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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The heat is on for No. 17 Southern California.
Morning practices are not early enough to allow the Trojans to avoid a September heat wave during their bye week, and those temperatures have paled in comparison to the blistering criticism following their 37-31 loss at Boston College.
After going toe-to-toe with Stanford and its punishing offensive line the previous week, USC (2-1) looked positively baffled by the Eagles' option attack. BC rushed for 452 yards, with quarterback Tyler Murphy accounting for 191 yards and one touchdown.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox cited mental mistakes, poor communication and missed tackles resulting in those struggles.
"You can't try and do too much (against the option), and when it is your play to make, we got to make the play," Wilcox said. "I got to do a better job preparing them, and we got to go out and execute better."
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Boston College's willingness to go right at star defensive end Leonard Williams through the use of the veer option, "where as opposed to reading the outside edge defender, they read the interior guy," Wilcox said.
Williams finished with five tackles, but had no tackles for loss.
Little went right for the USC defense, which allowed the most rushing yards since the 1977 Bluebonnet Bowl, but head coach Steve Sarkisian did praise the performance of sophomore Su'a Cravens.
Cravens, who started 13 games at safety last season and is now being used as a hybrid safety/linebacker, had three tackles for loss at Boston College.
"I think Su'a really made some plays for us last game, which not a lot of the guys on defense did, but he did," Sarkisian said. "He was able to get around the ball. It's just more for him about being right all the time at that position, and he will learn that."
Sarkisian's offensive play-calling has also come under criticism for his refusal to abandon an ineffective ground game, running the ball 24 times for just 56 yards. USC had eight consecutive drives that ended in punts, while another possession at the end of the first half saw the clock expire after a single play.
But Sarkisian said he would not abandon his desire to have balance between the run and the pass, nor would he reduce his role with the offense going forward.
"I've had worse games than scoring 31 points before," Sarkisian said. "After every game, win (or) lose, I analyze myself first as the head coach and as the play-caller. I look at myself first."
And with the heart of Pac-12 play ahead, beginning with a home game against Oregon State on Sept. 27, linebacker Hayes Pullard said the team's focus is now on being in position to win a conference championship.
"We got to win out in the South and just be able to get a chance to play in that Pac-12 championship game," Pullard said.
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