USC didn’t just lose to Boston College on Saturday night, they got run over by a Mack truck. The Eagles ran for 452 yards on the Trojans, who had just 20 yards rushing themselves.
That’s an embarrassing yardage differential for anyone, much less a team priding itself on having one of the Pac-12’s best front sevens and a potent run-first offense.
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How on earth did it happen?
Well, allow Bruce Feldman’s ‘body blow theory’ to enter stage right. The theory, which Feldman explained last November, revolves around how a team is affected the week after playing an extremely physical opponent.
A heavy, power game theoretically wears down players, creating a hangover, especially up front.
Stanford, the epitome of a physical team, is Feldman’s “ideal prism”, and forced him to look at how teams in 2013 statistically performed after a tilt with the Cardinal.
Here’s what he said back then:
"What I found: five teams didn’t run the ball as well as normal; four ran it better. Overall, it worked out to be the opponent was held 21 rushing yards below their average. Stopping the run seemed to be a bigger issue. Seven of the nine opponents allowed more rushing yards. The one big outlier was Washington State, which held a horrible Cal team to 124 rushing yards below its average. Overall, these defenses allowed 67 rushing yards more than their average, which seemed to be the strongest point backing the Body Blow theory."
San Jose State, Utah and UCLA all gave up at least 150 more yards on the ground post-Stanford, than their season average going into the game.
On Saturday night, a week after beating Stanford, USC made those numbers look awfully modest.
Boston College’s 452 rushing yards was an incredible 310 more yards than the Trojans’ run defense had averaged through the season’s first two weeks.
Offensively, USC ran for 196 fewer yards than they were averaging.
Clearly, those totals are staggering. And surely worth throwing some validity to Feldman’s theory despite Steve Sarkisian’s claims that USC is the best conditioned team in the country.
The Trojans’ front seven looked slow, pursued with poor angles and missed several tackles. The offensive line was never able to get any sort of push up front despite succeeding for stretches last week. All of which could be inferred as signs of fatigue.
And on top of any notion that they could still be physically drained from the Stanford game, USC entered the game with only 52 scholarship players available due to recently ended sanctions.
Injuries of in key defensive positions like Kenny Bigelow at defensive tackle and Lamar Dawson at linebacker surely aren’t helping an already thin defensive rotation that is struggling to make do.
Neither sanctions or the body blow theory should be an excuse for how the Trojans played. Not even Long Beach Poly should ever wind up with a minus-432-yard rushing differential against a college level team.
But together they’re awfully suspicious potential culprits when trying to grasp how USC could be so cosmically dreadful on the ground.
The Trojans have all of the talent in the world, but they were briskly out-worked on both sides of the ball on Saturday to look like an FCS team. Whether that be a result of a Stanford hangover or a simply a lack of execution or flawed schematics, there isn’t a simple answer.
It’s likely a mix of everything, which quite honestly might be more alarming for USC.