As I watched the game, many of the things that I mentioned that Stanford must do in order to upset USC, I saw unfolding before my eyes. The Cardinal dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They used their running game, behind Stepfan Taylor’s 153 yards, to impose their will on the Trojans’ defense and chew up the clock.
Once their running game was established the play action pass became a very effective weapon for them. The USC linebackers had to sellout to stop the run, so when the play action happened, this gave Josh Nunes the space he needed to hit his tight ends in the soft space between the linebackers and the safeties. Nunes found his tight ends for 129 of the Cardinal’s 215 passing yards as the Cardinal utilized multiple tight end and unbalanced formations to keep the Trojans’ defense off balance.
What I saw was poor tackling, which could have been a result of physical fatigue or the lack of contact during practice. I saw the defensive front seven methodically getting punished and manhandled. I saw linebackers overflowing their gap responsibilities which also took them out of position for cutbacks.
I saw players not fundamentally doing their job but trying to do the job of someone else and creating breakdowns of the defense. A prime example of this came on Taylor’s 59 yard touchdown scamper in the 2nd quarter. Morgan Breslin got a seal block from the tight end and instead of closing the C gap by pushing the tight end into the hole, he tried to play peek a boo and waited to see if Taylor would commit to the C or D gap. Taylor chose the C gap and ended up with a clear path to the end zone.
Had Breslin sealed that gap off with the body of the tight end, he could have had his outside arm free to play down the line on the D gap and strung the play out for his teammates to swarm the ball. These little cracks will kill the defense and need to be addressed.
Offensively, the Matt Barkley led offense started out the game with a stated intent to get everyone involved. Barkley targeted 5 different receivers in the Trojans’ first few series. The Trojans seem intent on attacking the Cardinal’s two deep safety look over the middle with Nelson Agholor, Randall Telfer, and Xavier Grimble. They went away from this for some reason and Barkley seemed to want to force feed the ball to Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
The Trojans also seemed to completely abandon the run. Not counting the six rushes credited to Barkley (four were sacks); there were 18 runs in the 1st half and only six in the 2nd half. This decision allowed the Cardinal’s front to tee off on the offensive line and completely ignore the run. Not only is the running game a quarterback’s best friend but it also the best friend of offensive linemen. Barkley and his offensive line were without their best friend last night. The constant pounding and physical exertion wears on the defensive front and it also slows down the pass rush because they have to play the run first.
The fact that the Trojans haven’t placed much of an emphasis on establishing a physical running game despite having two 1,000 yard rushers in the backfield, came back to haunt them in this game. With center Khaled Holmes out with an injury and a redshirt freshman replacing him, there had to be some line protection call issues. A running game would have mitigated this to an extent.
There are some serious adjustments that need to be made on both sides of the ball. The defense needs to play attacking, fundamentally sound assignment football. Lane Kiffin needs to call a better game, getting the ball to more players not named Woods or Lee. The running game needs to be established. There is an attitude that comes with running the ball and the Trojans do not have that attitude. Lastly, there needs to be better discipline on both sides of the ball. Stanford had many drives extended due to lack of discipline type of penalties. Likewise, the Trojans’ offense had drives killed for the same reason.
These things need to be addressed immediately. The Cal Bears come calling this week and the Trojans can’t afford to fall 0-2 in the conference.