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September 12, 2013

USC vs. Boston College Preview

Game 3: 'I Got a Thousand Answers, One's Gotta Be Right'

USC has a starting quarterback AND a players-only meeting. Can they also get Lane Kiffin out of the doghouse with a win over Boston College?

The USC Trojans (1-1) look to rebound when they face the Atlantic Coast Conference's (ACC) Boston College Eagles (2-0) in the second game of a three-game homestand this Saturday, September 14, at noon PDT in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and in front of a national Pac-12 Networks cable television audience. It's just the fourth meeting between the two schools, with USC winning the three previous meetings (1987 in Los Angeles; 1988 in Boston; and 2009 in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco). The Trojans are 23-11 against current members of the ACC, while Boston College is just 4-6 against Pac-12 opposition. Saturday marks just the seventh time that an Eagle team has traveled to California to play football.

A week ago, the Trojans suffered one of the most embarrassing defeats in their 125-year football history, gifting a 10-7 win to the Washington State Cougars. The USC defense enjoyed its second consecutive stellar effort, but the Trojan offensive gameplan was essentially non-existent, allowing a subpar WSU defense to take the game away. Meanwhile, BC senior running back Andre Williams powered through the Wake Forest defense to the tune of 204 yards on 35 carries in a 24-10 home win over the Demon Deacons on Friday, Sept. 6.

Trojan Coach Lane Kiffin (33-20 career collegiate head coaching record; 26-14 at USC) is in his fourth season at USC. He also coached the Oakland Raiders in 2007-08, after spending the preceding six seasons as an assistant at USC. Across the country, new Boston College headman Steve Addazio (15-11 overall in three seasons as a head coach) is off to a solid start after arriving from Temple, where he served in 2011-12. His Eagles have already matched BC's 2012 win total and though the talent remains questionable, the Eagles do appear to have undergone a positive attitude adjustment.

Boston College Offense
Addazio brought back former BC assistant Ryan Day to serve as the Eagles' offensive coordinator. Day was the BC wide receivers coach from 2007-11 before joining Addazio at Temple a season ago. The Eagles operate out of a three-wide, single-back set - at times employing either a fullback, a fourth wideout or a more traditional tight end option. Boston College returned eight starters on offense this season, but is operating under its fifth offensive coordinator in a little more than two calendar years. The transition has been a touch rough, as the Eagles have put up just 48 points against FCS squad Villanova and a Wake Forest team that allowed 32 PPG in 2012. Senior quarterback Chase Rettig, a Southern California native, has started at BC since the fourth game of his true freshman season. He's definitely more of a game-manager type, especially thus far in 2013, but did throw for an average of more than 3,100 yards each of the past two seasons. His career TD-INT ratio (39-32) is cause for concern, but he's experienced and capable if given the time (BC allowed 35 sacks in 2012, but only three so far this season).

Rettig's top target is 2012 All-ACC first teamer Alex Amidon. The senior has 132 career catches, including a school record 78 for 1,210 yards (also a BC mark) in 2012. He's picked right up, with 18 catches for 239 yards and two scores in the Eagles' first two games. The rest of the receiving corps has struggled, as 6-foot-5 sophomore Dan Crimmins and speedy junior Spiffy Evans have combined for just four catches in the first two games, though Evans did score last week against Wake. BC's No. 2 receiver so far, redshirt freshman Bobby Wolford, is a converted linebacker listed as a back-up fullback. Really. Still, he's averaging 14 yards on his six catches.

Speaking of running backs, Addazio was very high on the senior Williams coming into 2013, and the lumbering 230-pounder has not disappointed, knocking out 318 yards rushing on 58 attempts (a 5.5 average) and two TDs in the season's first two games. He's a sizeable runner, and not exactly a shifty guy. But the Eagles believe in his style and will likely ride him hard again this week. Sophomore David Dudeck and frosh Tyler Rouse will see spot duty when Williams needs a rest.

Boston College's offensive line, which has struggled to open running lanes in recent years, on top of allowing those 35 sacks a season ago, is probably at its most experienced in some time. Senior right tackle Ian White is the leader (and offensive captain), with 23 starts coming into 2013. He's joined across the way by Florida transfer LT Matt Patchan (who has started a total of 10 games in his college career). The line's interior features junior LG Bobby Vardaro (22 starts), junior center Andy Gallik (17 starts) and junior RG Harris Williams, who is in his first full season as a starter.

