Now that we have your attention, I'll admit we actually forgot to talk about the USC Cheerleaders with Evan.
But we did exchange a lot of information about the Trojans and the Beavers, when Robert and I sat down with Evan down at Conquest Chronicles to talk about the season so far, and get ready for Saturday night's return to the LA Coliseum, which has been a house of horrors for Oregon St.
You can read our thoughts on Evan's questions here.
BTD: USC's loss at Boston College came as a surprise to almost everyone, even given that the Eagles might actually be better than most realized. But after the impressive wins in the Trojans' first 2 games, there had to be some shock to the team. What is their mindset going forward? Has Coach Sarkisian done anything new or different to get the team back on track?
Evan: These players were definitely thrown off their high and mighty stature after the Boston College loss. To this point they've done a good job of overcoming distractions, and from what we've seen at practice the last two weeks the loss is now being used as a motivating factor, and not a negative, towards OSU. Coach Sark spent most of last week evaluating the rotations on offense, and it would seem like Ajene Harris and Darreus Rogers should once again return as strong pieces in the offense. The loss was certainly tough, but if the defense and running game come to play this weekend most will be shortly forgotten.
BTD: Getting past USC & Pac-12 pride and expectations, the fact that the Trojans lost to the Eagles might not have been that big of a surprise, given the travel combined with the late night and the lack of depth, and the deteriorating weather conditions, that seemed to play to BC's advantage as well. But lets dive deeper into what happened, which was quite a surprise.
USC ran for only 20 yards, and only about 50 before figuring 5 sacks, and Boston College ran for 452. This after the Trojans ran for 156 at Stanford, and allowed the Cardinal only 128 on the ground. The USC lines wearing down doesn't completely explain that severe shift going both ways.
What did you find to be the real root issues after further review? What will Coach Sarkisian do to address the problems going forward?
Evan: Things were looking great through that first quarter, and then the accumulation of factors you spoke of really started to weigh down USC's chances. Tyler Murphy found gaping holes in the defense, following a well-designed script which isolated the end on an island, allowing the running game to carry the offense 100% of the way in the second half. The Trojans run defense was rather strong last season and the transition to coach Justin Wilcox has featured an adjustment period. While the team has done a good job in the red zone, the Trojans lack of pass rush, or in this case penetration into the backfield, limited their ability to stop the read-option game. In order to fix the defensive woes, Coach Sark will need to rely upon Su'a Cravens athleticism on the outsides to set the edge, pushing the run game back inside where a fully utilized Hayes Pullard (missed the first half of BC) and Anthony Sarao can clean up the inside running game.
BTD: We know Coach Sarkisian wants to play fast; he did the same thing at Washington. And generally, that's a sound strategy, especially at USC, where generally speaking, it makes sense to give the kind of play-makers the Trojans have as many opportunities to make a play as possible.But given that it will take a couple of years to fully reload the roster even though NCAA Sanctions are over, could it be he's moved too far too fast? Out-stripping what the depth he has can actually deliver, never mind how hard they try?
Evan: This is an ongoing discussion that will play itself out over the course of the season, but USC knows exactly to handle the sanction concerns because they've done it for a while now. The contingency plans have been put in place, but the biggest question is whether Sarkisian and company will trust those backup plans a long time down the road. I would actually argue USC hasn't relied enough on the depth, especially in the last two games, but its not as if this roster hasn't been through the rigors. The Trojans have run so many plays dating back to Spring that multiple players have mentioned that a lack of experience is not part of the conversation for this team, adding it rests heavily on trust with their respective coaches. The staff has rotated bodies well at WR, OL and CB, but the DL and LB positions are areas where depth is a major concern and maybe the scholarship limitations have taken the biggest tole there.
BTD: USC's fans have a reputation for being somewhat laid back, and also sometimes not getting all that fired up at times, though I personally think that's overstated; even when the Coliseum is only 85-90% full, that's a LOT of fans. But the last time Oregon St. was down there, it was a tremendous game, one the Trojans won 42-36, and there were 90,000 fans, most of them very loud, there. Can Beaver Nation expect a repeat of that day in 2009, atmosphere wise?
