Stanford game review

The ability to take over a game in the second half has become a trademark of USC teams under Pete Carroll and the fact that his team was able to do it once again is the primary reason they are able to move forward with a win instead of reliving the feeling we had after the Cal game last year or the Stanford game in 1979.

Trojans escape Farm with narrow win

 

The USC Trojans survived a scare on Saturday against the Stanford Cardinal and it took a late 4th quarter touchdown run from LenDale White to put the finishing touches on a 31-28 victory in front of 55,750 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto.  The game was a sharp contrast between a first half dominated by the Cardinal offense and a 2nd half that featured a smothering performance from the Trojan defense.

 

It was a familiar circumstance for this game.  For most Trojan fans today the discussion revolves around the similarities between this game and the Cal game from last year and, while those two games were certainly similar, the contest on Saturday also seemed eerily like the one USC played against Stanford in 1979.  In that game the Trojans were the defending national champions and came into the game ranked #1 and heavily favored against the Cardinal.  The 79 game saw a good first half from the Trojans as they built a 21-0 lead but in the 2nd half they were unable to stop the Cardinal offense and the game ended in a 21-21 tie.  The biggest difference between the 79 game, and last year's Cal game as well, and the contest we saw on Saturday is that the Trojans came out victorious.  That is really the only thing that matters and it's the only thing we need to know about this Trojan team.  When you are the top ranked team in the nation there are going to be obstacles in your path because you are now the hunted and other teams are going to treat you differently.  Their players are going to be fired up, their coaches are going to gamble (a fake field goal from the Cardinal) and on Saturday we saw the main thing the Trojans will need in order to repeat as champions.  Former USC running backs coach John Jackson Sr. (who was on the Trojan staff in 1979) recently said the most important thing when you are in that situation is to make good adjustments and the Trojan coaches once again did what was needed at halftime to change the course of the game.  The USC locker room was an intense scene and it took a focused effort from the players and coaches to come out of there with a renewed sense of what it was going to take to win.  The ability to take over a game in the second half has become a trademark of USC teams under Pete Carroll and the fact that his team was able to do it once again is the primary reason they are able to move forward with a win instead of reliving the feeling we had after the Cal game last year or the Cardinal game in 1979. 

 

Key to Game – 2nd half defense

 

The numbers speak for themselves.  In the first half Stanford gained 291 yards, in the second half they gained 36.  In the first half Stanford held the ball for 19:20, in the second half they had it for 11:39.  The Cardinal converted eight of ten third down situations in the first half, in the second half they converted one of six.  Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards, who looked like John Elway in the first half while going 20 of 26 for 164 yards and a pair of scores, was only three for nine in the second half for 19 yards and no scores.  There's no other way to describe what the Trojan defense did to the Stanford offense except to say that they completely shut them down in the second half.  From the forced fumble by Keith Rivers on the opening drive of the third quarter to the frenzied pressure from Frostee Rucker on the final fourth down incomplete pass it was an impressive display by the Trojan defense. 

 

Focus On: Heisman Candidates

 

It's becoming apparent that the Trojans have a pair of Heisman candidates in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush as both continue to put up performances that are worthy of consideration.  The victory over Stanford was led by the defense but the Trojans still needed to score 31 points to win and that probably wouldn't have happened without the efforts of Leinart and Bush.  Matt showed in this game why he has the reputation as a calm, cool signal caller because it was his poise with the game on the line which really made a difference.  When times are tough the players are going to look to their leader and when the Trojans looked into Leinart's eyes late in the game they saw a look of confidence and determination.  One play which showed his command of the game came on the final scoring drive when he threw a pass in the end zone to LenDale that received a pass interference call.  Matt had rolled to his right and had an open Steve Smith in the flat but he didn't throw to him, instead he continued to scramble and saw the defender playing tight on White in the end zone so he wisely threw it in that direction and drew the flag.  It was just one of many good decisions made by Matt in this game, he went 24 of 30 for 308 and a touchdown, and it illustrates how much control he has on the field right now.  Reggie was simply Reggie as he found a way to impact the game with 240 all-purpose yards as a runner, a receiver and on special teams.  There was much debate among Trojan fans in the off-season when Pete Carroll made the decision to put Bush on punt return but every Cardinal and Gold fan out there was going crazy as he weaved his way through the Stanford players on his 32 yard return which help set up the winning score.  I guess that gives us a pretty good idea of why Carroll made the move.  Reggie is making a strong case for being the most dynamic player in the nation and you want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible in those types of critical situations.  His touchdown in the first half was an amazing run that he is beginning to make look routine, it was supposed to go up the middle but the line was clogged so he just burst outside and basically ran untouched into the end zone.  He also showed tough running when he got the ball on five straight carries at the end of the game and gained a pair of first downs to help run out the clock.  If both continue to perform at this level there's no question the Trojans will have two players in attendance at the Heisman ceremony in December. 

 

Extra Points

 

Darnell Bing – Darnell had one of his best games as a Trojan with the type of impact plays he is capable of making.  He put a huge textbook hit on Stanford tight end Alex Smith which forced a fumble and later had a key pass break-up on a third down play in the fourth quarter.  Bing ended the game with six tackles (five solo).

