It’s all about resiliency.
When Boston College goes to Los Angeles to play USC on Saturday (3 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network), it will be facing a top-tier football program in hostile territory.
Until a shocking 10-7 home loss to Washington State in Week 2, the Trojans (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12) were a Top 25 team (at No. 25). And while they aren’t ranked anymore, losing that status didn’t take away any of the talent Lane Kiffin and his staff have at their disposal.
The Trojans are first in the country in run defense (allowing just 15.0 yards per game) and in sacks (with 11) through two weeks. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball, including reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee at wide receiver and running back Tre Madden (16th nationally with 130 yards a game) on offense and defensive lineman George Uko (three sacks) and linebacker Morgan Breslin (two sacks) on defense.
“They’re just all the best recruits in the country at every position,” BC QB Chase Rettig said, referring to the Trojans’ D. “So they’ve got a lot of talent. The first two teams have kind of struggled moving the ball against them, so we have our game plan and we’re gonna try to execute it the best we can.”
BC doesn’t have the level of talent that USC does, so to overcome that gap the Eagles (2-0, 1-0 ACC) will rely on their hard-nosed approach. On their ability to battle, to bounce back up after getting knocked down and keep pushing forward.
“I think we need to go out and be who we are. Just go play really hard and be really gritty,” Addazio said in his weekly media session on Monday. “I told our team, ‘Let’s go out there are play as hard as we can play, get the game into the fourth quarter and go after the win.’”
The Eagles aren’t getting caught up in their opponent’s circumstances, aren’t concerned with Kiffin’s job security or with the debate over whether Max Wittek or Cody Kessler should be leading the Trojans’ scuffling offense (18.5 PPG in 2013 after 32.1 PPG in 2012). Addazio was asked if he’d rather not be facing a team after a big upset, when it’ll be looking for a bounce-back win.
“You know, you do think about all of those things,” he said. “Like you do, I do. But sometimes then I say to myself, you know what? Who knows? I don’t walk in those shoes. Here’s what I do know, I try to work on the knowns.
“The knowns are they’re as talented a football team as I’ve seen in a long time. … That football team right there? Wow. That’s all I can tell you. Wow.”
After watching the tape of USC’s first two games, Addazio said he thought the Trojans’ opponents really competed.
“I think that you really have to have that mindset,” he said. “To go out there, you’ve gotta just kinda have a resiliency about you and just keep hammering away. You’ve gotta play good on defense and against this great defense that they have you’ve gotta kinda be resilient and realize that you’ve gotta get this thing into the fourth quarter to give yourself a chance to win.”
The Eagles can’t afford to fall behind, because they won’t be able to catch up against the Trojans’ D, and they’ll have to be creative on offense to move the chains.
It’s been just about impossible to run against USC so far this season, with just five first downs allowed rushing in two games. But that doesn’t mean offensive coordinator Ryan Day won’t try to see if Andre Williams can have another big day running the football after he managed 204 yards against Wake Forest.
“We just want to try to consume clock and get our defense off the field and give them a chance to rest,” Rettig said of the Eagles’ power run game. “Obviously Andre running hard and breaking tackles, that’ll be a major factor in it. Hopefully we can pick up a lot of first downs and continue to work the clock.”
The Eagles have put a renewed focus on pass protection this week, after giving up three sacks to Wake Forest in Week 2.
“If we screw something up in the game, we spend a little more time on it out here,” right tackle Ian White said on Shea Field after practice Wednesday. “Running the ball is all about getting looks and then just being nasty. Once you understand the looks, it’s all mental and it’s all toughness. In the pass game, we have to spend a little bit more time.
“A couple of the sacks, we’d have guys engaged and then just in our minds we click, like, ‘That’s a side shot,’ like, ‘We can crush them there,’ and then it knocks them off the block for the sack kind of thing. So it’s kind of finding that balance between you want to hit the guy as hard as you can but also your job is just to keep him off the quarterback so use good technique.”
White, a fifth-year senior co-captain, said the Eagles have had a good week of practice. On Wednesday, they worked with a noise simulator blaring to try to recreate the loud atmosphere they’ll encounter in the Coliseum.
“Already by the end, I was so sick of it,” White said of listening to the USC fight song. “I would rather just hear crowd noise. To listen to their stuff is a little extra motivation.”
Not that they needed that to push them.
“You can definitely see the extra fire from going to play at USC,” White said. “Especially on the offense. I mean, you hear about their offensive struggles but their defense is an NFL defense. I mean, they run an NFL scheme, they have NFL players, they’re gonna look pretty getting off the bus, so you can see the extra fire under us to really get in gear.”
The Eagles will need all the horsepower, and will power, they can muster to come out of the Coliseum with a win.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.