The last time USC faced off against Boston College, Pete Carroll was still the head coach, Matt Barkley was just beginning his tenure as starting quarterback, and it seemed as though the Trojans were set to continue one of the most consistently dominant runs in college football for at least a couple more years.
Times have certainly changed since the 2009 Emerald Bowl (which USC won, 24-13).
As the Trojans (1-1) prepare to take on Boston College (2-0) this Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, there is an undeniable pessimistic air surrounding the fan base after last week’s jarring 10-7 defeat at the hands of Washington State. USC is determined to prove that the upset was just that — a bump in the road as opposed to the beginning of a long, downward spiral in the Trojans’ 2013 campaign.
“One thing I can say is that you won’t see that side of the Trojans again,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler said after the loss. “You won’t see us playing like that on offense. You won’t see that negative energy. That’s just not who we are.”
Any sort of success from the Trojans’ passing attack would be measured as an improvement on last week’s performance. Kessler threw for just 41 yards while completing 8 of 13 passes, most of which were thrown to receivers behind the line of scrimmage, as no USC pass play gained more than eight yards.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin is expected to delve deeper into his offensive playbook after finally picking a full-time starting quarterback in Kessler.
It might take some time for Kessler to adjust to throwing intermediate and deep balls after being reined in by Kiffin’s conservative playcalling in the Trojans’ first two games.
But Kessler did show promise in USC’s final scrimmage on Aug. 21 when he was tested on passes downfield. While mostly facing the Trojans’ first-team defense, Kessler was 13-for-22 for 218 yards and a pair of long touchdown passes of 31 and 55 yards to sophomore receiver Nelson Agholor, while also throwing two interceptions on tipped balls.
Kessler also might benefit from knowing he’s no longer competing with fellow redshirt sophomore Max Wittek.
“I’m not trying to make excuses, but those first two weeks [against Hawai’i and Washington State]… I would be lying if I said it wasn’t affecting me,” Kessler said after practice on Tuesday. “It’s tough to focus on winning the game when you’re worrying about other things. [Being named the starter] instills a confidence I didn’t have in the first two weeks.”
The Trojans’ offensive line will be protecting Kessler from a pass rush that was simply atrocious last year, as they Eagles only mustered six sacks the entire season. But the Eagles have made progress under new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s aggressive 4-3 scheme, racking up seven sacks and seven turnovers in wins over Villanova and Wake Forest.
Cornerback Bryce Jones, the only new starter in the Eagles’ secondary, is the reigning ACC Defensive Back of the Week after picking off a pass, his second of the season, and recovering a fumble against Wake Forest in a 24-10 triumph last week.
Boston College has already matched its total wins from a year ago, when the Eagles stumbled to a 2-10 record, leading to the hiring of new head coach Steve Addazio.
Addazio has established an offense that has relied heavily on senior running back Andre Williams, a 230 lbs. power back who ranks third in the nation with 318 rushing yards (5.5 yards per carry).
“It’s a Stanford type of offense,” Kiffin said. “They’re heavy on the run and try to open it up with the play action.”
Williams presents the toughest challenge yet for USC’s run defense, which has been the best in the country thus far, allowing just 15 yards per game and 0.6 yards per carry.
Boston College has recently gone through a remarkable amount of scheme changes on offense, as the team is on its fifth offensive coordinator in a little more than two calendar years.
Senior quarterback Chase Rettig, a SoCal native, has been the constant amid all the change. Rettig has been the team’s starter since the fourth game of his true freshman season, and has averaged more than 3,100 yards over the past two seasons.
The Trojans’ relentless pass rush, which leads the nation in sacks (11), could cause major headaches for Rettig behind an offensive line that allowed 35 sacks last season.
But the Trojans aren’t taking anything for granted, especially after last week.
“We don’t go over thinking we’re gonna walk over a team,” redshirt junior safety Dion Bailey said. “We have to grind out every game and finish.”
Senior Alex Amidon was Rettig’s favorite target last year, setting Boston College’s single-season records for receptions (78) and receiving yards (1,215) en route to being named an All-ACC first team pick.
Kiffin expects USC’s own star receiver, junior Marqise Lee, to bounce back after picking up just 27 yards on seven catches against Washington State.
“Marqise has been pushing himself, trying a little too hard,” Kiffin said. “We expect him to play really consistently, so I had a conversation with him Sunday [about] just going back to doing his job.”
Kiffin also said that he expects freshman tailback Justin Davis to have an impact against the Eagles after Davis received just two carries last week, but didn’t guarantee anything. Redshirt sophomore Tre Madden took the bulk of the workload (32 carries, 151 yards), and many were concerned that Madden was overworked after he admitted feeling “banged up” after the defeat.
“I would definitely expect to see Justin Davis … It all depends on how the game is going,” Kiffin said. “[Last week] we were doing the best thing we could do to win. I’ve got to do the best thing to win the game and not worry about what stats are like.”
Kickoff is at 12 p.m. in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and the game will air on the Pac-12 Network.
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