There's nothing worse than playing a team that's gone flat. It's as if they have the ability to cast a spell, or spread some contagious disease through an opposing team's locker room. Whatever it is, they seemingly are able to lull their opponent into playing just like them. And just like the friendly neighborhood dog that you finally decide to extend a gentle hand to, you discover... Even though that hound don't bark, he sure as hell does bite. And those bites hurt, sometimes painfully. Washington State barely survived this sort of wounding two weeks ago during an away game against the Arizona Wildcats. Notre Dame did not. Now their season has lost its charm - millions of dollars worth of charm.
For the USC Trojans, playing a Stanford team that has only won two games and is now, following a forgettable trip to Eugene, officially disqualified from any hope of a bowl game or winning season, the perils are obvious. Carroll and Company have had their work cut out for them through this bye week. Keeping a team focused, knowing their next opponent is the worst team in the league, while also trying to get kids healthy and therefore taking practices a little lighter and a little easier, is never easy. Right now Stanford looks like a bad Pop Warner team. They given up tons of yards and loads more points to teams that SC handled with relative aplomb. Arizona State victimized Stanford for 65 points back in September and it hasn't gotten much prettier for this season's whipping boy. But as the saying goes... "When you're at the bottom, there's no place to go but up." Stanford is down so low, they're nearly six feet under but that doesn't mean they're dead - not yet. Then again, if SC plays up to their capabilities, this game could be the knell in the Cardinal's coffin. Even their head coach concedes the outlook of the team has shifted into a "women and children first and save what you can mode..."
"We talked about it openly on Monday. Some of our goals we set for ourselves are no longer reachable or attainable," Teevens said.
Stanford's defense, nearly punch-drunk from the beatings they've taken, may be ripe for the picking against USC. The Trojans' offense is just beginning to click. In their last game, they had more than 600 yards of total offense. On the flipside, the Cardinal defense has consistently given up more than 30 points a game. Most recently against the Oregon Ducks, the game was virtually over by the close of the first quarter. Oregon simply dominated the matchup and seemed to relish the chance to get healthy on a crippled opponent. Bellotti, the Ducks chief quack, executed an onside kick to close out the half, already up twenty-eight points and then left his starters in for most the game. Was it that Stanford truly posed a comeback threat, or was Bellotti afraid of experiencing the vertigo following a three game spiral? Carson Palmer has his own opinions on the Cardinal' ability to stem the bleeding...
"They have a lot of young guys on defense," Palmer said. "We're gonna come with a lot of different things. We should score a lot of points and move the chains."
Pretty cavalier of Master Palmer. His prediction is probably accurate, but always easier said than done. The Trojans could find themselves having the football equivalent to an out-of-body experience and end up playing more like the walking dead than potential Pac Ten Champs. Thank heavens Stanford's campus isn't located in Vegas, or our odds could be growing long. With that said, and having shared this fear with a few of SC's starters this last week, I was quickly reminded that none of them had ever beaten the Cardinal before. And none of them had ever been on a top ten team before, either. They liked the feeling of winning and had no plans of letting the season slip away with a sloppy performance against a team that has simply lost its way.
The strange thing about Stanford is that they are not without talent. Most Trojan fan remember losing a few recruiting battles for players like Teyo Johnson and Kwame Harris. Nor are they without a highly respected head coach. At least Pete Carroll, USC's head coach thinks so. He's a bit on edge regarding Teevens' ability with an offense...
"He, Teevens, has done a lot of stuff with their offense and they're very diversified from week to week. I'm a little uncomfortable with how they're going to play us. We're going to have to wait and adjust during the game and see what their thoughts are. They tailor their system to their opponents."
The Stanford Athletic Director, Ted Leland respects him too...
"Of all the coaches I've ever hired, I don't know if I've ever seen a better fit between a person, his personal integrity and professional capabilities and the values and the needs of the institution as I see here."
Leland got to know about Teevens' "qualities as a man and coach" way before he brought him aboard to helm Stanford's ship. In 1987, Leland, then A.D. at Dartmouth (Teevens' alma mater), hired Buddy to be their head man. Teevens lead the Big Green to two Ivy League championships and its first outright title since 1978. Prior to that, Teevens won as head coach of Maine. So, Leland knew a long while back what the rest of the nation would learn when his favorite head coach would take over the offensive coordinator duties for Steve Spurier at Florida State. During his tenure from 1999-2001, the Gators offense was ranked in the top two in the Southeastern Conference in total offense and passing offense. Florida was ranked among the top-10 in the nation in passing offense. Teevens did such a good enough job he got his head coach a new gig in the NFL and earned a nickname for his outstanding brand of offensive fireworks, "Buddy Ball."
You can't argue the man can coach. And, you only have to look at his roster to know he's got some real players - the smart, hard working type. So then why isn't Stanford winning? Two reasons - a rookie quarterback not ready for prime-time, and a very porous defense. Ucla has won two games with pimple faced freshmen behind center. They've pulled it off, not because their young qbs are playing out of their heads, but because they are making few mistakes and have a defense that gets the job done. Stanford cannot flex those muscles when talking about their team. Nope, Buddy Ball, at least for this season has gone plain flat. They had very good performances from the starting tailback, Kerry Carter. The senior has helped keep the team at over 140 yards per game, but he alone cannot carry an offense. Nope, there's just not enough air in their young qb's arm to bring the Cardinal back to life. Not this sesaon.
Kyle Matter, redshirt freshmen and part of the Hart qb legacy, was thrust into a starting role when former LB Poly qb Chris Lewis got into difficulty with the NCAA. Matter dominated the high-school scene by going 26-2 as a starter and winning back-to-back CIF Southern Section Division III championships in 1999 and 2000. He compiled a total of 7,528 yards during his prep career. In his first start Matter mattered against Boston College, but since then hasn't. He's been worse than average. Against Ucla, with a 15 point lead, Stanford unraveled because their quarterback didn't know enough offense to put together a multi-dimensional game plan. They lost. Chris Lewis, who beat SC in the past, seems to be out-of-sync with his new head coach. Following his suspension, he suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder, but still there has been no rush to return him to the lineup. Lewis is a talented young quarterback and not having him on the field has slowed the team's progress so it makes one wonder. They've got another gunner in Trent Edwards, redshirting this year, but right now it's Matter's show and he just hasn't been able to deliver.
For SC, this will feel wonderfully similar to their game against Oregon State. The Beavers fielded a young qb who came in with enough hype to make the Trojans wonder if they were in for a shelling. By the time the first half had ended, that qb was looking over to his sideline for an exit door. His coach, Dennis Erickson provided no such opening and by the end of the game, it appeared this kid wanted nothing to do with football ever again. Matter, has gone through so skirmishes but he hasn't seen anything close to the Trojan defense. It shouldn't be surprising if Stanford plays all three of their available quarterbacks in this Saturday's matchup. It also shouldn't be surprising if SC does the same, for the exact opposite reason. SC and Carson Palmer are playing at a level that has allowed the second and third stringers to get some playing time. If this game compares to Stanford's previous outings, SC should be able to hang their coats up by the middle of the third quarter. Next year might be a different story but that is then and this is now. Look for SC to split halves with their running backs and to give most of the starters a break early in. If the Trojans can keep their heads and hearts in the game it should be a romp. If they don't, then the curse will have taken hold and SC just won't play Trojan football - I doubt it.
SC 48 Stanford 13 (the score would be higher but SC doesn't roll it up.)