Did Anybody Get the License No. of That Truck

In the wake of Saturday's 56 – 3 drubbing by the University of Southern California, San Jose State Spartan fans are asking (understandably) two questions: First, how could SJSU have played so well in the first quarter, only to disintegrate so completely the rest of the game? Second, is the 2009 Spartan football team really that bad?

Simple explanation: In the first quarter, the Spartans were fresh, aided by two USC fumbles (one at the SJSU 32-yard line), and freshman Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley seemed a bit jittery in his first start. But by the early second quarter, a deeper and more talented USC Trojan football team gained total dominance over SJSU.

Despite appearances, the San Jose State offense struggled in that first quarter. Even on it's "scoring" drive (set up by a poor USC punt from their own 10-yard line), SJSU was initially pushed back to the USC 42, only getting back into field goal range on a fourth-down pass completion. The offense lost a yard from there, before place kicker Tyler Cope came in to boot his first field goal as a Spartan.

SJSU ran 20 plays in the first quarter, and did gain a net 56 net yards. But 25 of those yards came on one Patrick Perry run, ten more on an end-around by Josh Harrison. Thirteen more yards came on third and fourth down passes during the "scoring" drive. Four plays thus account for 48 of those 56 net yards.

SJSU also lost 15 yards rushing in the quarter (10 of it, and a fumble, by Reed), and another 10 yards on penalties. Reed was 5-of-8 passing, for 44 yards, Jordan La Secla 0-for-3.

USC scored early in the second quarter, driving 45 yards on seven plays. Barkley began getting over his first-quarter jitters, hitting two completions for 23 yards. The rest was running back Joe McKnight, who gained 18 yards on the ground before Stafon Johnson ran it in for the score from four yards out. The SJSU defense did limit McKnight to short gains two or three times, but USC's offensive line gave Barkley time (and confidence), and his passing made the difference.

SJSU put together another drive on its very next possession, pushing the ball to the USC 44. But, on third-and-one, Perry had the ball stripped, and one could sense right then that the ball game was over.

USC went on to score five more straight touchdowns, three in the remainder of the second period. The ease with which they scored is stunning:

No. 1: Five plays, 58 yards, 2:28 elapsed time, 14 – 3 Trojans; (key play: a 33-yard pass completion, Barkley to Damian Williams, to the SJSU seven-yard line);

No. 2: Two Plays, 44 yards, 0:38 elapsed time, 21 – 3 Trojans; (key play: an Allen Bradford 43-yard TD run);

No. 3: Six plays, 65 yards, 0:57 elapsed time, 28 – 3, Trojans; (key play: a 27-yard completion, Barkley to David Ausberry, to the SJSU 11);

USC picked up in the second half right where it left off in the first:

No. 4: Three plays, 73 yards, 1:38 elapsed time, 35 – 3, Trojans; (key play: Joe McKnight 54-yard TD run);

No. 5: Six plays, 86 yards, 2:56 elapsed time, 42 – 3 Trojans; (key play: 44-yard pass completion, Barkley to Anthony McCoy, to the SJSU 36).

SJSU's defense was not "constantly" on the field. For the game, time of possession was 27:25 SJSU, 32:35 USC. And the five straight touchdowns described above took a grand total of just 7:57 off the clock, an average of just over 90 seconds each.

Each of USC's drives featured at least one big play. On running plays, once past our defensive line, there was no Spartan who could stop them. On passing plays, our secondary was exploited. This was more than the result of simple fatigue. Coach Dick Tomey said before the game that USC gets 25 "first round draft picks" every year, and that is what the Spartans were up against: bigger, faster, stronger opponents with more depth. USC's third-stringers could probably all start for SJSU, and improve the team at most positions, especially the interior lines.

USC went on to rack up 620 yards in the game, 342 of it rushing. At the same time, SJSU was limited to just 121 yards, and, as noted above, 56 of that came in the first quarter. Matt Barkley was 15-19 passing for 233 yards and one touchdown. Kyle Reed was 9 – 17 for 66 yards (3.9 yard average). Jordan La Secla, averaged a slightly better 4.3 yards per attempt, completing 5-of-10.

Patrick Perry had 48 yards rushing for SJSU. That would have put him fourth on USC's list, behind McKnight (145 yards), Marc Tyler (72 yards), and Allen Bradford (53 yards).

Significantly, USC did not commit a turnover after the first quarter.

So, is SJSU really as bad as they looked on Saturday? Well, against USC they are. But try and keep some perspective.

In 2008, the Spartans played well against weaker opponents (San Diego State, New Mexico State, for example), and were competitive against stronger ones (Nebraska, Boise State, for example). But SJSU did not play a team anything like the USC Trojans. Saturday's game gives an idea of how far away the Spartans are from being able to compete for a national championship: they need to get about 67.5-percent better, i.e., two-and-a-half quarters' worth.

Some fans have questioned SJSU's offensive play calling. But SJSU coaches, realizing the mismatch of SJSU's offensive line vs. USC, obviously tried to engineer for it. Runs were to the outside, sometimes with success. Pass routes were shallow, to counter USC's expected pass rush.

This Saturday's game against Utah will be a much better measure of SJSU's progress. Although finishing the 2008 season undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the nation, Utah lost many of its key players to graduation. Utah defeated Utah State to open the season, but by a score of just 35 – 17, at home. And the score was 26 – 17, Utah, at the half. This game sounds a lot like SJSU vs. Nebraska last year.

Like stocks and bonds, past results in football are no guarantee of future performance. But Spartan fans may want to give USC a bit more credit for its dominating performance, and hold off a bit on liquidating their season tickets.

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R. P. Cotta, Jr., is an Associate Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact R.P with any questions, comments, or tips at rpcottajr@insidesparta.com

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