Posted: 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013
By Brian Favat
I guess I was one of the few that was able to DVR Boston College's 35-7 loss to USC and watch it a second time. Here are some thoughts on the game.
-- It could have been much worse earlier. Kessler had Lee wide open on the first play from scrimmage. And I mean WIDE open. Rositano was off to Lee's right here. Somewhere.
Kessler sailed the ball just out of the reach of a diving Lee. A better thrown ball would have been six on the first play from scrimmage.
-- BC needed more plays like the Rettig to Naples pitch-and-catch on the first offensive possession. USC set the tone pretty early that they weren't going to give Rettig much of any time to operate. Those quick outs and pitches to Andre Williams were actually pretty effective on the first BC series.
-- The Eagles first offensive possession stalled on the USC 43 after USC declined a holding penalty to give BC a 4th and 3 at the USC 43. I would have liked to have seen them go for it there to set the tone early. Hindsight is always 20/20, but BC played for field position only to watch USC take the ball on the next possession and methodically worked its way down the field on a 14 play, 86 yard touchdown drive that ate up 7:44 of clock.
-- BC's D continued to bite on the play action and was repeatedly burned on with it. Even on the Trojans' first TD, Brown brought pressure but couldn't get to Kessler. Kessler dumped it to Madden for six. BC got burned again on the final play of the first half on a 20-yard play action pass to Xavier Gamble.
-- In what is becoming a rather disturbing trend, the defense continues to give up big plays on third down. A prime example of this was a 3rd and 8 at the BC 31. BC showed blitz but only rushed four.
Kessler easily stepped up past the passing pressure. Steven Daniels was the lone defender between Kessler and the first down marker. Daniels stepped up to Kessler and Kessler found Lee for the 10-yard dump off. Backbreaking play on USC's second offensive possession that led to their first TD.
Third down defense is becoming an Achilles heel of sorts for Don Brown's defense. It's almost as if he's trying too hard to out-think the opposing offensive coordinator. When the Eagles put the opposing offense in third and long situations, nearly off the field, they have surrendered more than their fair share of big gains.
This was a big problem in the Villanova game, where the Wildcats 4-of-8 on third downs of 5 or more yards, including:
-- A 27-yard TD pass to Abdur-Rahman on 3rd and 14
-- A 13-yard completion on 3rd and 7
-- A 15-yard completion on 3rd and 13
-- An 8-yard completion on 3rd and 6
To the defenses credit, this was largely cleaned up during the second half. But this trend started rearing its ugly head again in the first half of the Wake Forest game, where the Deacons converted on three of their first six third and longs:
-- A 16-yard completion on 3rd and 7
-- A 30-yard TD pass to Camparano on 3rd and 9
-- An 11-yard completion on 3rd and 5
The BC defense couldn't manage to force USC into a ton of third and long situations, but did allow the Trojans to convert on half of those attempts (3-of-6):
-- The aforementioned 10-yard completion to Marqise Lee on 3rd and 8
-- Tre Madden's 30-yard TD run on 3rd and 8
-- Kessler's 21-yard completion to Madden on 3rd and 12
Definitely something to keep an eye on next week against Florida State. BC's third down defense leaves a lot to be desired. As a unit, they have to get the opposing offense off the field to give themselves a rest (especially when the BC offense can only stay on the field for a little over a minute per drive).
-- The Eagles covered the Trojans second offensive possession pretty well. The Abdesmad sack set up a 3rd and 17 for USC and they covered the screen pass well on the following down.
-- On BC's third offensive possession, Rettig threaded the needle to Parsons for a 14 yard game on a play action bootleg in a well designed play. The drive would quickly begin to sputter, however, when Andre Williams rushed for no gain to BC's 37. Williams had a pretty sizable hole to his left if he had made the cut. Instead, he ran right into USC safety Su'a Cravens who Naples tried -- unsuccessfully -- to block. After USC was successful in blowing up the Dudeck screen pass, BC was forced to punt and squandered another excellent punt by Freese by allowing it to roll into the end zone.
-- Asprilla got beat badly on the Lee 80-yard touchdown strike on the very next play from scrimmage. Kiffin celebrates like he had scored the TD as Lee shows everyone why he's the favorite to repeat as the Biletnikoff Award winner in 2013.
-- The BC defense held the next series, helped by a 10-yard holding penalty.
-- The Eagles gained 28 yards on the first two plays of the next drive. A nice 13-yard run from Williams was followed by a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on USC on a bit of a cheap shot. Rettig was throwing the ball away and USC's Devon Kennard came in very late from behind. This is where Addazio/Day's conservative play-calling seemed to kill any momentum BC gained on this drive. On the first two downs of the drive, Williams rushed for gains of 1 and 6. On third down, Rettig escapes pressure, finds Crimmins with enough yardage for the first down and he straight up dropped it. Replay confirmed that the ball hit the turf.
