Game 3 wrap-up: Front and Center
Stanford 21, USC 14
Lane Kiffin was confident that Cyrus Hobbi could step in and fill the shoes of the injured Khaled Holmes. And after watching the performance of the offensive line in Saturday’s loss, it is clear that the coach was wrong.
Credit the Stanford coaches on a game plan designed to take advantage of a Trojan weakness up front, and the players for executing it to near perfection. But we must also fault USC’s preparation, specifically a “business as usual” approach, despite the absence of a key offensive figure.
Holmes provided experience and leadership at center, which is something you won’t receive from a redshirt freshman. And with his participation unlikely for the Pac 12 opener, USC had little adjustment in scheme. The offense was expected to move the ball at will, behind a line that always kept its quarterback upright and running backs in space. That expectation was met by a Cardinal defense that entered with aspirations of its own.
The final tally reflects preparation that either underestimated the opposition or consisted of an arrogant theory that any player could be inserted and a unit would continue to thrive. Change is often accompanied by confusion, and it ran aplenty on Saturday afternoon.
After throwing ten in the first two weeks (6 in the last game), Barkley was shutout by Stanford. The last time Barkley played a full game without a touchdown pass was on October 2, 2010, as the Trojans fell to Washington 32-31.—-Zero also represents the number of points scored by the Trojans in the second half. The Trojans were last held scoreless in a half by Minnesota in the 2011 season opener. In that game, Khaled Holmes was introduced as the new starting center, just as Cyrus Hobbi was on Saturday.
1- Third Downs Converted
The Trojan defense held the Cardinal to just 5 of 14 on third down conversions, but didn’t get an assist from its own offense that converted just once the entire game.
Barkley was picked twice by the Cardinal defense. The quarterback’s last multiple-interception game came in last September’s 43-22 upset-loss to Arizona State.
4-Receptions by Robert Woods
Some of Woods’ best days came against Stanford. In the first two meetings, the receiver amassed 313 yards on 21 catches and scored 4 touchdowns. The Junior would catch just 4 passes for 38 yards on Saturday, while being held scoreless by the Cardinal for the first time.—-4 also marks the number of consecutive victories by Stanford over USC, which is now the longest in school-history. Barkley (0-4), along with other seniors on the Trojan roster, will leave USC having never beaten the Cardinal.—-USC has lost 4 of its last 5 conference road openers.
Barkley was sacked only 8 times in 2011. Minus All-American left tackle Matt Kalil (NFL), and the injured Khaled Holmes, Stanford would record 5 sacks on Saturday. Stanford kept constant pressure on the quarterback, which eventually led to bad decisions. With the trigger man eliminated, the Woods/Lee duo is a diminished threat.
14 is the fewest points scored by a USC team since losing 36-7 to Oregon State on November 20, 2010. That game saw Matt Barkley leave with a leg injury just before the half and never return. The Trojans would score just 16 in a loss to Notre Dame the following week, with Mitch Mustain leading the offense.
The Trojan defense was the scapegoat of previous losses during the Stanford streak, but such is not the case in the most recent failure. The Cardinal was held to its lowest output against USC, since losing 42-0 in 2006. It was the defense that minimized the damage and allowed the offense a final opportunity to strike. Barkley and company left the unit in several bad positions, and it responded by forcing field goal attempts and turnovers. The Cardinal missed on two field goals and had another blocked. Interceptions by Dion Bailey and Jawanza Starling would dismiss another Stanford threat. The scoreboard shows a 7-point loss for USC, but without the defense forcing Cardinal errors, it could have been much worse.
26- Total rushing yards
USC managed just 26 rushing yards as a team, with the negative sack yardage contributing to the dismal number. Curtis McNeal led the team with 37 yards on 8 carries. And though Silas Redd scored twice, he averaged just 1.7 yards per carry, finishing with 17 yards. I started backtracking to find the last time a USC team (Tailback U) rushed for less than 30 yards in a game. After a couple of hours of viewing game-by-game statistics, I reached the 2002 season and gave up on the search. If it occurred in the past, I am guessing it was another multiple sack game, and I’m too lazy to look for it. So let’s just say it hasn’t happened in a very long time, if at all.
Everything begins up front, where Kiffin was confident enough to continue with the same strategy and not simplify the offense in accordance to change. It was a mistake that resulted in a miss on one season goal, and may have placed another out of reach. Saturday’s loss heightens the BCS hurdle, making for a more difficult leap into South Florida in January.
USC was a team advertised as explosive, and on this day, ironically, it was the team’s playbook that blew up in its face.