USC vs. Boston College: Sarkisian’s Stubbornness Stifled Trojans


The old adage goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Unfortunately for the USC Trojans Saturday night, Steve Sarkisian appears to be a big believer in that particular saying.

After all, it served as his mantra in the Trojan’s 37-31 upset loss to Boston College in Chestnut Hill.

Sarkisian’s decision to stick with the run can only be described as mind-boggling.

Run. Run. Sack. Punt.

Run. Run. Scramble. Punt.

Run. Screen. Sack. Punt.

Run. Run. Sack. Punt.

Run. Run. Sack. Punt.

Ten USC drives ended in punts against the Eagles. Five of them followed a disturbingly similar pattern.

While the Boston College offense was running through and around the Trojan defense, ripping off 24 unanswered points, Sarkisian sent his offense out time and time again. Trying and trying again.

And failing.

USC gained 20 yards on the ground on Saturday night. They averaged 0.7 yards per carry.

That is not a typo: 0.7 yards per carry.

Of course, the issue is only partly related to the rushing total, which raises serious questions about a Trojan offensive line which, up until now, had been a positive.

The big issue lays on the per carry side of the page.

The Trojans ran the ball 29 times. Even as it became clear that Boston College had USC’s blocking scheme figured out and its offensive linemen neutered. Even as Javorius Allen and Justin Davis ran into a wall over and over.

They ran the ball 29 times. Ineffectively at best. Embarrassingly at worst.

Sarkisian’s decision to stick with the run can only be described as mind-boggling.

Sep 13, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian on the sideline during the second quarter against the Boston College Eagles at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Allen and Davis combined had just five rushes that went for more than three yards.

Yet before his two touchdown drives to end the game, Cody Kessler threw the ball a total of 23 times.

It did not seem to matter to Sarkisian that his quarterback was finding ways to get the ball into the hands of his receivers, even as the offensive line struggled to protect him. Or that Boston College was significantly more susceptible to the pass than the run. Or that his running backs actually enjoyed the space that came from screens and extended hand offs by way of swing passes.

On USC’s two first-half scoring drives Kessler went 5-of-6 for 84 yards. He hit George Farmer for his first touchdown as a Trojan and executed a perfect screen to release Allen for a 51-yard touchdown scamper.

He was even more impressive late. With the game on the line, Kessler drove USC down the field with ease.

On the first of those drives, which culminated in a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor, Kessler went 8-of-9. On the second, he completed 7-of-9 passes before hitting Darresu Rogers in the endzone for a too-little-too-late 14-yard score.

Yet it wasn’t until seven minutes remaining in the game that Sarkisian went all in on the pass and all in on Kessler’s ability to improvise his way around a pass rush.

And by then it was too late.

Sarkisian’s stubbornness, or his inability to see what was staring everyone else in the face, was the Trojans’ undoing against the Eagles.

Deciding to not abandon the run earlier crippled the offense. At the same time, so many failed drives exposed USC on the other side of the ball, aiding a Boston College attack which was more than willing to pound the rock to wear out the Trojans’ notably thin defense.

In his postgame press conference, Sarkisian took responsibility for the loss.

He’s right. It does. And he has two weeks to get it right, lest he go down the path of the last too-stubborn coach to grace the Trojan sideline.