Nov 16, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans kicker Andre Heidari (48) kicks a 47-yard field goal out of the hold of Cody Kessler (6) with 19 seconds left against the Stanford Cardinal at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Stanford 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC vs. Stanford: Studs and Duds

Stud: Andre Heidari


Stud: Cody Kessler

USC needed Cody Kessler to have a big night against the Cardinal and the first year quarterback delivered. In the first half Kessler found his receivers with ease. In the face of relentless pressure by Stanford’s defensive line he never backed down, calmly shifting away from defenders, keeping his eyes downfield and making the right throws. He was a game manager and more. His play in the second half may not have been as sharp, but he still engineered the final drive with key completions to Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor.

It might not be a Heisman moment for Kessler, but the big game performance proved once and for all that #6 has everything it takes to be a Trojan quarterback.

Stud: Marqise Lee

Agholor deserves a shout out as well, with a team-high eight catches for 104 yards. However, Marqise Lee was Marqise Lee and there’s no competing with that.

Lee came up with the big catches in the big moments. He reeled in a tip-toe-falling-out-of-the-endzone catch on the two-point conversion which made up for Heidari’s missed PAT. Two of his six catches came on third and long. His final catch on the night was almost as important as Heidari’s game-winning kick. Despite suffering a bruised shin two plays before, Lee hobbled his way back onto the field and secured a 13-yard catch on 4th and two, keeping the Trojan drive alive.

Stud: Su’a Cravens and Dion Bailey

Just when it looked like the USC defense might be dead in the water, the secondary provided the kiss of life. A fourth quarter drive to the goal line that almost certainly would have ended in points on the scoreboard for Stanford was wiped out by a great read by Dion Bailey, who reached up to snatch Kevin Hogan’s third down pass out of the air.

Su’a Cravens, not to be overshadowed by the upperclassman, delivered the jab that set up USC’s knock out punch. After pressure forced Hogan into a poor throw, Josh Shaw tipped the ball to Cravens who tipped the ball back up in the air then twisted his body to make the interception that would keep Stanford’s offense off the field for the rest of the game.

Stud: Ed Orgeron

It’s always easier to judge decisions after they’re successful, but it still took a lot of guts for Ed Orgeron to give the go ahead on two key plays against Stanford. The first, going for the two-point conversion after Heidari’s wide PAT on the first touchdown. As it turned out, one point might have been all the difference in the game if Heidari’s final kick wasn’t true.

The second set up said field goal. With a 4th and two near midfield, the Trojans could have tried to pin Stanford deep in their own territory, hoping for another big defensive stop. Instead, Orgeron went for the jugular and put the game on the line right there and then. Kessler and Lee rewarded him for his faith with the first down.

Stud: The Coliseum Crowd

Stanford’s chaotic opening drive was all about the Coliseum, which was as loud as it’s ever been. It got started when Matt Leinart egged on the fans as he led the team out of the tunnel and continued through the first half.

Clearly, the Cardinal weren’t prepared for the atmosphere. David Shaw had to burn two time outs within the first two plays and a false start resulted in a long third down attempt, which Stanford failed to convert.

Unfortunately, the third quarter was the near opposite. For whatever reason, the crowd had trouble waking up after halftime and the atmosphere fell into dud territory.

It all worked out in the end, however, with an electric fourth quarter that culminated in the fans rushing the field as the clock wound to zero.

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Andre Heidari Cody Kessler Dion Bailey Ed Orgeron Marqise Lee Su'a Cravens USC Trojans

  • Michael Castillo

    DUDS (Since you forgot them…):

    Clay Helton/offensive game plan: The play calling in the second half was downright awful at times. The run wasn’t working at all and should have been abandoned. Screens couldn’t been used to mimic the run and set up the deep ball, since Stanford kept dropping into a deep cover 1 or cover 2 on passing downs, which is why SC went deep just once all game. Not only did Helton keep pressing the issue about the run, but he was overly conservative and running on passing downs like 2nd & very short. Buck would get tackled as soon as he got the ball, lose five yards and it’s suddenly it’s 3rd & 7. It was overly predictable. Oh, and there conservation on that last drive was questionable, and that probably lies on Orgeron. Settling for a game-winning field goal is fine, but playing for a long field goal when you have a kicker that’s had a rough go of it and you’re able to move the ball through the air, was risky. Yes, running kills the clock and forced Stanford to call their timeouts, but a FG make from there was far from certain. Luckily for SC, it worked out. All three risky decisions worked out actually (playing it conservative for the FG, going for it on 4th down and chasing the points in the 1st quarter).

    Stanford penalties: We talked on the podcast about how disciplined they were, and had only 2 penalties vs. Oregon. They had six last night and they all must have come in the first half, which surely helped SC get early momentum and drive the ball down the field.

