We're guessing only a stadium-jumping Josh Shaw parachuting in at halftime might have earned more attention from the ESPN college crew than Pat Haden's jaunt from the press box to the sidelines in the third quarter Saturday. Hard to imagine Rece Davis, Lou Holtz and Mark May all suffering a collective case of the vapors for a non-USC-related issue. Is Alabama alum Rece worried that his Crimson Tide might get a fair shot from Pat on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee? Yikes, that was silly.
But here's the issue: It's USC-Stanford. And the officiating and/or game administration is once again in question. And as the USC AD, Haden was asked to -- well, be the USC AD. He's on the selection committee as an AD. And Saturday, he was acting the way AD's are sometimes asked to act. Or in the case of USC and the Pac-12, often should have been asked to act.
And while Pat played down his third-quarter interaction with the game officials after getting a text from the field that Steve Sarkisian wanted to return to coaching and leave the needed diallogue with the officials in the bizarro world that the flag-happy Pac-12 has become to someone else, the problem here isn't Sark's or Pat's or USC's, it's Larry Scott's. Because this was one of his bettter crews and you had another meltdown.
Two of the nation's top teams with two of the top coaches were flagged for a combined 18 penalties for 155 yards with USC leading the way with 10 for 87 yards with a player ejection (Hayes Pullard for targeting on a helmet-to-helmet call the Stanford crowd demanded) and Stanford with eight for 68 more. Of course Pac-12 people should be talking about this.
As to Pat's arrival, running across the field, Sark laughed as he said: "He's a Trojan. What else do you expect of Pat. Are you kidding me?"
Actually, Pat did try to laugh it off. "I'm feeling a lot better now," Pat said as the hug-a-thon that was USC's sideline ensued. Much better to have represented and left the field hugging everyone in sight as a winner starting with players, coaches, fans and friends and last but certainly not least, Trojan alum Ronnie Lott in the tunnel. For USC, at Stanford with all the recent history that has gone down here, it's the way you want to exit. As a winner who stood up for yourself -- on and off the field. Forget the critics. let the Pac-12 investigate -- after the win.
Here's how Sark saw it in the postgame: "I got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty . . . I was incorrect . . . You can't be in the white on any play during the game . . . I was in the white at the field goal. At the time, I vehemently disagreed with the call. By the letter of the law, I was incorrect. I didn't feel like I was in position to continue to discuss that with the officiating crew at the risk of getting a second penalty. I felt I was better off getting Pat in between, talk it through to make sure everybody understood and moved on."
As they will, and as they did as Stanford and the Pac-12 moved on after the Stanford clock operator was protected after denying USC a chance to win that game four years ago or the official who fell and missed the Stanford blatant interference on the end zone three years ago when Robert Woods was tackled and no one -- except the 90,000-plus fans in the Coliseum -- saw it. And we could go on here. But you get the drift.
As to the word that Pat was "texted by Compliance" to come down to the field, Sark said that wasn't his doing. "I didn't ask Compliance. Maybe that's how it got to him. I just felt like it was the right thing to do. I was in a frame of mind. I was in a competitive mode. I was disagreeing with the officiating crew . . . Quite honestly I was incorrect. I was wrong."
But Pat wasn't. As the USC AD, this is what you do, even if you may be putting your health on the line. You represent your program. It's what AD's do. It's what was needed for USC. And to be honest, if this brings the Pac-12's weak flag-happy officiating -- after all, this is the best crew -- into clearer focus, it's maybe the second-best thing to happen Saturday.
In the end, Pat said he didn't really have to have that discussion with the officials although the video from ESPN makes it look like he was discussing something with them. His tendency, he said, is to not much of the time agree with coaches in their disagreements with officials. In this case, he said he didn't have to.
But he did have to be there. It's the Pac-12. Someone has to talk about this. Can't we have one big football game where there is no officiating controversy?
BY THE NUMBERS
USC won with a Pac-12 record 105 uptempo plays a week ago and a slowdown 59 this week against Stanford. It turned out a winning strategy thanks to Stanford leaving so many points on the table and USC obliging them by making nearly every big play that needed to be made when those plays came.
That's Stanford's record in its last 38 games played in the state of California. Two of those losses were to Oregon in 2011 and Michigan State in the 2014 Rose Bowl but the other two were to USC in 2013 and 2014.
6 of 8, 154
For Buck Allen, who rushed for more than 100 yards for the sixth time in the last eight games, and was the first opponent in 10 games to do so against Stanford, he took his career rushing total above 1,000 Saturday to 1,104. USC said it was going to run the football no matter what and in the end, that is what the Trojans did.
USC played Saturday with 52 originally recruited scholarship players available. Andre Heidari's career-best 53-yard game-winning field goal made those 52 just enough although his field goal with 3:23 left was plenty long enough. His previous best was a 52-yarder last year against Hawai'i.
That's the number of offensive sets Stanford lined up in, said coach David Shaw, to criticism that he'd been "too conservative." "More formations than anybody you'll see in college football," he said of lining up with "three tight ends, four receivers, five receivers, empty, three tight ends, three tackles on the field . . . three receivers and two backs on the field, three running backs in the backfield, two offensive linemen at tight end." And maybe, just maybe, we have an answer to Stanford's Red Zone problems -- too many formations, too much to choose from, not any of it that it does well enough.
There were reasons for USC's more than 20-yards advantage on punts that included Stanford's decision twice to punt inside USC's 40-yard line but that's a heck of an edge for Kris Albarado who has been unleashed by the Trojans to boot it down the field.
USC's takeaway edge proved crucial here, not just the taking the football but the ability not to turn it over. Only twice in the last 41 games had Stanford been unable to take the ball away from an opponent. In a 13-10 possession game win, that's a big deal.
None that anyone reported. All the players who came in hobbled a bit -- Leonard Williams, Damien Mama and Khaliel Rodgers seemed none the worse for wear. Only Greg Townsend Jr., diagnosed with chicken pox as the team was about to board the buses Friday, was out of action. Not sure about him this week.
J.R. TAVAI Asked about his difficulties tracking down Kevin Hogan much of the game before the final play. "Thanks for bringing that up," before describing the sack that secured USC's win. "he was elusive, he did a great job running away from me . . . couldn't run away that last play . . . I was happy about that." STEVE SARKISIAN On Tavai's performance: "This is J.R.'s first press conference. Give him a hand for that." HAYES PULLARD On the helmet-to-helmet hit, his ejection and the end of the game: "I don't know about the call . . . I thought it was for being late . . . I saw the ball-carrier and just tried to get him out of bounds . . . that's what I thought I did, push him out of bounds . . . after the game, I did go up to Ty Montgomery to apologize." But first, he found a radio back at the USC lockerroom to listen to the end of the game -- there was no TV. "When I heard how they were lining up, I knew they'd get to him (for the sack on Hogan) and then I heard the cheers and I started running to the tunnel and watched the clock tick down to 3-2-1 and took off to get to my teammates . . . this team is a band of brothers." SU'A CRAVENS On his missed Pick-Six chance and the goal-line stand: "I don't want to talk about it," he said with a grin on the leaping interception attempt that might have ended the game then. But he was plenty ready to talk about stopping Stanford on the USC 3: "When they got to the Red Zone, we locked them up . . . Gerald [Bowman] and I hit him in the backfield, I saw his knee go down there . . . I knew he didn't get it." STANFORD COACH David Shaw On the chop block call that negated a potential Stanford TD: "The bottom line, if it's close, you call it . . . We have to be smarter than that . . . We have to understand if a guy is engaged up top, you can't go low . . . Once again, I never put anything on penalties, I put it on us to make the plays to win the game."
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