USC: That would be ideal, but the 7:30 start time is not the most promising for great turnout. If USC were to have beaten Boston College in the last game then maybe we'd be talking 88-90k but I would honestly believe that 75-80k is more reasonable. This fan base, which is notorious for speaking its mind when things go awry, will be loud and supportive of a good start on the field which could remedy some major concerns from the BC game.
BTD: Nelson Agholor seems to be having a big year regardless of whatever else may be happening, but George Farmer also appears to finally be living up to family expectations. Is the USC air game on track to become a force in the Pac-12, where being a force is at once pretty common, and pretty hard to do? What do you expect from this aspect of the game this week, and going forward?
Evan: USC's passing attack is predicated around short, quick precision routes that maximize spacing over the middle of the field. That said, the Trojans will never be that team (cough, cough like Washington State) to chuck the ball 50-55 times with the intention of going deep real often. This week in particular the Trojans might actually be more aggressive, attacking a weaker secondary on the outside. I'd expect Darreus Rogers, a taller threat, to be featured as one of Cody Kessler's leading targets in the passing game. Once Pac-12 play really gets going over these next few games I'd expect Nelson Agholor to remain the main possession WR, while Rogers, true freshman Adoree' Jackson and George Farmer will be heavily featured to alleviate stress on the recently maligned running game.
BTD: Defensively, Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard get most of the publicity, and they certainly deserve it, based on performance. But who else on the defense are you most expecting big things from against Oregon St., and over the season?
Evan: Those two have been rock solid, but the play of redshirt safety Gerald Bowman has been fantastic. Sliding right into the starting strong safety role, the savvy veteran is always in good position to cover the deep ball and his hard work has been rewarded with a couple of early interceptions this season. One other player worth commending is Antwaun Woods, the nose tackle tasked with the assignment of clearing space for Pullard up the middle. Adoree' Jackson continues to get more reps at cornerback which will only help his development as a solid No. 2 cover corner, especially against quick threats in the slot.
BTD: For years, we have been used to USC being tough to beat, but they have often just lined up and beat whomever the went up against. But the Trojans have actually been one of the easier teams to prepare for. Whether you have the horses to do so is another matter, but there haven't been a lot of surprises to be dealt with, especially contrasted with, for example, Oregon, at least during the era of Chip Kelly, or Mike Leach's Air Raid at Washington St., where you never know what is coming next, or where it will come from.
Has USC become more unpredictable now that Coach Sarkisian has arrived? Or has the lack of depth and experience out of necessity delayed that?
Evan: That's a very good question, and I think that will be the biggest challenge for coach Sarkisian over his USC tenure. The Trojans have adapted the fast-paced, up-tempo offense as a means to deceive the defense. So far its come with a mixed bag of results, mostly because the Trojans don't have (yet) the dynamic game changer that can really change the way you prepare for this offense. Cody Kessler is a solid quarterback, one I would choose over many because of his poise and ball security, but something tells me the Trojans will better utilize the next QB as a more mobile, versatile threat in the read-option set. I firmly believe that reputation will change over time, but the Trojans will always have the talent in the Pac-12 to slightly rely upon your old adage of just lining up and playing football.
BTD: What do you all expect out of Cody Kessler in this game? As a seasoned senior he sure seems a bit under the Pac-12 QB radar this year, and he is facing a very good pass defense in OSU's secondary. Will he have something to prove? [My bad on that Kessler is indeed a red-shirt junior, ah the one page on Yahoo sports I decide to look at had him listed incorrectly! I am still intrigued and excited about this veteran QB duel though!- RVM]
Evan: Kessler has certainly flown under the radar, and I would expect another solid game from the red-shirt junior. In his last 8 games he has thrown just one interception, and that confidence has translated into multiple 300-yard games. I think the ASU game might be more of a "game to prove" only because he threw a pick-six and played so poorly in Lane Kiffin's final game (yes, the Tarmac game). But given the fact that USC lost in its last game vs BC, Kessler will look to push the ball downfield to spark some early offensive success.
Thanks, Evan, for talking with us; there's some great insight into what has to be an intriguing matchup for all concerned!