If you are a fan of the NFL, you may have heard Blake Bortles compare fans complaining about his coach’s play calling to “a kindergartner saying something to a college kid.” I think we would all agree this isn’t the most endearing sentiment to the fans, but it holds a lot of truth even for USC football fans.
Fans and the media like to simplify the reality of the situation on the football field and want to judge a play call solely by it’s results as opposed to the merits that called for it.
Like Pete Carroll said about the New Englad interception in the Super Bowl which cost Seattle the title, it wasn’t the worst call ever: “It was the worst result of a call ever.” That quote was partially validated when the Seahawks ran the ball with Marshawn Lynch on fourth and 1 against the St. Louis Rams this season, only to lose yards and subsequently fall in overtime because of it.
As much as I wanted to believe otherwise, Stanford was not a bad team against Northwestern.
I watched the game live and was extremely happy to see the them losing. I watched it again later to analyze it to try to conclusively prove how USC would dominate the Cardinal, but as I kept trying to find something to support my thesis, I came up empty.
A surprising amount of Stanford’s downfall was small mistakes in key situations. Kevin Hogan made a lot of great passes that were dropped and the offensive line got man handled by a maturing Northwestern front seven. Stanford’s defense held Northwestern’s offense in check most of the game and actually dropped several interceptions that would have prevented scores.
So when it came down to it, Stanford’s biggest weakness was offensive line play. I wrote in the offseason that my biggest concern for USC was the loss of Leonard Williams, and early in this season, I really liked the speed that I saw on the defensive line.
Sep 19, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal tight end Dalton Schultz (9) is defended on a pass play by Southern California Trojans cornerback Marveil Tell III (7) at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
However, when put up against Stanford, they were ineffective.
There were obviously a lot of missed opportunities that the Trojans failed to capitalize on, such as the penalty on Adoree Jackson’s kick return, but the main concern came with stopping Stanford on third down.
Lamar Dawson’s missed sack and Kevin Hogan’s quarterback draw come to mind as plays where the Trojan defense had situations where they would have gotten stops had the pass rush been sufficient. Even outside of the critical moments, there were times where Hogan had upwards of 5 seconds to pass the ball, which should never happen.
What is my point in all of this? The media and the fans loved to jump on Stanford and say this was the end for them as a successful program, and I’m no better. But USC’s biggest weakness — the defensive line — allowed Stanford to play the type of game they wanted to play. Stanford ran for almost 200 yards and Kevin Hogan was at times under no pressure in the pocket.
In the coming days I will go over the film and make an analysis about what exactly went wrong, but this is not as simple as “USC got out coached” or “Justin Wilcox needs to be fired.” I think we have to stop making it that simple.
People were saying it was a simple truth that Stanford would lose to the Trojans just a week ago, and look at how that turned out.
I was as upset as any other Trojan fan after that loss, but I refuse to overreact about it. My judgement of this second-year coaching staff will come after they have shown their full body of work at the end of the year.
Until then, let’s hope the coaching staff is working as hard preparing for Arizona State as the media and fans are complaining about them.
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