To quote Gavel Sports Editor, Jake Miller, “Ok so we're three games into the season and do we really know what we have for a football team? We beat a team we should have (UMass), lost to a team we shouldn't have (Pitt), and beat a team we shouldn't have (USC).”
The difference between the Pitt and USC games was obviously the success of the ground attack, but what changed in only one week?
Many will say it was a shot of pure emotion into the bloodstream that drove the Eagles to victory last Saturday, and they may be right; we might fall right back to the mediocre team we saw against Pitt. But there was a clear tactical change in the offense that went from being completely shut down against the Pitt defense to having its way with a USC defense that held Stanford to 10 points.
Against Pitt, we were introduced to what will happen if we cannot successfully run the ball— namely, our weaknesses will be put on full display. Murphy does not have the comfort in the pocket, nor the trust in his receivers that any quarterback needs to lead a comeback when his team is down late. If the offense has to abandon what it knows best and throw its way back into a game, we will look just as lost every week as we did against Pitt.
The main difference in the run game was the reintroduction of the jet sweep. The sweep adds another dimension to Murphy’s already dangerous read-option ability by bringing more speed into the equation. In particular, the 5’6’’, 163-pound cannonball with legs by the name of Sherman Alston. Against Pitt, Alston had only one carry for 13 yards and his lack of involvement did little to keep Pitt from corralling the wild stallions in the BC backfield. BC brought back Alston’s motion from the slot into the backfield on a large percentage of running plays against USC, and the Trojan front seven looked more lost than my back line the first time I played FIFA.
Even when Alston was not touching the ball, he was keeping the USC defensive ends and outside linebackers honest. With their attention on number six, they weren’t able to fill their gaps when Murphy kept the ball or when our destructive running game was unleashed. Another thing— Jon Hilliman is a beast. The 6’0’’, 215-pound freshman was introduced to Alumni Stadium with the echoes of a Heisman finalist still ringing in the arches. As a freshman with room to grow, Hilliman already rivals Andre Williams in stature. In his first two games, Hilliman had only 12 carries for 44 yards and 0 touchdowns. But against the ninth ranked team in the country, Addazio called the freshman’s number and he delivered with 19 carries for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
In the midst of the three-headed monster that is Murphy, Alston and Hilliman wreaking havoc on the Trojans, sophomore Myles Willis showed up where I believe he is most effective. Behind Williams last year, Willis found success as a change of pace and third-down back; however, with Williams gone, Willis clearly put on weight last offseason to be poised to take on the starting role. In my opinion, though, relying on Willis as an every-down guy is an ill-fated move. After this week, Hilliman should get the nod as the first and second down back, putting Willis back in a position where he found so much success in the past.
The other side of the ball still remains a mystery. While the offense made tangible changes that led to success, our 100th nationally ranked defense seemed to come alive under the lights with five sacks, including three on critical third downs. Maybe they pulled a Nacho Libre and drank raw eagle eggs, allowing them to summon their eagle powers for one night of awesomeness. Or more likely, and hopefully, they absorbed the raw power of Addazio's energy and turned it around. They made Pitt, under a first-year quarterback, look like the most dynamic offense in the country, only to come out six days later and absolutely shut down USC, under a Heisman-hopeful quarterback. I have no explanation for the roller coaster of emotion that is the BC defense. In the coming weeks, we will see if they have turned it around for good or if last Saturday was just a fluke.
The most encouraging aspect of the game was that USC, the ninth ranked team in the country, did not play badly against BC. They had 0 turnovers and quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns, a great performance by any standards.
Their running game was stuffed, but unlike BC, they have enough athletes in their skill positions to make up for deficiencies in one aspect of their game plan. Overall, we simply beat them; we were the better team for four quarters. USC head coach, Steve Sarkisian said, "They outplayed us. They beat us in all three stages. They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The end result was we didn't get it done, and that starts with me coaching."
Just about everything that could ever be said about the atmosphere in Alumni has been said, and it has been said beautifully. It was the greatest thing I have ever experienced on this campus; I saw fellow seniors brought to tears. If there is one thing I can stress about how much that game meant, it is that I hope the underclassmen will never take moments like that for granted. I have waited too long to be truly proud of our football team, and last Saturday I left it all on the field. Appreciate the moments, pray for more and hail Addazio.
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