For the second week in a row, USC lost another heartbreaker as Stanford kicked a field goal to beat USC 37-35. Despite the same ending, the feeling has to be very different after this loss. Despite the result, the feeling between this week and last week are much different. The USC players responded brilliantly after having their perfect season ruined and showed that their motivation is unquestionable. They fought their hearts out tonight and the fans have to be thankful for the effort. The atmosphere was electric and, for the the first 59 minutes, that was the best USC game I have ever been to. The support by the USC contingent was impressive and it is heartwarming that the school can still draw that well.
Lane Kiffin did a fantastic job of scheming on offense and calling plays. Granted, the fact that USC has to burn timeouts on occasion because there is confusion drives me crazy, but that is a function of the team still growing into the system. Earlier in the week, he said USC would run the ball a lot this week, but he quickly adjusted when he noticed USC wasn’t opening up holes. He seemed to have the perfect play on several occasions, including a tremendous conversion in the red zone that resulted in a touchdown pass from Barkley to Woods. Kiffin implemented the Wildcat formation effectively and even had the onions to call for a tailback pass on 3rd and 1 that would have resulted in a touchdown had the pass been a little crisper. The major take away from this performance: USC’s offense is much better and dynamic than it was in 2009. They are more potent and can hang with any team in the country.
Matt Barkley was an absolute stud tonight. After a poor performance against Stanford last year, Barkley outplayed Andrew Luck tonight and rebounded from a mediocre performance last week. He stood in the pocket and made some impeccable throws under pressure. Barkley also managed to run for a few first downs and showcase that lean physique that we heard so much about in the offseason. The sophomore quarterback connected with Robert Woods early and often as the freshman wideout caught 12 passes for an astronomical 224 yards en route to 3 touchdowns. Woods may be a freshman, but he plays like he’s a senior and finds ways to make acrobatic catches. He made some incredible ones on third down situations that kept drives alive.
The running game was disappointing after dominating Washington. Bradford (13 carries) and Barkley (5 carried) tied for the team lead with 33 yards. The offensive line really didn’t open up any holes for the backs to run through. They had some success out of the Wildcat, including Dillon Baxter scampering in for his first career touchdown. Nevertheless, the offense put up enough points for the second week in a row and responded to a hostile environment.
The defense continues to remain an enigma. I wonder how much Monte Kiffin has his hand in the defense and whether or not the poor performances are a function of poor play or poor scheming. At Tennessee, Monte designed a defense that held Florida somewhat in check and had Alabama beat, and he did it with inferior players. Is it his fault? I find it hard to believe, but it is also difficult to fathom that the players just aren’t very good.
The defense forced three turnovers and looked stout on the first drive of the game when they forced a punt. Aside from that, they looked porous once again and yielded too many yards and points. Stanford ran the ball at will, amassing 193 yards with 5.4 per carry. The holes were large and the Cardinal ran wide to beat USC to the corner. Andrew Luck also had 285 yards through the air and had many open receivers throughout the night. Think about this: Luck was 20-24 and 2 of his 4 incompletions were drops. How do you let a quarterback complete at such a high percentage? Even when they weren’t open, the defensive backs failed to make plays on balls in the air and allowed Stanford to convert on 3rd down six out of eight times. The bottom line is that this USC defense needs to come up with more stops. The offense is among the best in the country with its dynamic playmakers, but it can’t be forced to score on nearly every single possession.
One thing that has to be mentioned is the egregious officiating that took place in the fourth quarter. With just over four minutes to go, USC called a timeout and challenged the ruling on the field. The crowd was confused as to what USC was contesting because the officials gave no indication that anything unusual had happened. After consulting the replay official, it was ruled that USC had forced a fumble and recovered. The question is: why was the play not reviewed from the booth? How could the officials not notice a fumble. The fact that USC had to force the issue is bad oversight by their part. Then, with 1:15 to go, USC had first and goal at the 3 following a review. Right away, I noticed that the clock wasn’t running even though it should have been. The officials let the play clock wind down while the game clock didn’t run. The officials corrected their mistake later, but didn’t wind enough time off of the clock. Then on the final drive, the officials called a ridiculous penalty on Chris Galippo. I have yet to see a replay, but from my vantage point it appeared USC was swarming to the ball and had the player stopped for a loss. The clock would have kept running and Stanford’s momentum would have been shot. Instead, the whistle was blown as soon as Galippo made contact with the Stanford player and then flagged 15 yards for excessive force. Ridiculous. That changed the complexion of the final drive and handed Stanford a field goal. I understand it benefits the conference if USC doesn’t win a Pac-10 game for the next two years, but the officiating can’t be so lopsided.
Finally, USC still has the respect of teams within the Pac-10. Inexplicably, No. 16 Stanford stormed their field after beating unranked USC. Strange…