Hail Mary game only part of USC’s defensive struggles

USC is fourth in the Pac-12 in total defense. But if you peel back the onion just a tad, there lies a troubling truth. The Trojans are giving up 6 yards per play.

Of the top five teams in the conference in total defense, the Trojans are the only team to give up more than 5.3 yards per play. It’s also a step back from last season, when USC allowed 4.8 yards per play.

Two big contributing factors to the increase through five games this season are the 453 rushing yards by Boston College and 510 passing yards by Arizona State.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian says it’s a matter of taking away the obvious from the opposition.

"Boston College it was bad weather," Sarkisian recalled. "They were running the ball effectively. We knew that they were going to continue to run the ball (and) we have to be able to take that away from them. (With) Arizona State it’s the fourth quarter. It’s late in the game, they’re behind, the obvious is they’re going to throw the ball. We have to be able to take that away from them.

USC still suffering Hail Mary blues

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"That comes with scheme. That comes with coaching. That comes with applying the scheme and the coaching on the field. I think that is the biggest area that I get from it. We know what’s coming. We have to be able to stop it."

Prior to Saturday’s loss to Arizona State, the USC defense hadn’t given up a passing touchdown all season. Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici quickly changed that. The former Woodland Hills Taft High quarterback completed 27 of 45 passes for 510 yards and five touchdowns.

His last touchdown pass of the night was the 46-yard Hail Mary that ended the game and broke the hearts of the Trojans and their fans.

While that play has been the most talked about of the weekend, in hindsight, it may be just a microcosm of USC’s defensive troubles.