A lot can change in a week. USC learned that the hard way and paid the price. The Trojans were confident coming off a big win over Fresno State, and resolutions to the Anthony Brown and John Shaw issues. With them opening up the Pac-12 season, USC was looking to make a splash to start the season by going into Paolo Alto and beating rival Stanford. The Trojans then would travel to Boston College and play a 6-loss team from a year ago, as a 19-point favorite. Coming out of those two games at 2-1 wouldn’t surprise too many people, but how those two weeks went down certainly did:
Sat., Sept. 6- @ #13 Stanford: USC came into Paolo Alto as 3.5 point underdogs. So between that line, and the two teams being ranked #13 and #14 in the country, the general sentiment seemed to be the teams were even. This set up a great rivalry matchup and the game did not disappoint. Stanford was able to move the ball through the air, Kevin Hogan racked up 285 yards on 30 attempts, while the Trojans moved the ball on the ground very consistently. Buck Allen continued to stand out for the USC offense, gaining 154 yards on only 23 carries (6.7 ypc) on a very stout Cardinal run defense. Cody Kessler, on the other hand, followed up a big performance against FSU, with a quiet day and only 135 yards. Sark seemed to play a much more conservative game, focusing on the running game and avoiding mistakes through the air. The defense followed suit, allowing Stanford to run the ball and complete short passing, hoping to stop the big play. This bend-but-don’t-break strategy wasn’t quite as successful as the 10 point allowed would leave one to believe. Untimely penalties in Trojan territory, a redzone turnover and a goal-line stand stopped the Cardinal offense from putting up more than 10 points, including 0 in the second half. Oh, and then there was special teams. Coach Sark rolled the dice late in the 4th quarter and went for a long field goal over a short 4th down attempt. Andre Heidari rewarded his coach, and hit a go ahead, 53 yards bomb with 2:30 to play. Heidari was 2-2 on the day; Jordan Williamson was not. The Stanford booter finished the day 1-3, which ultimately proved to be the difference. Give USC credit, they stuck to their game plan, executed when they needed to, and made the plays on defense to win the game. With a matchup with a middling ACC foe up next, the Trojans seemed to have hit the ground running on the 2014 season.
Sat., Sept. 13- @ Boston College- Coming off of a big win in their Pac-12 opener, there was a great deal of buzz around the USC Trojans. But, the now top 10 ranked Trojans found themselves in a classic trap-game scenario. USC and their fans alike, hoped the Trojans would take BC early and keep the train rolling. Early on, they seemed up to the task. The defense stifled the Eagles offense in the first quarter. In 3 possessions, they managed only 9 plays and no first downs. But their 10 point first quarter lead took a hit on the first play in the second, and that marked the end of the USC defensive domination. Tyler Rouse capped a 7 play drive with 4 yards touchdown run. But that was only the beginning for what looked like a stagnant, uninventive rushing attack that suddenly began taking advantage of an overaggressive Trojan defense with misdirection and creativity. The Eagles went on to rush for 452 rushing yards and had runs of 52, 54 and 66, two of which went for touchdowns. Graduate school transfer Tyler Murphy, was a quarterback in name only. He completed only 5 passes for 54 yards and threw an interception. And, after BC ditched the passing game, Murphy rushed 13 times and had a whopping 191 yards and a touchdown. Jon Hillman and Myles Willis pitched in 89 yards apiece. This incredible rushing day resulted in 37 points and 5 touchdowns from 4 different rushers. The Trojan rushing attack didn’t have quite the same effect, racking up a pathetic 20 yards on 29 attempts. Cody Kessler, though, made up for the 432 yard rushing difference, by picking apart the BC defense for 317 and 4 touchdowns while completing 31 of 41 passes. Kessler proved to be the only real bright spot for USC. He put together drives of 9 and 10 plays with less than 5 minutes to go in the fourth, but couldn’t pull of the win after a failed onside kick with a minute to go. The Trojan fans in Alumni Stadium looked on in shock as USC fell to the Eagles 37-31, as what seemed like a dream start to the season turned sour and the realization set in that this team still has a lot of work to do.
Where they stand:
A loss to BC hurts but isn’t a crushing blow USC’s season. They are still unblemished in the conference, and have a chance to get signature wins over UCLA and Arizona State on their way to the Pac 12 championship. But, this will be no easy task. With the BC tape in hand, USC’s foes will likely mix up their looks on offense and take advantage of the youth and lack of discipline of the USC defense. The Trojan needs to work on remaining patient and staying in their gaps or the high powered, inventive offenses that litter their schedule will have no problems putting up a lot of points. On offense, I think the Trojans should feel pretty good about where they are. Kessler has done everything asked of him and it might be time for Sark to take some more chances down the field. At running back, Javorius "Buck" Allen has shown consistency in the running game, averaging 5.3 yards on the ground and broke out against BC in the passing game, pulling in 9 balls for 118 yards. USC needs to continue to feed him the ball, as he seems very comfortable running behind a promising, young O-line. With Allen and Kessler as their rock, and playmakers everywhere at the receiver and tight end positions, Sarkisian has a lot of options on offense and needs to dial up the aggressiveness, to jump start this potent offense. Look for this team to steadily improve as they get more comfortable in the system and their youth continues to mature. Hopefully, the bumps in the road that come with this process will not be as harmful as they were on Saturday,