Second-half defense deserves more scrutiny for loss against Stanford
The image of Stanford players running on USC’s home field in celebration seemed unreal after their triple overtime victory on Saturday. Thousands of fans sat in stunned silence. We had all yelled so loud, sat through such a long game, and created the most electric atmosphere in the Coliseum since the days when Pete Carroll roamed the sideline. Many of us had our loving parents by our sides, but not even their love and affection could restore the wind sucked from our sails.
The silence would not last long. After recovering from the initial shock, many fans began to search for a scapegoat for the loss. There were so many key plays that it is difficult to pick one as a turning point, but here are some of the most common “culprits” for the loss that I heard around campus in the two days following the game:
1. Robert Woods failing to go down on one knee immediately upon catching the final pass of the game instead of racing for the sideline. If Woods had done so, USC would have had time for a timeout and 51-yard field goal.
2. The officiating crew. Among fans’ chief complaints were missing a key defensive pass interference call against Stanford in the first quarter, calling the game over when USC believed they had 1 second left in regulation, and calling unnecessary roughness on USC on a late hit out of bounds in overtime.
3. Matt Barkley’s passing on third down. This one I am still trying to wrap my head around.
4. Lane Kiffin failing to use timeouts on the final drive in regulation before the Woods catch (see #1)
Conspicuously missing from the above list is anything having to do with USC’s second-half and overtime defense. In the big picture, Matt Barkley’s crew consistently put USC in a position to win the game towards the end and in overtime and the defense allowed Stanford to come back. Nickell Robey’s pick-six aside, Luck and his cronies made the USC defense look like a sieve in the second half. Now I know you’re saying something to disagree, but all I hear is something like “Luck! First overall pick! Stanford! Good offense! Luck! Luck! Luck! The Suck for Luck campaign!” While Luck is a great player, he is human, as Nickell Robey proved with his key interception. In fact, the Trojans defense proved they could handle Luck in the first half, when they admirably held his offense to only 10 points. Something happened in the second half, however, and that ability to match up well with a quarterback who seemed before to have an answer for every defense disappeared.
Up 34-27 with under three minutes to go in regulation, all USC needed to do was prevent a touchdown to seal the win. Same goes for when they were up 48-41 in overtime. On these two drives a defensive hold would have won the game for USC and sent all those happy and raucous fans home still happy and raucous. The first-half defense proved that USC had answers for Andrew Luck. They failed to provide them in the second and in overtime.
While poor officiating calls and clock management were frustrating, it was the lack of a stronger defensive performance that allowed the game to continue until the USC offense could no longer keep pace. With both offenses performing lights-out, it was going to come down to who made the final defensive hold. USC had chances, and passed them up.