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Has USC learned lesson on defense?

LOS ANGELES -- The numbers on the stat sheet read like a script from a horror movie as USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox looked them over following Boston College's 37-31 win over the Trojans.

The game film looks as bad as the stats would indicate. Worse, Wilcox hasn't been able to update it in nearly two weeks since USC was on a bye last week.

BC ran for 452 yards and five touchdowns, the most rushing yards given up by a USC team since Texas A&M gained 486 yards in the 1977 Bluebonnet Bowl. The same defense that held Stanford to 10 points in Palo Alto and Fresno State to 13 in the season opener looked helpless in Chestnut Hill.

"Any time you put a lot of time and energy into something and it doesn't go how you want it to go, there are a lot of words to describe it and some of them aren't for interviews," Wilcox said. "It's fundamentals and execution. When you're supposed to be outside the block you have to be outside the block. It's about responsibilities and when you do them right, everything is fine but when one guy is off in an option game it's a catastrophic play."

There were plenty of "catastrophic plays" against the Eagles, perhaps none bigger than quarterback Tyler Murphy running for a 66-yard touchdown with 3:30 left in the game after USC had cut the Eagles' lead to six.

Maybe the Trojans were drained after their heavyweight battle against Stanford the previous week. Maybe they got fat off their clips after catapulting into the top 10, or maybe they were tired after a cross-country flight to Boston. Whatever the case (or excuse) may be, they simply looked gassed in the second half.

"In this day and age of tempo offenses you're going to play a lot of snaps and our job is to be prepared mentally and physically for the game," Wilcox said. "It's much easier when you're not tired to do everything right. When you get a little fatigued to be able to operate and still execute ... that's what we have to do a better job of."

It was a comedy of errors outside the tackles that had nothing to do with All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams and everything to do with Wilcox's inability to adjust to what BC was doing and his players' inability to be able to adjust to situations on the fly.

"We'll see something for the first time on Saturday [vs. Oregon State] and when you're a younger guy who hasn't seen a lot of football and you see it for them the first time you have to be able to correct it on the run," Wilcox said. "We show them as much as we can in practice but Oregon State has a heck of an offense so they will have something we haven't seen so we have to be able to rely on our fundamentals and principles until we get to the sideline and can fix it."

The problem against BC was that no adjustments were made. Against a team that couldn't pass (54 yards passing on just 13 attempts) and had trouble running between the tackles, the Trojans were still perplexed as to how to stop the Eagles from doing the one thing they could do -- run outside the tackles. It was as if every zone-read play was the first one they'd ever seen.

BC ran a zone-read on 37 percent percent of its rushes against USC and the play accounted for more than 60 percent of the Eagles' rushing yards.

Things won't get any easier for USC on Saturday when they face Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, who will break the Pac-12 record for career passing yards by the end of the season, and running backs Terron Ward and Storm Woods, who have each had 100-yard plus rushing games this season. They will pepper USC's defense with plenty of their trademark fly sweeps that will serve as a quick test to see how much USC has improved.

"If you're not disciplined with your eyes and people get aggressive on the fly they'll either screen you or run right by you," Wilcox said. "You can't play good football without having good eye discipline, especially against a good option team so we've got to improve. It can be just one guy and that's how important it is. It's not the first, second or third play, it's the sixth, seventh and eighth play when mental toughness becomes such a factor and a big part of the game. You have to be able to focus on the eighth play of a drive in the third quarter when that is the play that can make or break the game because they all can."

Wilcox never once pointed the finger at himself for his defense's inability to stop the run or adjust to Boston College's one-dimensional attack. He won't have to if those problems persist and drag into Saturday's game against Oregon State. They'll be pointed at him from every direction of the Coliseum.