USCFootballNews is back to answer my questions about the troubled Trojans. In this exchange, he answers questions about the offense, their new look on D and why it seems like things are falling apart. My questions and his answers follow.
1. Everyone knew that USC would face a downturn during Kiffin's tenure because of the sanctions. Is that what we are seeing now or is there more to it? The team seemed to quit during last year's Sun Bowl. Was the Wazzou game more of the same?
USCFootballNews: Sanctions certainly have had an effect on this team. The roster is talented, but not deep. Between injuries and NCAA reductions, USC had less than 60 scholarship players available against Hawaii. In that game, both starting corners got hurt, and the defensive backs were stretched too thin. At one point during Fall camp, USC was down to two healthy scholarship receivers, so walk-ons were getting reps with the first team. Furthermore, to reduce injuries, the Trojans have reduced the amount of contact in practices, and that leaves the team less prepared for full speed Saturday action. But there's more to it. I don't think it's players quitting on the team. I think it's a combination of weak quarterback play and the lack of an offensive identity and game plan that is keeping the passing game anemic. Without any mid-to-long range passing game to worry about, defenses can load the box and protect against the run or the bubble screen and dare USC to throw deep. The Trojans have been unwilling or unable to meet that challenge offensively.
2. Lee was contained throughout the Saturday's game. I imagine BC will do something similar. How do you think the Trojans will respond?
USCFootballNews: I'm not so sure Lee was so much contained as he was under-utilized. People used to joke that the only person who could hold Michael Jordan under 20 points was Dean Smith. In 2013, it's been like that with Lee and Lane Kiffin. With Cody Kessler and Max Wittek at quarterback, Lane Kiffin has called very few downfield throws. It seems like every other time Marqise Lee touches the ball, he's starting behind the line of scrimmage, and defenses are ready for it. I'm not sure if the play-calling is just that bad, or if Kiffin simply knows that his quarterbacks cannot complete passes more than 10 yards downfield in the face of a pass rush. My fear is that USC will respond to last week's lackluster performance with even more draws and bubble screens, but my hope is that they will give newly-named starting quarterback Cody Kessler some chances to throw deep to USC's talented receiving corps of Lee, Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers. You might even see more designed bootlegs and rollouts with passes to the fullback or tight end.
3. What is your opinion on the transition from Monte Kiffin to Pendergast and his 5-2 schemes?
USCFootballNews: That has been the biggest positive development for the Trojans this year. The new defensive scheme seems to be working. It's faster. It has simpler reads and is easier to coach, allowing the staff to focus more on technique and execution, rather than inundating players with a complex system to learn. It takes advantage of the tremendous athleticism of USC's defenders, particularly players like Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin, who are physically suited to play both linebacker and defensive end. Expect to see USC in the 5-2 about two-thirds of the time, and in the nickel most of the rest of the time.
4. What is your prediction for the game?
USCFootballNews: For the past 15 years, we've come to expect the Trojans to bounce back from upsets with big confidence-restoring wins. I do believe USC will win, but I am not expecting that kind of confidence-restoring performance against Boston College. I think USC's passing game is going to continue to struggle. Still, the offense is long overdue for some sustained scoring drives and with USC's defense, a couple should be enough. I would pick USC to win a relatively low scoring game, with a score of something like 20-14, with some of Boston College's points coming off turnovers.