Have to execute, sure, and easy to play armchair QB, but have to question the decision to run-run-pass down 14 with under three minutes to go in the half there.
-- Another excellent Freese punt -- 53 yards! -- pinned the Trojans down at their own 1 yard line.
-- I know there was a lot of confusion about USC's final offensive possession of the second half and for whatever reason I lost audio on the Pac-12 Network DVR. Here's what I pieced together.
1st and 10, 1:50 -- Madden rushed for 2 yards to the USC 3. Addazio elected to hold onto his final timeout.
2nd and 8, Madden rushed for 2 yards to the USC 5, fumbled the ball. Asprilla, along with 2-3 other BC defenders pounced on the ball. Somehow it popped right out of the pile and USC recovered. The play is blown dead at around 0:59 but by the time everything is sorted out, there are only 40 seconds left on the clock.
BC is charged a time out (according to the Pac-12 Network scoreboard), leaving 40 seconds left on the clock.
USC's Randall Telfer, who was injured on 2nd down, eventually walks off under his own power but a 10-second clock runoff was assessed for the injured player. My understanding of the runoff rule is that Addazio has the right to enforce a 10-second runoff, while USC could avoid the runoff by be assessed a timeout. Obviously Addazio doesn't want the 10 seconds taken off the clock and Kiffin doesn't want to take a timeout, so the 10-seconds are taken off and the clock restarts at the referees signal.
The clock starts again following the restart and ticks all the way down to 0:00. Addazio and Brown confer and generally seem baffled, though Addazio looks like he realizes he made a mistake. The teams start to head to the locker room.
Both teams are called back on the field. USC is charged with their second timeout with 0:06 remaining (not sure why?), takes a knee and heads to the locker room up 14. Lots of confusion and I don't think the refs got that right. At least, I'm not sure why both teams were called back on the field. Regardless, didn't matter after BC failed to pull in the fumble. HAVE to capitalize on those opportunities.
-- BC got the ball to start the second half and did nothing on its first offensive possession. Williams ran straight into the defensive front for a gain of 1. On second down, Rettig rolled right and badly missed the receiver. On 3rd and 9, BC went four wide while USC rushed just three. Rettig had plenty of time but floated a ball well beyond a relatively open Crimmins; a pass that was nearly picked off. The offense took just 53 seconds off the clock.
-- On the next possession, BC was the benefactor of another USC holding penalty and forced a three and out after Keyes sacked Kessler on 3rd and 4. The Eagles rushed five but the Trojan OLine failed to pick Keyes up, allowing him to run untouched into the backfield.
-- On BC's next possession, Spiffy let the punt roll giving the Eagles bad field position. A poorly designed run on first gave BC a 2nd and 11. A sidearm pass by Rettig to Crimmins set up a 3rd and 9, which was picked up after a Dudeck screen pass went for 19 yards and a first down. USC's Torin Harris went for the interception and badly missed, allowing Dudeck to scamper for the first down.
-- Rettig had plenty of time to operate on 1st and 10 at the BC 35 but couldn't find anyone open and threw at the feet of Dudeck (?). Williams gains 9 on a nice run on second and picks up the final yard on third to move the chains. I know I mentioned the third down defense but up until this point in the game -- midway through the 3rd quarter -- BC had converted just 1-of-7 while USC just 1-of-6.
-- On 3rd and 12, BC went trips right and Rettig, with plenty of time and USC rushing five, found Miller for the 11-yard strike. Addazio elected to go for it on 4th and 1 only to have Williams dropped for a loss. I appreciate the call going for it on 4th down down two scores late in the third quarter but USC was more than ready for the draw play. Probably needed a more creative play call there. Up until this point, BC hadn't really established the ground game and was predictably stuffed on 4th down.
-- The BC D was fortunate enough to get a holding penalty that negated a 10-yard run on USC's next possession. Two plays later, however, they weren't so fortunate. On 3rd and 8, USC RB Tre Madden found a hole between Asprilla, who was being blocked, and Rositano, who took a bad angle to the ball, and ran 30 yards to pay dirt. A flag was flown on the play but later picked up. No holding, 21-0 USC.
-- Rettig's 24-yard rush was the lone bright spot on BC's next possession. One that ate up just 2:13 of clock. Fatigue had to start to be a factor for the Eagles D, especially given the high temperatures on the playing field. By games end, USC held a 36:36-23:24 edge in time of possession. The offense has to find ways of staying on the field and giving the defense a breather. Plays like Miller's drop (hit his hands) and Rettig having to throw the ball away because he's 1-on-1 in the backfield with a USC defender don't help matters.
