USC’s offense was heralded following a historic performance in the season opener before the Trojans’ defense carried them in an emotion-filled victory in Week 2.
That wild Pac-12 contest, however, didn’t come without a cost – both in the wallet and on the field.
Athletic director Pat Haden has been fined for his actions, and the Trojans more significantly will be without star linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half at Boston College as they seek their first 3-0 start since 2011 on Saturday night.
After gaining 701 yards while running a conference-record 105 plays in a 52-13 home win over Fresno State, ninth-ranked USC (2-0) was limited to 291 yards on 59 plays by defending Pac-12 champ Stanford on Saturday.
The Trojans, though, have seven starters back on a unit that ranked 13th in total defense and 16th in scoring last season, and held the host Cardinal to one touchdown despite allowing 413 yards. They also forced four fumbles, including J.R. Tavai’s late strip that ended Stanford’s comeback bid in a 13-10 road win.
“I think it says a lot that we can come in against this team, in this environment, and the game not really going our way and not really in our favor, just for whatever reason, and find a way to win,” said coach Steve Sarkisian, whose defense has four interceptions and six turnovers forced through two games.
Leonard Williams was named conference player of the week after finishing with 11 tackles and a sack.
USC, though, suffered a big blow when it learned Pullard must sit out the opening half against the Eagles. Pullard, who has led USC in tackles in two seasons, was ejected Saturday for targeting the head of Stanford’s Ty Montgomery on a punt return.
“Just understand that he’s surrounded by great players on that defense,” Eagles coach Steve Addazio said. “… maybe one of the best interior defensive lines and I’ve seen my share of great ones. But collectively, they’re really good.”
Haden said he will stay off USC’s sideline for the next two games after jogging onto the field Saturday following a stretch in which the Trojans were penalized on three straight plays and Sarkisian was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct.
On Monday, the conference fined Haden $25,000 for confronting game officials.
Now the Trojans will try to stay focused and avoid a letdown as they seek their first five-game road winning streak since the 2008 and ’09 seasons. They’ve won all four meetings with Boston College, including a 35-7 victory at the Coliseum last Sept. 14.
The Eagles (1-1) are seeking offensive balance following a 30-20 ACC home loss to Pittsburgh on Friday.
Tyler Murphy, a dual-threat quarterback who transferred from Florida, rushed 16 times for 92 yards and a touchdown, but the senior completed just 10 of 28 passes for 134 yards with one score and two interceptions.
”We’ve got to be better,” said receiver Shakim Phillips, who caught four passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. ”He didn’t make a bunch of bad passes. It’s not all on him.”
USC’s Cody Kessler also looks to regroup after completing 15 of 22 attempts for 135 yards – his lowest total in 14 starts. He went 15 of 17 for 237 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles last season.
The Trojans, however, might be best served turning to the ground game against a Boston College team that allowed 303 rushing yards against the Panthers. The Eagles also could be missing senior linebacker Sean Duggan due to a knee injury.
Javorius Allen is coming off a career-best 154-yard rushing performance against defensive-minded Stanford, leaving him 10th in the nation with 287 yards on 45 carries.
USC cruised to a 34-7 victory in its only trip to Boston College in 1988. The Eagles have dropped 11 straight to ranked opponents by an average of 16.6 points.