USC Hits Rock Bottom Against Stanford

This is the first time this year that writing a blog entry has felt like a chore. I want to put USC’s game against Stanford out of my mind. I don’t want to analyze it. I don’t want to revisit it. I don’t want to have to dig through the rubble for a silver lining.

This game was different for me in many ways. For starters, I didn’t participate in my group’s pre-dawn tailgate setup. That means I didn’t get to campus at 6am which makes it the first time in years that I got to USC for a game after sunrise. It’s usually pitch black when I get to campus to get the tailgate set up.

My “late” arrival (8:45am) combined with the early kickoff meant that tailgating time would be truncated to less than three hours. It was homecoming so I made my rounds around campus checking out the booths all over, reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in a long time and meeting several friends I’ve made on Twitter over the last few months.

My tailgate usually has all the amenities including satellite HDTV, BBQ, shade, games… But I discovered a tailgate that has something my tailgate doesn’t have. I’m going to have to consider getting a Jagermeister Tap Machine for 2010!

Just a few days before the game it still wasn’t sold out, so when I got to the Coliseum I was glad to see it was full. I don’t know if the game was sold out but it looked like it. And I was also glad that the people with seats around mine stood all game. I don’t remember the last home game where someone didn’t try to get me to sit down.

The game did not get off to a good start. USC was down 14-0 after the first quarter and the Trojans are rarely down by two touchdowns after just one quarter. It was clear this was going to be a tough day for USC.

Matt Barkley struggled throughout the game with four turnovers. But even with all the mistakes we were only down by seven points going into the fourth quarter. I remember thinking (and tweeting) that our entire season rode on whether or not USC could score one touchdown more than Stanford in the fourth quarter. That doesn’t sound so hard but the way things were going I didn’t feel optimistic.

My intuition was right, USC wasn’t able to outscore Stanford in the fourth quarter. In fact, it wasn’t even close. I don’t think anyone could have envisioned Stanford scoring 27 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. That nearly doubled the 28 points they scored in the first three quarters.

As if the drubbing the Trojans took on the field wasn’t bad enough USC fans had to endure an array of classless actions that are so so so typical of Stanford.  First the Stanford band poked fun at prominent USC alumnus Joe Francis. Then with a few minutes left in the game and victory secured, Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh went for a two point conversion in an attempt to run up the score (USC stopped the conversion attempt). Finally Stanford players were shown on TV mocking USC by flashing victory signs and saying “fight on SC, fight on.” There’s nothing surprising about any of this, Stanford is well reputed for being devoid of all class and actually seems to take great pleasure in having that reputation.

There’s no positive spin to put on the game. The 55 points we gave up is the most a USC football team has ever given up. Ever. That’s actually pretty surprising; every team has a really bad game or bad season where the score might get out of hand and 55 points isn’t ridiculously high. I’d bet most schools have given up at least 55 at one point or another. What’s disappointing is that Pete Carroll, who has one of the best track records in the history of college football, is stuck with this ugly blemish on his record.

After the game Pete Carroll said that he can’t figure out exactly what’s going wrong. If Carroll can’t figure it out I sure as heck can’t. But it’s my opinion that it’s not one or two things, it looks to me like just about everything is going wrong and very little is right. We are getting blown away by teams in defeat and barely eeking out victory in our wins.

This is the exact same football team that beat Ohio State, in the Horseshoe, on national television, with a freshman quarterback making his very first road start. It’s the same football team that overcame insurmountable odds for an incredible victory over the Buckeyes which could have launched USC toward a national championship run. It’s the same team! So that tells me coaching is to blame for the implosion. It’s often said that USC doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. Looks to me like it’s easier to reload quality football players than quality coaches. And USC has had to replace a lot of coaches over the last few years.

The offensive play calling is suspect. It’s predictable, unimaginative. The defense is flummoxed. Defensive players are often out of position, take poor angles and display poor tackling technique. Intragame adjustments, which is something USC has done with great success over the last seven years, are nonexistent. All these problems point to coaching. So in my opinion USC has been outcoached, both in victory and in defeat.

It wouldn’t be fair to put all the blame on the coaches without pointing out that we have had a ridiculously high number of injuries at key positions this season. We’ve also had a brutal travel schedule and played one of the toughest schedules in America this year. There are at least three teams in the Pac-10 that I’m sure would be undefeated and considered National Championship contenders if they played in the SEC.

On the bright side, the sky still has not fallen at USC. We’re ranked 18 in the BCS and with two more wins finishing in the top 14 seems like a possibility. Finishing in the top 14 would make USC BCS bowl eligible for the eighth straight year (although unlikely to be selected). We can also keep our string of ten win seasons alive by winning our last two games plus a bowl. We also haven’t lost two consecutive games for more than eight years. So there’s a lot left to play for and a lot to be proud of. Lots of schools would love to have the “problems” USC has.

And remember this, we might be having an off year but USC’s next run starts on September 2, 2010 in Honolulu! When we win the Pac-10 next year, winning eight championships in nine years won’t sound or feel so bad!

Fight On!

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