By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.
The evaluation: Well, I guess we no longer have to wonder how much the Trojans miss the pass rush and run defense of former Trojans All-America defensive tackle Leonard “Big Cat” Williams. Stanford’s offensive line heavily toyed and abused the USC defensive front repeatedly on Saturday night by exposing the Trojans major defensive shortcomings, allowing Cardinal senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, a veteran of two Rose Bowls, to look like the second coming of John Elway.
The evaluation – Part 2: Last season, the Trojans defeated Stanford in a low-scoring 13-10 victory in Palo Alto. On Saturday night, the Cardinal offense manhandled the embarrassingly mismatched Trojans defense, and no statistic illustrated Stanford’s dominating 41-31 victory than time of possession, which the Cardinal won 39:29 to 20:31. That’s nearly twice as much time of possession, and, boy, that nearly says it all.
The evaluation – Part 3: Defensively, the Trojans looked…well…what defense? The Trojans looked like boys playing men and broke down, repeatedly losing discipline of fundamental position techniques with a general lack of physicality in both run defense and the pass rush. Stanford literally imposed its physicality and to say the least, it was ugly to watch. You can bet that both Steve Sarkisian and the defensive coordinator that he brought from the University of Washington, Justin Wilcox, are now firmly in the crosshairs of fan anger.
The evaluation – Part 4: And by the way, whatever happened to making defensive adjustments when the Cardinal kept attacking the same side of the Trojans front seven over and over again? And why didn’t the Trojans overload, stunt, and/or shift to Stanford’s obvious point of attack and why did the Trojans defensive line fundamentals and techniques become so inconsistent? Questions, questions, questions. To be honest, too many questions.
The evaluation – Part 5: And could anybody stop Stanford junior tight end Austin Hooper, a product of the Concord De La Salle High football factory, from making one spectacular catch after another to the point he looked like the second coming of New England’s Rob Gronkowski? Said Stanford coach David Shaw afterward, “We knew Austin would be one of the best tight ends in the nation. We had to make sure we got him opportunities to make plays because he’s a tough match up.”
The evaluation – Part 6: Offensively, the Trojans scored enough points to win. Their ability to move the ball was impressive most of the time when they were not under pressure like at the very end of the game. Quarterback Cody Kessler played at a high level and even showed courage running near the Stanford goal, refusing to go out of bounds, and showed great toughness as did senior tailback Tre Madden (64 yds.). And JuJu Smith-Schuster was again a beast out there with his 153 yards in receiving yards including that spectacular 54-yard touchdown catch-and-run from Kessler. Let’s face it, if somebody told you the Trojans would score 31 points against Stanford, you’d probably think that would be in good enough to win the game. Can Kessler play defense, too?
The evaluation – Part 7: And how about those Trojans killer penalties (8 flags for 87 yds.)? You just had to roll your eyes and shake your head as the game wore on. Talk about a breakdown of discipline.
The bottom line: The Trojans scored enough points to win, but the defense failed miserably in withstanding the physical and strategic abuse heaped upon them by a Stanford offensive line that featured former high-valued Trojans recruits like local left tackle Kyle Murphy (San Clemente High) and out-of-state stud left guard Joshua Garnett from Puyallup, Washington. Looking for a silver lining? Okay, the loss was not a Pac-12 South Division loss. Feel better?
The Trojans perspective: After the game, Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian said, “The things we talked about being important in the game were important. Like how important it was defensively to force them into 3rd and long, and it didn’t happen as much as we’d like. We kept their offense on the field and our offense off it. We lost containment too many times to where Kevin (Hogan) was able to use his legs. When they were able to get ahead, they would do thing up front on defense. They were able to get more pressure on Cody (Kessler) than we’d like. We took a penalty and had to settle for a field goal.”
The Stanford perspective: After the game, Stanford head coach David Shaw said, “We’re five out of seven in last seven games vs. USC. No discredit to them. These are tough, physical games. They beat us two years in a row, we beat them some before. Every game will be like this, exciting and physical. Thankfully we got the lead at the end and a huge kick to make it two scores with two minutes to go.”
The game changer: Stanford’s ability to dominate the line of scrimmage on offense, move the chains, and score. The Cardinal out-rushed the Trojans 195-155, out-passed the Trojans 279-272, and in terms of penalty yardage, the Trojans did out-flag the Cardinal 87 yds. to 40 yds. It all added up to a 41-31 Stanford victory.