    • Alicia de Artola

      Didn’t forget, just didn’t want duds cramping my style. :P

  • Ben Factor

    Hi, Alicia. I’m with Michael about Helton (and I think Matthew agrees). Michael is right about Stanford’s penalties, which really helped USC a lot.

    I disagree with you about Kessler having seized any long-term claim. Here was my comment on Matthew’s article:

    Matthew, I agreed with you before the game that Stanford would likely win. Let’s congratulate Alicia on beating out the boys again.

    Alicia was also right that Orgeron’s ability to elicit performance from his players has a lot more in common with Pete Carroll’s than with Lane Kiffin’s.

    This was a significant achievement for the entire group of players and coaches. Very well done. Coach O showed his usual savvy in giving all credit to the players for the turnaround. Well done.

    I want to add two cautionary notes. Helton’s play calling in the second half had a lot more common with Lane Kiffin’s than with Pete Carroll’s. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at half-time. I
    would think that Helton, Martin, Robinson, and the OL boys would have conferred about what adjustments were expected from Stanford, and how best to use misdirection to take advantage of those adjustments. Either no one considered that, or no one is particularly imaginative. It seems pretty obvious that (1) first-down play action was a likely winner, (2) the running attack had to focus on “series” variations
    (misdirections) of what had been tried in the first half, and (3) the RBs could not reliably block Stanford’s blitzing LBs, which meant that something had to change. There seemed to be a self-destructive
    determination to reenact the Notre Dame game. Not very well done.

    In fairness, I have some sympathy for Helton. Kessler missed four or five critical passes to open targets in the second half, when he had time to throw an accurate pass. He also failed to see the right target
    at least twice in the second half, again with sufficient time to do his job. If Kessler’s play had risen, instead of fallen, when the game was on the line, Helton would have looked a lot smarter.

    Coaches from Jimmy Johnson to John Madden have said that great players play great in big games. Kessler has not shown that so far. Don’t get me wrong–he wasn’t a bum today, not even close. But as the
    pressure racheted up, he lacked some accuracy and target-choosing smarts on important plays.

    Kessler is short, and he lacks a great arm. If he really wants to be an professional QB, he can’t afford to play like he did in the second half. He’s got to play better then, not worse. If he doesn’t find it in himself to do that, he won’t have a future in the NFL. (Some will say I’m too harsh. I think it’s more that I’m dispassionately realistic.)

    • Alicia de Artola

      I won’t argue that the offensive gameplan in the second half wasn’t frustrating, but I also think there’s something to be said for Stanford’s strength and the difficulty of dealing with said strength without an elite offensive line. USC fans have been dealing with this chicken-egg, playcalling-execution debate for a long time, but in this case, you’re dealing with one of the best defenses in college football and it was always going to be unlikely that USC could put up many more points than they did.
      When it comes to Kessler, I respectfully disagree. I think he was the reason USC won the game. Obviously, his second half performance could have been better, but this defense made Marcus Mariota look pedestrian (they did the same thing to Matt Barkley) and I think it’s unfair to expect Kessler not to get a bit rattled the way they were attacking the line of scrimmage in the second half. By that point, everyone knew that USC could barely get a yard running the ball, everyone knew that Kessler was going to be dropping back and he was working with long yardage downs more often than not. Considering what he faced, Kessler’s performance from start to finish was stellar. Consider this, Kessler had the best game of any quarterback that has faced the Stanford defense this year.

      • Ben Factor

        I don’t find general appeals to Stanford’s strength to be useful counter-arguments.

        Either the offensive game plan in the second half was sensible and well-conceived, or it wasn’t. I say it wasn’t, because it wasn’t directed to attack Stanford’s adjustments. It seemed pretty clear that Stanford saw what USC had done in the first half, and adjusted to stop it. USC did not forecast that, and do something else, in order to throw Stanford off balance. Perhaps it would not have succeeded, because Stanford is a strong defense. That’s always the case with any strategy. But to do what Helton kept doing was DEFINITELY not going to succeed. And turning a 37 yard FG into a 47 yard FG was not very smart, despite the favorable outcome. DUD!

        Somewhat similar point about Kessler. To quote you: “His second half performance could have been better.” He missed open targets on four of five passes, when he had time to throw. He selected the wrong target on at least two passes. In fairness, on the last drive, he made some clutch passes, and I commend him for that. However, he did not play well during the rest of the second half. In a “start to finish” “stellar performance”, to use your words, a QB who is given time to make a play does not miss open targets four or five times (and these were not long passes). You say he got rattled. That may be correct (no one asked him why he missed those passes). But getting rattled and missing passes even when you have time does not qualify as a stellar performance, except in the realm of hyperbole.

        Alicia, you’re being a fan, not a journalist. We’ve all seen good adjustments and play calling in the second half of a game. We’ve all seen stellar QB performances through an entire game. On Saturday, we saw neither. We saw victory achieved despite weak play calling and QB play in the second half. The QB redeemed himself on the last possession. The play caller stayed dubious to the end.