-- Rettig again had time on the fumble that ended that drive. I counted at least 6 seconds in the pocket. Just couldn't find the receiver. BC was fortunate to fall on the fumble though as Freese once again pinned USC inside the 10 with another excellent rugby style kick.
-- Looked like fatigue did, in fact, become a factor in the fourth quarter. Up 21-0, you knew the USC offense was going to run the ball but the Eagles defensive front couldn't do much of anything to stop the Trojan offensive. Things may have been different had BC gotten to Kessler on 1st down but he rolled out for a gain of 9. USC proceeded to rattle off runs of 3, 39, 3, 7 and 17 (TD) in an 8 play, 94 (!) yard drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters to put the game well out of reach. On the 39-yard run, the BC defense was poorly positioned. A couple missed arm tackles by the Eagles DBs and Davis was running downfield in the Eagles secondary.
-- I was pleased to see both Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse be effective in relief of Andre Williams, even if they were playing against USC second stringers. Willis returned the punt -- guess that answers the lingering redshirt question -- and Rouse was effective at finding holes in the line and accelerating through them. On 3rd and 8, Rettig's 18-yard strike to Amidon put BC into USC territory. Heads up play by Amidon to come back to the ball after Rettig was given a ton of time in the pocket to operate (USC rushed just three linemen).
-- Rouse gained good yardage on 1st and 10 at the USC 35 out of the read-option. On 2nd and 4 from the 30, the delayed counter gave Rouse enough space to beat out the USC defense for his first career touchdown.
-- Freese booted home the XP to remain perfect on the year, despite the botched snap.
-- The next offensive possession was more of the same for USC, which just wore down the Eagles' defensive front. After a 14-yard gain on first down, USC rattled off runs of 10, 3, 4, 7, 7, 0, 10, 5 and 2 (TD) to go up 35-7. On the long runs, the USC running back wouldn't even be touched until they were well past the front four and among the LBs and DBs. All told, USC ate up 6:18 of clock on an 11 play, 75 yard drive that put the nail in the coffin.
Sometimes you just get punched in the mouth and outclassed by a better football team. This was one of those days. Not much outside of the punting game -- #Freese4GrozaAndRayGuy -- went right for BC, and BC needed a lot of things to go right to even remain competitive in this game.
The conservative offensive play calling didn't help matters for BC, but in watching the game back, it's clear that this was not what was holding BC back. On some level, guys just need to execute and make plays.
On offense, there were far too many bad passes, flat out dropped balls and routes run with little to no separation. Poor protection is oft cited as a reason for Rettig's struggled, but overall I thought he had plenty of time in which to operate. In my opinion, the biggest weakness in Rettig's game is that he's not a threat to run the ball. Many times Rettig would step up through pressure only to throw a bad ball or throw at the feet of a well covered receiver. If he was more of a threat to run the ball and/or could gain something out of nothing, I think he would find more success.
As it is, Rettig can start to scramble but defenses can sit back and stick to the receivers as they don't have to respect Rettig's ability to pick up the first down with his legs. Clearly a limitation with Rettig's game that Addazio/Day are willing to live with, as BC isn't going to do something as drastic as throw Bordner in there just to get more of a running QB. Also something that I'm sure will be addressed with the QBs coming in 2014 and a shift to a more spread offense.
On defense, as a unit they were unable to contain USC's playmakers from making big plays (on a lot of USC's big plays the coverage was reminiscent of last year's West Point debacle). Take away the HR to Lee and the defense held up pretty well in the first half, all things considered. But you could tell as the game worn on that the USC offense was wearing them down. It was very hot on Saturday and the USC offense held onto the ball for 13 minutes longer than BC. The offense has to do a better job of staying on the field and controlling the clock.
Special teams was a mixed bag. Freese had one hell of a game punting, averaging over 50 yards a punt (and one that could have been downed at the 1 ended up in the endzone for a touchback). But BC got really nothing going in the return game and let at least one punt roll for poor starting field position.
Overall, I'm still confident that BC can regroup, rattle off a few more wins this season and remain in contention for a bowl berth going into November. Nothing about this game changed my opinion on that (other than maybe Wake Forest's and Villanova's most recent losses but even still, pretty early to rush to judgment on that). The next few weeks may prove as difficult a test as an angry USC squad, but there are more than enough winnable games remaining on the schedule -- Army and @ New Mexico State definitely, N.C. State, @ Maryland and @ Syracuse as toss-ups and a highly suspect Virginia Tech offense -- that a bowl isn't completely out of the question.
Just gotta learn from this loss and move forward. Addazio and the team now have two weeks to prepare for a talented Florida State squad. How this team picks itself up off the mat and battles in two weeks will be a bellwether as to what the Addazio era of Boston College football has in store for us all.