"The Report Card-inal": Stanford 55, USC 21

Every Cardinal player parent was pigskin-proud this past week as the Cardinal absolutely aced its semi-final exams in Los Angeles last weekend while dismantling "that think tank on Figueroa". No grade inflation here whatsoever - Dave Fowkes tells it like it is after one of the historic wins in school history. Now we need to maintain that superb GPA against California in the Big Game. Axe Oski!

"The Report Card-inal": Stanford 55, USC 21

Editor's Note: The following commentary offers the author's personal views of the on-field performances of some of Stanford University's exceptional student-athletes. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our players' obvious desire, dedication, sacrifice and commitment.    

Stanford 55, USC 21. How do you think this performance will grade out?



We all know the excuses. These may not be the glory days for the vaunted Trojan defense. But these ARE the glory days for the Stanford run offense! It was another impressive performance for the Cardinal which combined for 325 yards on the ground. Heisman Trophy candidate Toby Gerhart was outstanding again as he pounded the well-deserving Trojans for 178 yards, three touchdowns and an average of 6.1 yards per carry. Just like his 223-yard effort against Oregon, there were not a lot of long plays. It was all consistency, seven yards here, nine yards there. Again, it did not stop with Gerhart though. True freshman Stepfan Taylor was again sharp off the bench for 62-yards on the ground. And you can not assign value to the significance of quarterback Andrew Luck's adept running. What was the common component in all of this? The offensive line! The reality is that the offensive line, with help from the tight ends and fullbacks, physically pounded the Trojans into submission. It was a very impressive display against a team that most certainly has the athletes to be a top-10 defense.




One of the reasons for the A grade here is the inclusion of the running by Luck. He had a few huge scrambles for first downs when the receivers were not open. Luck seems to have a great feel for when to run and when to throw. That is a very underrated skill. His timing on when to take off was perfect. His throws were off…during the first series! After that he again demonstrated why many feel he is the best young quarterback in the Pac-10. The touchdown pass to tight end Coby Fleener was a perfect throw and catch. But maybe the biggest completion was near the end of the third quarter on 3rd-and-6 when the Trojans needed just one stop to get back in the game, Luck found Ryan Whalen between four Trojan defenders for the first down. His stats may look ordinary from the outside, 12 of 22 for 144 yards and two touchdowns, but his mastery of the offense and his ability to make the big play when the team needs it the most is what will forever stand out about this game. As in the run game, the offensive line did a solid job of affording Luck plenty of time. Whalen and Chris Owusu both were solid when they had the opportunity. Fleener dropped his first opportunity on that first drive, but more than made up for it by holding on to the textbook touchdown pass in the fourth quarter (and leaving All-American Trojan safety Taylor Mays shaking off cobwebs from the violent collision with Fleener).




The run defense overall was pretty darn good. The numbers "look" great for Trojan all-purpose back Joe McKnight. He ran the ball 16 times for 142-yards and a touchdown. But he had a 51-yard run and a 28-yard touchdown scamper. His other 14 rushes went for 63 yards. That is pretty respectable defense. Stanford played very well overall. The defense is still susceptible to the big play, but down-to-down, they played a very controlled style that did not let USC get rolling. True freshman Shayne Skov was solid again at linebacker. Matt Masifilo, Ekom Udofia, and Sione Fua did a very nice job stuffing the middle. The corners and safeties all did a nice job of making tackles.




Yes, there can be nit picking on this grade. Giving up rd-and-17 plays is not a great idea. But in a game that Stanford basically led from the get-go, USC's Matt Barkley was never able to find a rhythm. Barkley was 21-31 for just 196 yards and a touchdown. The key stats are the two sacks and three interceptions. Richard Sherman's pick-six was simply outstanding and will be a life-long memory for the Compton native. His two finest moments in his Stanford career occurred on two sides of the line of scrimmage, but both happened in front of family and friends in his hometown of LA. He famously converted the 4th & 20 two years ago, now he ices the '09 game with his interception return for a touchdown. Again, Matt Masifilo was huge with his athletic play that resulted in his "own" interception. Surging Will Powers had two sacks, forcing a fumble on the first drive. Sophomore standout Johnson Bademosi played well at corner. He did give up the one touchdown, but he was right there with the coverage and many thought the receiver pushed off on him. His tackling was very solid. He has some potential for the years to come. It was nice to see senior safety Bo McNally tally an interception in the Coliseum as well, as it was his interception two years ago that ended the "Biggest Upset of All Time".




There was nothing spectacular here, but certainly nothing bad. Kicker Nate Whitaker did another commendable job on kickoffs, and the Cardinal kick coverage always left USC with a long field ahead. USC did about as good a job as anybody in stuffing the Cardinal return. There were no long returns this time around for Owusu. All in all, the special teams battle was pretty much limited to kickoffs and it was pretty much a wash.




All the focus on the coaching will be on the two-point conversion. I'll get into that in a moment. As for the coaching scheme, it was outstanding again. After the first series, Stanford could pretty much do what it wanted to. Running Gerhart is pretty obvious but involving the fullbacks early on the passing game to the outside, helped open up the middle later for tight ends. The offensive line was again schemed perfectly to get the best matchups. On defense it was again a "bend-but-don't-break" mentality. They did break twice but for the most part slowed everything down and did create the turnovers. It was another outstanding display.


As for the two-point conversion, it seems clear that Harbaugh wanted to score 50 on USC. For whatever reason, 50 sounds better than 49. The fact is that it was a bush-league call. That said, it was against USC! USC has done plenty of running up the scores in years past. And it was meant as an announcement of the changing of the guard! Here we are on Tuesday and people nationally are still talking about it! So yes, it was bush league, but I am just fine with it.




55-21. 55-21. 55-21. You can just keep saying it again and again and it just makes you feel warm and happy on the inside. I know there were plenty of people who knew that USC was ripe for the taking, but I don't think anyone saw this coming. 27 points in the fourth quarter and USC pretty much quitting at the end. The keys to this game are pretty simple. The first turnover in the first quarter as USC threatened to take the lead, the second turnover to put Stanford in a position to go up two touchdowns, and two third-down conversions at the end of the third and start of the fourth when USC still had time to get back into the game. All four plays played huge roles in getting the Cardinal to the final nation-stunning score. Yes, there is plenty to nit-pick as one can in any game, but this game will go into the record books as no team has ever, in more than a century of Trojan Football scored 55 points against USC. It was a might fine victory in every way, shape and form for the Cardinal!  




OFFENSE: Toby Gerhart (#7, in case you haven't taken note). Honorable mention goes to Andrew Luck (#12) and of course the entire offensive line.

DEFENSE:  Will Powers (#42).  He made two big sacks and was solid otherwise. Honorable mention goes to Matt Masifilo (#98), Shayne Skov (#11) and Richard Sherman (#9).

SPECIAL TEAMS: Nate Whitaker (#39). Not much from special teams, but he was again very good on his kickoff placement. Honorable mention to Chike Amajoyi (#43) and Delano Howell (#26) for kickoff coverage.

Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan, who is finally seeing his loyalty pay some serious dividends. Born at Stanford hospital and raised on the Peninsula, he has been a football season ticket holder since 1981. In that span he has only missed three home games, but of course never a Big Game. Dave currently works in media both on the air and behind the scenes in advertising sales. He has covered sports on and off since 1992. Currently he works as a traffic, news and sports man on several Bay Area radio stations under a few different on-air aliases. Dave blends the passion of being a fan with the perspective of being a reporter in his stories. For more Stanford football coverage by Dave Fowkes, you can read the "Stanford Football Examiner" at www.stanfordfootballreport.com  

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