Pac-12 Championship Game: Who Were the Studs and Duds?

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Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. The Trojans defeated the Wildcats 28-26. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Who were the duds?

Clay Helton: It was a less than ideal way for Clay Helton to begin his tenure as the permanent head football coach. Though the final score does not do justice to how close the Trojans came to knocking Stanford off their perch atop the Pac-12, the same deficiencies which cause many to question the hiring of Helton were on display. The head coach called inopportune time outs, challenged a play which should not have been challenged, went for a two-point conversion unnecessarily and set up an offensive game plan which bewilders the mind. USC gave threesome of Justin Davis, Ronald Jones II and Tre Madden a total of 24 carries. Meanwhile, a struggling Cody Kessler was given licence to throw the ball 37 times.

Justin Wilcox: Justin Wilcox’s hot seat can only have gotten hotter after USC’s defensive display against Stanford. On a night in which Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey may have won the Heisman Trophy, Wilcox’s defense gave up 262 yards on the ground, with 5.1 yards per carry. Yet, Wilcox seemed committed to a three-man defensive front which never proved particularly adept at slowing their opponents down. In just 64 plays, the Cardinal collected 417 yards of total offense and put 34 points on the scoreboard.

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Cody Kessler: Kessler went into the season saying he did not want to be just an eight-win quarterback, but that’s what he remains after a subpar performance at Levi’s Stadium. As always seems to be the case with Kessler, there was nothing particularly horrendous about his stat line. However, going 22-37 for 187 yards and just one touchdown was never going to be good enough when playing for a conference championship. Averaging 5.05 yards per attempt is especially disappointing for a quarterback who has attempted nearly 40 passes. Of greater concern was Kessler’s general lack of accuracy or zip in finding receivers even when they were available for a pass. Of course all of that pales in comparison to the most devastating play of the game, when Kessler was sacked and lost the football, giving Stanford the opening to scoop it up and score a touchdown.

Olajuwon Tucker and Company: Not to pick on Olajuwon Tucker, who actually led USC in tackles on the night with 13 stops, but his struggles were a microcosm of the entire defense’s struggles. The back up outside linebacker thrust into a starting role in the middle was once again fodder for an explosive offense which exploited the obvious weakness in USC’s defense. This time, McCaffrey made Tucker look silly, particularly on his 67-yard reception over the middle when USC had the opportunity to force a key three-and-out.

Who were your studs and duds from USC vs. Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game? Sound off in the comments below.