Staying positive: Afterward, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler said, “The biggest thing is for leaders like us, when we come in on Monday, that everything from tonight is out the door. We must move on completely to ASU. I believe there’s a lot left for us out there this season.”
The perspective: Trojans All-Pac-12 linebacker Su’a Cravens said, “We had them in situations, but we didn’t execute and we couldn’t get off the field. They kept converting third downs. They were able to make some long drives. It’s hard to stop them.”
Tackling the issue: Leading tackler for the Trojans against Stanford was linebacker Su’a Cravens, who finished with 13 tackles (7 solo). Next up was inside linebacker Cameron Smith (12 tackles).
From the press box…
Taking responsibility: Okay, some will fry the media for its reporting analysis of Saturday night’s upset Trojans loss, but good readers, media sites such as this one warned repeatedly since last spring about getting too optimistic and overconfident and that was further re-enforced after the Trojans two overwhelming victories over two underwhelming teams in Arkansas State and Idaho, who are now a combined 2-4 after this past weekend’s first victories over Missouri State (70-7) and Wofford (41-38), respectively. And honestly, how many times did you read ad nauseam about concern regarding the Trojans defense and the attention being paid to it? More than you probably cared to read.
Weather report: Saturday night’s kickoff temperature was a very warm 84 degrees at kickoff.
Keeping count: Coliseum attendance from last night’s home game against Stanford was announced as 78,306. The last time the Cardinals came to town in 2013 the Coliseum attendance was 93,607, which is capacity. The Trojans won the game 20-17.
The barometer: On Saturday night, the Trojans scored 31 points against Stanford. The Trojans entered Saturday night’s game averaging 57.0 points per game.
The barometer – Part 2: On Saturday night, the Trojans defense gave up 41 points to Stanford. The Trojans entered Saturday night’s game allowing 7.5 points per game.
Tunnel runner: Lead the Trojans out of the Coliseum tunnel prior to kickoff was Trojans alumni, actor, and comedian Will Ferrell.
Cover boy: Saturday night’s game program cover featured Trojans DB Kevon Seymour and LB Su’a Cravens.
Scouts honor: NFL scouts in attendance on Saturday included the San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, Kansas Chiefs, New Orleans, New Orleans Saints, and the Baltimore Ravens.
Bowling for dollars: Representatives from the Orange Bowl were in the press box on Saturday night.
The penalty box: Due to a one-year ban because of unruly and inappropriate behavior, the normally outrageous Stanford Band did not make the trip to Saturday’s game.
The post-game show…
Game time: FYI, the Trojans game next Saturday at Arizona State will kick off at 7:30 p.m. PT on ESPN, which is the best of all scenarios for fans attending the game from a tailgate perspective. Of course, if tailgating is your thing, it all gets down to how much dry heat one can handle hours before kickoff.
Fit to be Ty-ied: Yes, that was former Trojans tailback Ty Isaac on that 76-yard touchdown run for Michigan in the Wolverines 28-7 win over UNLV on Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Ramblin’ Wreck: Yes, that was former Stanford Cardinal Patrick Skov starting at fullback for triple-option Georgia Tech against Notre Dame, a game won Saturday by the Irish 30-22.
The skeptic: On ESPN GameDay, analyst and former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard stayed with his preseason pick and predicted a Stanford victory over the Trojans. Herbie and Corso picked the Trojans.
You’re on the air: Trojans junior wide receiver Robby Kolanz is pursing broadcast journalism just like his grandfather Stan Chambers, a television legend in the business who was best known on KTLA channel 5.
Traditionalists: The Trojans have repelled any real drastic changes to their uniforms, but how about this revelation: Nebraska, about as traditional as one can get, featured unique, hand-painted cleats against Miami (Fla.) this weekend. Coach Mike Riley, say in ain’t so.
Pet peeve: Don’t know about you, but it’s irritating after a commercial break the networks will go immediately to another commercial following the ensuing kickoff.
The last word: There was an 80th birthday celebration for Trojans Hall of Fame football coach John Robinson on Friday night at El Cholo in Los Angeles. Robo was and still is one of the Trojans most popular coaches and personalities, and we wish him the best for another 80 years.