Boston College Defense
Defensive coordinator Don Brown joined Addazio's new staff after turning some heads during a two-year stint in the same role at Connecticut (UCONN was 10th nationally in 2012, allowing less than 310 yards per game). Brown also served as DC at Maryland in 2009-10. He is a 4-3 style coach, but his defenses attack, something that was deeply necessary in Chestnut Hill after BC allowed 214 rushing yards per game in 2012 and notched a simply mindboggling six sacks - for the entire season. The Eagles have surpassed that in just two games, making seven sacks while forcing seven turnovers.

Up front, senior defensive end Kasim Edebali, the team's defensive captain, is off to a great start with three sacks among his 10 stops so far. At the other end, former tackle Kaleb Ramsey, a senior, is sharing time with junior Brian Mihalik, both of whom have plenty of experience. In the middle, junior Mehdi Abdesmad and sophomore Connor Wujciak are getting the bulk of the looks, with Abdesmad leading the way statistically.

Strongside linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis is the ACC's top tackler through two weeks, with 23 stops, including four for loss. The agile senior (who played mostly on the weakside prior to 2013) will be making his 34th start this weekend and is the backbone of a trio that accounts for the Eagles' top three tacklers so far. Senior middle man Steele Divitto, who spent much of his solid BC career on the strong side, hasn't slowed much in his new role, making 16 tackles. And sophomore Steven Daniels has put an early stranglehold on the weak side with his 14 tackles. Experienced reserves are in limited supply here.

There's also plenty of experience in the BC secondary, with junior returning starters at cornerback - Manuel Asprilla - and both safety spots: SS Spenser Rositano and FS Sean Sylvia. While that trio has combined for 33 tackles and two interceptions through two games, it's perhaps the lone newbie - sophomore CB Bryce Jones - who's made the biggest splash. Jones has two picks so far and was named ACC Defensive Back of the Week last weekend after notching a pick and a fumble recovery. Junior safety Dominique Williams is seeing the most time in a reserve role for the Eagles.

Boston College Special Teams
Senior Nate Freese has been a stellar placekicker throughout his BC career. He's made his first two field goals this season, leaving him at 52-of-63 in his career, with a long of 52. He also has eight touchbacks in 10 kickoffs and has taken over punting duties, where he's averaging 39.2 yards on 13 boots. Evans is the top pick on both punt and kickoff returns, which he's handled since 2011. He has one career return TD, on a punt in 2012.

USC Offensive Gameplan
Kiffin: "I'll take the Big Boy Combo, with bleu cheese on the salad, a cherry Coke and a slice of hot fudge cake."

Starting QB Cody Kessler: "Um, coach, I need a play call."

Kiffin: "Oh, yea, I'm hungry. Must've thought this was a Bob's Big Boy menu."

Kessler: "Um, ok then. Since we have a moment during this timeout, can I ask why you chose me over Max Wittek?"

Kiffin: "Because while Pappy Parker fried chicken can be fantastic from time to time, the spaghetti with chili is very consistent."

Kessler: "Uh … I think I'm gonna get back out there to the huddle."

USC Defensive Gameplan
1) Stop the run. 2) Account for Amidon. 3) Hope to hell the offense has more than seven points in its back pocket.

The Pick
Your guess is as good as mine. I look at Vegas with an O/U hovering around 43 and SC favored by 14, and I wonder if they've lost their minds out there (or they just don't care about money coming in on Trojan games anymore). Personnel-wise, BC has a vastly better defense than the Washington State group that USC made look like the 1966 Green Bay Packers. But the Eagle offense appears to be even less of a strategic challenge for Clancy Pendergast's revitalized Trojan defense.

Maybe another week away from last Saturday's debacle will allow me to write cogently about Kiffin's 2013 team. Let's hope, anyway. Speaking of hope . . .

USC 17, Boston College 10

Tom Haire has been writing for USCFootball.com for 13 years. He is the editor of a monthly trade magazine in the advertising industry. He grew up watching USC dominate the Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl and ended up a Trojan journalism school alum ('94). He's traveled from Honolulu to Palo Alto to South Bend to New York to Miami to watch college football, and has also covered the Pac-10 for both PigskinPost.com and CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at thomas.haire@me.com or followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/thrants (@THrants)



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