USC Now mailbag: The Boston College debacle is still on your mind

Cody Kessler
USC quarterback Cody Kessler sits on the turf after being sacked in the first half Saturday against Boston College.
(Winslow Townson / Getty Images)

Welcome back to the USC Now mailbag, where you’re still asking about USC’s 37-31 defeat by Boston College and are already worried about the 2016 game against Alabama.

Let’s get to it. 

Farzad asks: When is [USC Coach Steve Sarkisian] going to realize that Cody is not developing and not getting better? This is going to end badly against UCLA and ND.

He is slow in decision making. Many times he has over 6 or 7 seconds and has no clue. Late in the game when it’s too late he pads his stats.


If he played better when the game counted his defense doesn’t need to come back on the field after 1, 2, 3 out. Please, someone needs to realize that.

Lindsey: Interesting issue you raise, Farzad. You’re not alone, many readers emailed with a similar question.

My question for you is, what is this theory that he’s not developing based on?

Gary Klein points out in this article that Cody Kessler is having a good season.


Kessler is one of four quarterbacks in college football who has thrown 100 or more passes with no interceptions.

In his last eight games -- dating to last season -- he’s had one interception.

And he’s completed 71% of his passes this season, eight for touchdowns.

Sure, there are a few plays where he should have made a quicker decision and gotten the ball out. But he didn’t have much pass protection from his offensive line.

And what about the play-calling?

Doug Skinner asks: Lindsey … your “five things article” was right on. The second half was a disaster … especially the young offensive line. My question is — who was responsible for [Hayes] Pullard not playing the first half ? If it wasn’t required by the forces that be i.e. NCAA or Pac-12 …why was it done? I’ve been told this was a decision by Sarkisian … if it was his call -- why did he do it when they are so short-handed anyway?

Lindsey: Hi Doug, thanks for reading. Linebacker Hayes Pullard didn’t play the first half because he was suspended by the Pac-12 Conference.

Pullard received a targeting penalty against Stanford and was ejected. Part of the penalty is to also sit the first half of the next game.


John Tenery asks: Two things:

1. The defense had no clue as to how to stop the BC option; any idea where Clancy Pendergast is these days?

2. Whoever called/designed the offensive plays did not have the foggiest notion that Buck Allen off tackle was not going to work. Period! Any idea where the innovative play caller in the Las Vegas Bowl is these days?

Lindsey: Funny you ask, I was working on a post during the first week of the season about where members of USC’s former coaching staff landed. Then Josh Shaw happened.

Here’s the list:

Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator, Alabama

Mike Summers, offensive line coach, Florida

James Cregg, offensive line assistant, Denver Broncos


Tommie Robinson, running backs coach, Texas

Tee Martin, receivers coach, USC

Clay Helton, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, USC

Mike Ekeler, inside linebackers coach, Georgia

Ed Orgeron, not coaching this year

John Baxter, not coaching this year, but continues to promote “Academic Gameplan,” his guide to success for student-athletes in college.

Which leads us to Pendergast, who I am told is not coaching this year and is looking to go back to the NFL.

As for the innovative player-caller, that was Helton who called the game for USC at the Las Vegas Bowl. He has the offensive coordinator title for the Trojans, but Sarkisian call the plays.

Larry Townsend asks: I had a feeling USC would have a letdown against the unranked Boston College team. However, I can’t understand the play calling from Coach Sark. Like Lane Kiffin, he seems very reluctant to throw the ball down field and he insists upon handling the play calling duties.

Coach Nick Saban from Alabama does not call the plays but he oversees the play calling while focusing primarily on the defense. If Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks won the last Super Bowl with a stout defense, why doesn’t Coach Sark focus more on recruiting defensive stalwarts instead of spending so much energy on play makers for the offense? Somehow, Sarkisian reminds me too much of Lane Kiffin.

The truth is, many of the USC big name recruits are marginal football players at best and Southern California is no longer a hotbed of high school football talent.

How could USC look so incompetent against an unranked Boston College team? Thank goodness we don’t have to face the Oregon Ducks this season.

Lindsey: You’re right, Larry. USC does seem reluctant to throw the ball downfield.

However, I disagree about USC’s big-name recruits being marginal football players. Would you call Hayes Pullard, Leonard Williams, Nelson Agholor and Adoree’ Jackson marginal?

And saying that Southern California is no longer a hotbed of high school football talent -- I disagree there  too.

Southern California has a plethora of top talent. USC freshmen Jackson, Damien Mama and JuJu Smith -- among others -- could have played anywhere in the country.

