Boston College uses emotion and its running game to shock No. 9 USC

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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – The entire Boston College football team, sweaty and bloodied after a historic victory, took a knee around the BC logo in the middle of their locker room late Saturday night. Coach Steve Addazio handed the game ball from the Eagles’ 37-31 upset of No. 9 USC to Alison and Jefferson Crowther, the parents of late BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther. The team erupted in mixture of applause and tears, a fitting culmination for a most unexpected victory.

Boston College dedicated its game to Welles Crowther in honor of the the 13th anniversary of his death in the terrorist attacks of September 11. Crowther became a hero on 9-11 for running back into the South Tower to help people escape, including carrying a woman down 17 flights of stairs. Crowther became known by those he saved as “the man in the red bandana,” and BC honored that legacy by putting red bandana patterns on the players’ helmets, cleats and gloves.

So it was only fitting when BC completed its victory over USC, the school’s first win in 10 years over a top-10 team, Addazio handed the game ball to Alison and Jefferson Crowther and let them speak to the team.

“I don’t know if [my teammates] were crying for them or from beating USC,” BC center Andy Gallik said. “There were so many different emotions, I can’t even tell you.”

On paper, BC playing USC was a mismatch at best. The Trojans stomped BC 35-7 last year, the Eagles were almost a three-touchdown underdog and BC looked flaccid in a 30-20 home loss to Pittsburgh last week. But in college football, perhaps more than any other sport, the power of emotion can negate even the most glaring advantages in strength, speed and athleticism.

Boston College rode its home crowd, the inspiration of a fallen hero and a relentless rushing attack to secure one of the biggest upsets of this young college football season. In a quiet moment outside the locker room, Addazio summed up night succinctly: “We out-desired them.”

On Thursday, Addazio introduced Crowther’s story to the team. On Saturday, after the walk-through, he showed them this powerful ESPN feature honoring Welles Crowther, which is Tom Rinaldi at his tear-jerking best. And as Addazio reflected on the last week in sports – from Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson – he was happy to have his team focused on a real-life hero.

“This was really important for our football team,” he said. “And it was really important to see how important it was for them. The emotion was real. They got it. They got it.”

The emotion ran through the sold out crowd in BC’s bandbox stadium all night long. The Eagles went down 17-6 in the first quarter, and no one would have exited the stadium too surprised had it ballooned to 55-6. But thanks to Tyler Murphy’s zone read wizardry, an astonishing 452 team rushing yards and a defense that sacked Cody Kessler five times, BC willed its way to victory.

This win came straight from Addazio’s philosophical playbook. He comes from the Urban Meyer school, which means valuing motivation within a program much more than Xs and Os.

Even the day’s defining play call – an absolute beauty of a gadget play from offensive coordinator Ryan Day – epitomized BC’s mindset on the night.

Trailing 17-13 in the second quarter, a time when no one really felt like BC could still hang with USC, the Eagles scored on a 54-yard end-around reverse by Sherman Alston. BC executed with symphonic precision, as the entire offense rolled right as Alston darted the opposite way and took a quick pitch from Murphy. The speedy true freshman burst through the Trojan defense to give BC a 20-17 lead. The Eagles never trailed again, as the gutsy call summed up BC’s mindset on the night.

“Let it roll, baby,” Addazio said.

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For USC, the loss eliminates the playoff buzz it generated after beating Stanford on the road last week. It spent the night looking listless on offense, helpless on defense and incapable of adjusting on either side of the ball once things went sideways. USC’s offensive line got demolished up front by BC, yielding five sacks and failing to open up holes for Javorius Allen. USC finished with just 20 rushing yards on 29 carries one week after Pittsburgh rushed for 303 yards. “They couldn’t run the ball six inches on us tonight,” BC defensive coordinator Don Brown said.

And as BC gained momentum on the night, USC fed into it with questionable play calling. The Trojans kept trying to go up-tempo on offense, but they had five “three-and-out” drives and three drives that totaled four plays and ended in a punt.

That kept shuffling USC’s defense back onto the field, with every stop and every punt swinging the momentum more toward the Eagles.

Murphy capped the momentum of his career night with a 66-yard touchdown scamper with 3:30 remaining to essentially seal the game. Murphy, a fifth-year transfer from Florida, finished the night with 191 yards rushing and enough sleight of hand ball fakes to impress David Copperfield. Freshman Jon Hilliman rushed for a pair of touchdowns and Myles Willis rushed for 89 yards on nine carries, as BC overpowered USC by being defiantly one-dimensional. Murphy completed just 5 of 13 passes for 54 yards.

Fittingly, all those rushing yards yielded one giant field storming after the game. Even BC athletic director Brad Bates was helping students leap down from the stands and into the din.

The emotion bubbled over at Boston College Saturday night, proving once again that motivation can trump talent on any night in college football. And when Addazio handed the game ball to Crowther’s parents amid the roar of the BC players late Saturday night, it provided an emotional crescendo to a charmed night.

“That’s the power of BC,” Addazio said. “BC is service for others. That’s what I wanted to focus on with our kids. We’re honoring someone who represented what it means to be a BC man. That was real important all week long for us.” 

It's a victory that they'll be talking about for years at BC.