemed totally unprepared for Boston College’s blitzes. Taking sacks are better than throwing interceptions, but Sarkisian has to coach Kessler better and call plays to get the ball out quicker.
  • Adoree' Jackson looked great returning kicks. Nelson Agholor is more proven in that role, but I think Jackson should be the permanent kick returner. Jackson might be the fastest player and best overall athlete on the team.
  • JuJu Smith could be the best receiver in the nation one day. But today is not that day. He showed excellent body control turning midair to get into position to make a back shoulder catch, and made it look easy. He ended up dropping it though, and must be more consistent before he becomes a better player.