USC Football: Offensive Line Successfully Adjusted in Week 2


A big part of the long-standing identity of USC football is a dominant offensive line. That’s helped by the Trojans’ history of producing some of the game’s all-time greats like Ron Yary, Anthony Muñoz and Bruce Matthews.

So it’s safe to say that surrendering five sacks to Arkansas State in the season opener wasn’t quite up to the high standards set by the program.

RELATED: Breaking Down Film of USC’s Offensive Line Struggles in Week 1

USC’s uber-talented yet young offensive line took that personally, responding on Saturday against Idaho by keeping quarterback Cody Kessler’s jersey pristine.

“Five sacks is nothing that we ever pride ourselves on and something that we never want to hear,” offensive guard Damien Mama said.

They didn’t, as the improved protection enabled Kessler to throw for a career-high 410 yard passing yards. He was never under duress, as the line had their way with a slightly above average pass rush without giving up a sack.

Before you scoff at that assessment of the Vandal front, consider that the Idaho defense was 51st nationally in opponent-adjusted sack rate in 2014, which surprisingly ranked higher than talent-laden units at Alabama, UCLA and USC. That’s saying something, given that the Bruins thoroughly abused the Trojans’ pass protection last November.

Mar 3, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans offensive line coach Bob Connelly at spring practice at Cromwell Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s something that we really focused on during the week,” said center Max Tuerk. “We focused on our communication and our assignments, staying physical in pass [protection] and not letting anyone touch the quarterback.”

The preparation and urgency for growth came after new offensive line coach Bob Connelly told the media this week that the Arkansas State film presented the Trojans with areas to improve on.

Say what you will about Connelly’s struggles in past jobs, USC has shown the ability to improve on focus areas thus far. Yes, two weeks are a small sample size, but the Trojans improved throughout the Arkansas State game and had a flawless Week 2.

More time and improved opponents will ultimately define the success of the adjustments, though just seeing that there is a willingness to make adjustments this early in the season is a good sign.

The knock on USC last year was that adjustments didn’t appear to be made on either offense or defense.

“We thought it was a big point that we gave up five [sacks] and we weren’t going to let that happen again this week,” Toa Lobendahn said. “We wanted to make a point to get our running game going also, and just protect the quarterback.”

That running game had its effect on pass protection, as the Trojans were able to get early success on the ground with Justin Davis.

The result was that Idaho’s defensive gameplan seemed to be rooted in preventing big plays, rather than being aggressive. Gaping holes for the tailbacks ensued.

USC averaged a stellar 7.7 yards per carry against Idaho, with true freshman Ronald Jones II and the aforementioned Davis leading the way.

Of course, it helps that the Trojans have a stable of backs that Mama called ‘dangerous’.

“Each has their own individual traits and their strengths and weaknesses,” Mama said. “We use that to their advantage and our advantage.”

Those advantages were apparent against Idaho, but they’ll need to be exploited against much better teams on USC’s schedule going forward.

The Trojans play host to Stanford next Saturday, who for years have widely been considered the class of the Pac-12 in terms of line play. From there, USC will know exactly where they stand, or least get a much better clearer picture.

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