LOS ANGELES — This game was a tale of two coaches.
Boston College’s Steve Addazio is trying to rebuild a program. Southern California’s Lane Kiffin is trying to prevent one from falling apart in his hands. Both got what they needed on Saturday.
Addazio’s under-construction program was the perfect anodyne for the under-siege USC coach, who was less popular than freeway traffic in these parts after the Trojans suffered an ignominious 10-7 home loss to Washington State Sept. 7.
An Eagles team that has an abundance of effort, toughness, and fortitude but a dearth of game-changers gave Kiffin a reprieve and USC a much-needed 35-7 win on Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“It wasn’t a great week. There wasn’t a lot of positivity around for obvious reasons,” said Kiffin. “I thought these guys just kept working. They stayed the plan, and they kept grinding.”
Outlined against the gorgeous vista of downtown Los Angeles on a sun-splashed afternoon, BC’s first trip to the Coliseum to play USC since 1987 was a constructive college football exercise for both teams.
The Eagles got a glimpse of how far they have to go to get back to Top-25 contention after hitting a nadir last season at 2-10. Southern Cal (2-1) got to pull the emergency brake on a season that was careening toward the point of no return for its head coach.
There was a thought that BC (2-1) could pull the upset, a program-defining victory for Addazio in just his third game on the sideline. But it disappeared in the second half, when a 14-0 USC lead ballooned to 28-0 by early in the fourth quarter.
Thanks to NCAA probation, these aren’t the juggernaut Trojans of the days of Pumped and Jacked Pete Carroll, but they’re still a team awash in four- and five-star recruits.
“We played a really good football team, contrary to what some people might want to think,” said Addazio. “They got themselves a little sideways, and got backed up today and came out swinging to their credit.”
These had been trying times in Troy. Kiffin called it “Hell Week” in his postgame press conference.
Fans chanted, “Fire Kiffin” after the Trojans lost to Washington State in an anemic offensive performance. His decision to go with a quarterback platoon of Cody Kessler and Max Wittek was a display of disconcerting indecision at best and a disastrous hindrance to his offense at worst, as USC had just 54 yards passing against Washington State, its lowest total since 1998.
Kiffin and his star receiver, Marqise Lee, publicly contradicted each other on whether there had been a players-only meeting following the loss. Kiffin announced that Kessler would be his starter going forward via YouTube.
Regardless of how it was announced, the decision was the right one. The sophomore led a USC offense that piled up 521 yards and gained 8.4 yards per play against BC.
On the first play of the game, Kessler just missed on a deep play-action pass to Lee. He then completed his next 14 passes before another deep throw to Lee went off the All-American’s fingertips with 14:53 left in the fourth quarter.
Kessler finished 15 of 17 for 237 yards and two touchdowns. His 174 yards passing in the first half were more than he had in the first two games of the season combined.
His second TD toss showcased the game-breaker gap between ’SC and BC. Lee caught a quick out, made BC corner Manny Asprilla miss, and raced 80 yards down the right sideline to make it 14-0 with 8:49 left in the half. The Eagles had to feel fortunate about that deficit.
Folks out here are familiar with Botox. It was like someone Botoxed the BC offense. The Eagles couldn’t move. They ran 23 plays for 63 yards in the first half and punted five times. They finished with eight punts and 184 yards of offense against a USC defense that came in ranked first in the nation in sacks per game (5.5) and fewest rushing yards allowed per game (15).
It was a rough homecoming for BC quarterback Chase Rettig, who hails from Sierra Madre, about 20 miles from the Coliseum.
He was the man under siege at the Coliseum on this Saturday. Rettig was 11 of 24 for 83 yards.
Star back Andre Williams, who rushed for a career-high 204 yards against Wake Forest, was limited to 17 rushes for 38 yards.
Any chance the Eagles had of leaving with a win as a souvenir of their SoCal trip went out the window when Williams was hauled down for a loss on fourth and 1 from the USC 46 with 6:49 left in the third quarter.
Four plays later, Tre Madden, who had 16 rushes for 102 yards, scored on a 30-yard run on a third-and-8 carry.
Credit the kids from the Heights. They never hung their heads or dropped their compete level. But they were outmanned by the Men of Troy.
College is about education, and this was an educational trip for Addazio’s Eagles.
“We’ve made a lot of progress. I’m not going to let one game wipe out the progress that we’ve made,” said Addazio. “That’s not right. There is a lot of progress. There are a lot of good things.
“It’s all about incrementally building our program right now. We don’t rise and fall. This is an incremental deal. We’re going to have some bumps along the way. We hit one today pretty hard, and we got to rally back.”