Recruits from the South are maybe the most sought-after, but Southern California still has a lot of talent.

Joe LaBarbera asks:  Much has been said about USC’s lack of depth. Do they ever use any backup players on the defense? If not, wouldn’t it be better to get these guys in the game and relieve the first team guys? My way of thinking is that if you’re good enough to make the team at USC, you should be good enough to spell the first team guys. I think a fresh new guy who will try and bring his best stuff in a relief effort would be better than an overextended first team guy poised to get injured for being exhausted. Just interested in your thoughts, I’m just a old retired guy who still loves college football.

Lindsey: USC hardly rotates players in on defense and, quite frankly, I think they have the numbers to do so.

There is young talent starting to fill in behind the starters, but there is a considerable drop-off -- at least where experience is concerned.

Each defensive position lists at least two backups, with the exception of defensive tackle – with Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons.

Maybe it’s a case where the coaching staff doesn’t have enough confidence in the talent to rotate players in? That’s what it appears to be. 

Julian from Las Vegas asks: I am already worried about the Alabama game. Our current DL 2-deep is made up of 6 JRs (average weight: 293). Eligible for Alabama is injured Kenny Bigelow (college game experience: Zero snaps) and no one over 240#. Add [Noah] Jefferson (if he doesn’t go to TE), [Jacob] Daniels and hopefully Rasheem Green in 2015, the 2016 DL looks very thin. Further, with (likely) 5 JRs coming back in 2015, these guys won’t get too many snaps and probably none of them will start. Our entire DL will be lucky to have 400 downs played between them by the time they meet Cam Robinson and Co. Who do you think might be coming in 2015 and 2016 to shore up the weakest part of the 2016 team? Any JCs? Will [Don] Hill and/or [Malik] Dorton bulk up or play LB/RE?

Lindsey: Julian, it worries me that you’re worried about an event two years away!

But looking ahead, you have a good point.

The juniors -- Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Delvon Simmons, Claude Pelon, Cody Temple and Greg Townsend Jr. -- will be gone in 2016, and most likely all but one will be around next season (Williams to the NFL).

If recovery from his ACL surgery stays on track, Bigelow will have a year of college experience in 2016, plus Jefferson, Daniel and Christian Rector --who will be in their second season if the 2015 commits sign letters of intent.

USC is thought to be the favorite for Green, who would also bulk up a young line.

As for freshmen Dorton and Hill, they’re listed at rush end on the depth chart, so it remains to be seen if they’ll be tested as interior linemen.

Alan German asks: They say on TV that USC can have 85 scholarships next year but your article says they can only bring in 24 scholarship players next year. I would think they could bring in more like 30 players. Curious!

Lindsey: The end of NCAA sanctions means USC’s roster can grow back to 85 scholarship players. However, the program can only bring in 25 players per recruiting class.

Here’s the scholarship math on this year: USC started with 25 available scholarships, but is down to 24 after blue-shirt Matt Boermeester joined the roster.

A blue-shirt recruit is an NCAA exception, where a nonrecruited player can receive a scholarship when they start practicing with the team, and the scholarship counts toward the next class. Boermeester is available to play immediately.

Sarkisian announced three recruits have signed financial-aid paperwork, which means those three players are guaranteed a USC scholarship.

Which brings the total of available scholarships in 2015 to 21.

Michael Miramontes writes: I fail to understand your logic and analysis regarding the O Line and the Tight Ends.

With a young O-Line, Sarkisian has to rely on the tight ends as blockers, therefore they cannot be utilized as receivers.

If you understood this, then you would not be making these mistakes in presenting your analysis or your recommendations.

Remember, placing nine pregnant woman into a room does not make a baby. Just like a pregnancy, the O-Line will need a gestation period … let’s just hope it will not take nine months.

Lindsey: Last, but not least, Michael!

A tight end’s primary role is to block, regardless of whether it is a young or veteran offensive line.

Part of his role is to also be an offensive threat. Sarkisian produced the top tight end in the country a year ago. He has two very capable tight ends -- Randall Telfer and Bryce Dixon -- at his disposal this year.

So even if they need to be utilized more as blockers because of a young offensive line, that doesn’t account for four combined passes between the two, especially not in an offense that depends on a quarterback getting the ball out quickly, completing short passes for a few yards, and one-on-one matchups.

And thanks for the note on pregnancy. It’s actually a topic I do not have personal experience with, so it makes for an interesting comparison. Maybe some other readers will be able to relate.

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