Oldtimer's Take: What Went Wrong?

I have never seen a USC football game, in my lifetime, where the secondary was forced to make 41 tackles. No one has ever seen USC give up 55 points before either. USC's front seven on defense simply played a terrible football game Saturday.

My e-mail and personal message board has been filled with questions from USC fans wanting to know, "What's gone wrong with the USC Trojans?"

I've been following USC since 1951 and I've never seen a USC team seem to fall apart as the USC Trojans have over the past month. The 55 points by Stanford were the most ever scored on a USC football team in 121 years of playing football. QB Matt Barkley said after the game Saturday, "It makes you sick when you see the scoreboard with 55 points on it."

Coach Carroll, the USC players and their fans did have the look that people have after their house has been burnt down by a fire Saturday. Now they have to come back and survey the wreckage.

It has been said that asking the question why is like lowering a bucket down a dry well. You will come back with nothing every time. But I think that may pertain to deeper questions in life than the collapse of the Trojan football team.

There are some explanations. I'm going to give you some, and I'm coming from following this team through its recruitment, preparation and from being at practice the past five years and watching them play. Let me share some observations about what is happening and a little interpretation, and then you can add to my take what you see.

How can USC lose 55-21 to Stanford? The explanation starts by taking a look at the difference in play between quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. Take a look at their performance yesterday, and you will have a pretty good picture of the difference between the two teams. Matt Barkley turned the ball over four times which led to four touchdowns. Stanford's Andrew Luck played a perfect game.

Stanford's Andrew luck did everything right Saturday. He threw the ball well. He showed great leadership skills when the original play call broke down. He kept drive after drive going by making plays on third-and-long.

Andrew Luck is very mobile and rushed for 61 yards Saturday. He didn't make a mistake. Luck said that the most important factor in the game was Stanford getting out in front after USC's mistake. What we saw Saturday was two quarterbacks heading in opposite directions. Luck is getting better and better as the season goes on, Barkley is struggling and his production has dropped off.

But USC's poor play goes deeper than the performance of its freshman QB. Take a close look at who made the tackle for USC's defense yesterday. Will Harris had 12 tackles, Josh Pinkard had 11, Taylor Mays had 11 and Kevin Thomas had 7.

I have never seen a USC football game, in my lifetime, where the secondary was forced to make 41 tackles. No one has ever seen USC give up 55 points before either in 121 years. USC's front seven on defense simply played a terrible football game Saturday.

Matt Barkley's a true freshman who threw 18 interceptions in his senior year in high school. I can understand his poor play at times. Shane Horton and Devon Kennard are a safety and defensive end trying to play linebacker, so you can understand USC's difficulty at linebacker. The defensive line is all busted up with injuries. But none of that can explain giving up 55 points.

USC's defense didn't show up. One USC player after another said Saturday that Stanford showed much more heart. USC is a worn down, beat up football team that has lost its spirit. You can see that in their fourth quarter finishes.

It's when you get near the finish line that the race really gets tough and you hurt a lot when heart shows up. If you have heart you push through the pain and finish. USC hasn't been able to do that against Notre Dame, Oregon State, Oregon and Stanford. They haven't been able to finish. And that shows a lack of heart. RB Joe McKnight said Saturday, "I don't know if people ain't into it or what, I'm just confused."

Stanford corner Richard Sherman said, "The USC players don't' run as hard as they used to. They don't play as hard. Everything isn't there. They used to destroy people." Pete Carroll said. "I'm not of clear mind right now. I'm not sure how to deal with this. We've got a lot of work to do recruiting and developing guys."

If you lack the players and the heart, it adds up to something like we saw yesterday. A game the like of which Trojan fans have not seen in 121 years. 35 points is the most points Stanford ever scored against USC until Saturday.

Why isn't USC playing with heart? It's the game of football. It's not psychology. USC's psyche has something to do with it.

The Trojans's psyche is hurting because they are playing so poorly. It's not the other way around. It's like John McKay said, "Our tackling was terrible, but we made up for it by not blocking." Someone missing a block on a Stanford linebacker blitz, Barkley fumbles and then walks off the field with his head down.

Barkley's performance is something I understand. Sanchez left, Corp got hurt and Carroll decided to go with Barkley under Bates recommendation. Would Mustain have done better? Mitch was 8-0 as a true freshman in the SEC, but there is no way of knowing. Playing Matt Barkley this year may pay off dividends in the future.

Taylor Mays said Saturday, "I don't think it was our effort or enthusiasm. Something was wrong. They were more physical than us." Carroll said, "They were blocking us time after time. It was it was just humbling. It could be they had better players."

Maybe Stanford does have better players right now. Andrew Luck is better than Barkley is right now. Barkley will get better. But Barkley isn't as mobile as Luck. A QB's mobility is huge in the college game. Again, look at all the third-and-longs Luck converted with his legs when the play called broke down.

Certainly Stanford's offensive line out performed USC's and their front seven on defense played light years better than the Trojans. Admitting those things makes yesterday a little easier to understand.

Playing without heart and not being able to finish reflects back on USC's leadership. If you are looking for reasons for USC's collapse it's all of the above. It's the players and coaches. You don't lose 55-21 to Stanford, you don't finish game after game so poorly without some problems in your leadership, in recruiting, and in and developing your players. USC didn't get Teo and Burfict last year. Frankie Telfort went down with heart problems and Jarvis Jones is hurt. Things add up. Jordan Campbell goes down as does Luthur Brown.

But these things can be corrected with time. QB Matt Barkley should be better next year if he can be developed. The question comes up though, why hasn't he gotten better this year? Coaching problems can be corrected as well. USC needs to recruit some linebackers.

Player's bodies can heal and so can their spirits. Fan's spirit's can heal as well.

Two weeks off is certainly what the USC football team needs right now. The key to a USC victory over UCLA will be what the Trojan coaching staff and players do with those two weeks.


The Trojans have a bye week to find some answers before facing rival UCLA.

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