 

Wide receivers – The wide receivers stepped up in this game in a big way after receiving criticism from fans, and Mike Williams, about the lack of big plays early in the season.  Nobody can say that after this game as all three primary receivers contributed key plays, especially Steve Smith who put up Williams-like numbers with eight catches for 153 yards and a score.  Steve got things started by showing good hands on a short TD throw early in the game and then sparked the offense with his 51 yard run after catch in the third quarter.  The only way you can establish yourself as the go-to receiver is to get it done on the field and Steve got it done on Saturday.  Dwayne Jarrett had a pair of critical catches at the end of the third quarter that got consecutive first downs for the Trojans.  Chris McFoy had one of the biggest plays of the game on the eventual game winning drive when he caught a 15 yard pass on third and ten to keep the drive moving.  Chris had two defenders on him yet he still caught the ball and gained extra yardage. 

 

Arbet returnKevin Arbet was back in the starting line-up this week and it didn't take long for him to show the experience and savvy which put him there.  Kevin read a throw from the Stanford quarterback and used his good hands to bring in the ball before racing 66 yards toward the end zone.  It would've been nice to see him score on the play but he was stopped at the two. 

 

Rivers impact – The Trojans experimented with a new defensive look in practice this week with Keith Rivers at the defensive end position in passing situations and the move paid off against Stanford.  Rivers caused an intentional grounding call on Edwards (along with Shaun Cody) with good pressure in the first quarter and his forced fumble at the start of the second half helped set the tone for the remainder of the game.  Keith finished with impressive stats (three solo tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble).

 

Notes from the Sidelines

 

Lofa Tatupu led the way for the Trojan defense with ten total tackles (seven solo) along with a TFL, a forced fumble and a pass break-up…..Alex Holmes made a crushing block to help spring Steve Smith on his long reception in the third quarter and showed some good moves of his own in the open field on the first drive of the game.  Alex will also be the first one to tell you that he should've caught the pass at the goal line….The hit by Thomas Williams on the final kickoff of the game was a thing of beauty.  Williams has been impressive in practice and just hasn't gotten a chance to see the field much with so many good linebackers on the roster but hits like that on special teams are sure to get the attention of the coaches….After a Lawrence Jackson sack the defensive linemen had a nice round of chest bumps to celebrate.  They weren't getting as high off the ground as Colbert and Williams used to get but the effort was there…..Matt Grootegoed was all over the field with some aggressive tackling.  Groots suffered a season ending injury last season against Stanford and Matt took that out on the Cardinal from the opening play when he stopped the receiver with a form tackle and drove him back several yards until the whistle blew.  He later came flying down on a punt coverage with another huge hit.  It was a vintage performance from Grootegoed who ended the game with seven tackles (five solo)…..Justin Wyatt put in a great chase on the long 82 yard run from Lemon at the end of the first half when he almost dragged him down near the goal line…..Scott Ware was one of the defenders who missed the tackle on the play on Lemon, Ware called it a "terrible feeling", but Scott also had one of the biggest hits of the day with his pop on a Stanford receiver at the goal line which forced an incompletion.  Ware wasn't alone on the Lemon run, Groots also had a chance to make the tackle, and Cody explained it as a "freak play"....Ryan Killeen made one 23 yard field goal but he also missed a critical 23 yard kick in the 4th quarter…..The true freshmen who played in this game and can no longer redshirt this season include: Keith Rivers, Dwayne Jarrett, Josh Pinkard, Jeff Byers, Jeff Schweiger, Fred Davis, Dale Thompson.

 

Final Thoughts

 

This game followed the pattern of so many recent games in the Pete Carroll era with a dominant second half that led to a victory but this game was closer than most and provided a level of stress that Trojan fans aren't used to these days.  We're used to seeing our team take a quarter or two to really get on track but once that happens the train usually starts to roll and the Trojans empty the seats of opposing fans around the start of the fourth quarter.  We like those kind of games and you will never hear us complain about them but it's also a nice feeling to get into a game like this and find a way to come out on top.  Make no mistake about it, the Trojans were in real trouble here and in danger of losing.  We've seen other top teams from around the country, and USC teams in years past, who have come away from these types of games with an "L" so we're certainly thankful with the results.  Stanford played good offensive football in the first half by any standard, especially considering the level of play we've seen from them under Buddy Teevens in the past.  You have to give the Cardinal credit because they held the ball for the majority of the first half and were able to run off 21 unanswered points against the Trojans, not many teams are going to do that.  Trent Edwards has a bright future as quarterback in this conference and he has some good options to throw to in former USC recruits Evan Moore, Alex Smith and Mark Bradford.  Fortunately for Trojan fans, we were once again able to find some magic in the locker room at halftime as Lofa Tatupu, Shaun Cody and John Drake were among the players who spoke in an atmosphere that Matt Leinart described as "crazy".  The Trojans then came out in the second half and did what they had to do in order to come away with their 13th consecutive win and eighth in a row on the road.  The stage is set now for a showdown on October 9th as the Trojans will take a week off before playing Cal in a game that has been in the back of the mind of every USC player and coach since last September. 


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