USC Now mailbag: Hail Mary and USC’s defense on the mind

Jaelen Strong, Hayes Pullard
Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong catches a 49-yard Hail Mary pass in front of USC’s Hayes Pullard to secure the Sun Devils’ 38-34 comeback victory over the Trojans last week.
(Rob Schumacher / Associated Press)

USC fans certainly haven’t lacked material to email me about this season. 

Josh Shaw’s false heroic narrative, Anthony Brown’s claims, Pat Haden’s trip to the sideline, and now a game-winning Hail Mary against the Trojans.

Should I mention that readers are starting to sound like Southeastern Conference folks? Because it’s all about the defense! 

Here are a sample of questions you asked this week. 


Do you suppose that the defensive coaching staff will now impress upon the players, and Hayes Pullard in particular, to not act like an outfielder for the Dodgers shagging fly balls?

--John Q

What a rough few days it turned out to be for Los Angeles sports fans.

USC and UCLA lose and the Dodgers and Angels don’t advance in the playoffs.


I almost feel bad for the city, but I’m from Seattle, so ….

Oh, wait. I feel your pain. Seattle has the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, but before that, well, it was bad.

Back to your question.

That Hail Mary pass will be one that lives forever around USC.

In fact, I think it will become (if it hasn’t already) more remembered than the failed Hail Mary pass that Matt Barkley threw to Marqise Lee at Arizona in 2012, when the Trojans surrendered a 28-13 lead in the fourth quarter and lost by a touchdown, which left Lee in tears.

Pullard said this week that he learned from the experience and in the future would “go after the ball.”

Watching the replay of the Hail Mary (it seems to air hourly on various channels), it remains remarkable how many USC defenders were around the ball and failed to make a play on it.

If USC is faced with another such situation, it will be interesting to see if panic ensues or if the defense executes.


Not impressed with Justin Wilcox. Until they are willing to rotate players on defense, they will struggle against up-tempo offenses. Even though Arizona State only ran 68 plays, a large amount were in the final quarter and final three drives.If USC wants to be a player next year, they need to give players time on the field this year [like] Uchenna Nwosu, Michael Hutchings, Olajuwon Tucker and Jonathan Lockett. Yes, I know John Plattenberg got beat in the first half, but he will learn from that.

--Tarn Victor

Some USC fans might read this and say, “Sign Tarn up to coach!”

You’re far from the only reader who has asked why more players aren’t used in the defensive rotation. Sanctions and reduced scholarship numbers often become the excuse. You just pointed out a few young players who could -- in theory -- play more.

And you did not even mention Quinton Powell, who has become a mailbag favorite the past couple of weeks. (By the way, Coach Steve Sarkisian said this week that Powell has been “steady” on special teams but would need to bulk up by 15-20 pounds in the off-season to be effective at his position on defense).

Plattenburg could see more playing time against Arizona after safety Gerald Bowman was sidelined for at least two practices this week because of a thigh bruise.

I think what it comes down to is the coaches’ belief in the players and whether they think the players are ready for a game situation. Considering these were some of the top recruits on the West Coast, you have to think that with some coaching they would be ready to rotate in, maybe not for more than a handful of plays, but to at least provide relief.

Can USC cover the spread offense that the Arizona Wildcats will bring in full force down in Tucson?


--Calvin Lau

That is the million-dollar question, Calvin -- and unfortunately I can’t answer it until after the game on Saturday.

USC struggled mightily to handle the run against Boston College (giving up 452 yards) and then was unable to defend the pass (510 yards) against Arizona State.

Maybe if the Trojans combine their pass defense from Boston College and their run defense from Arizona State they’ll have a chance against Arizona’s read-option scheme.

But Arizona’s offense ranks seventh nationally, so it might be an understatement to say it could be a challenge for USC to put it all together against the Wildcats.

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon set a Pac-12 record with 566 yards of total offense against Cal on Sept. 20 (a record that has since been broken by Washington State’s Connor Halliday).

USC’s “schizophrenic” defense, as Wilcox called it, will have its hands full.

What is the story behind George Farmer’s limited role in the USC offense? He is supposedly one of the fastest Trojans, yet when he is targeted it is a short possession pass as opposed to using that speed to stretch the defense with deeper routes.

--Edward Polite

USC’s offense under Sarkisian has utilized more short than long passes. Sarkisian did say this week that players must anticipate and execute more throws downfield.

Whether those throws will be to Farmer remains to be seen.

Farmer has 13 receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown.

I spoke to receivers coach Tee Martin about Farmer this week. Martin said Farmer was playing well and added that “as opportunities on the perimeter increase” in the passing game, so will the potential for Farmer to contribute more (which means more short passes!).

Martin said Farmer remained in a daily competition with freshman JuJu Smith for playing time.

Smith has 18 receptions for 207 yards.

Questions about USC? Email me at or tweet @LindseyThiry and I will answer select questions in a weekly USC Now mailbag.