2015 Pac-12 Championship Game

Stanford vs. USC
December 5, 2015 at 4:45pm
Levi’s Stadium: 58,476 (of 68,500)
Total Time: 3 hours 17 minutes

On 4th-and-17, the Trojans’ last shot at the Pac-12 Championship hit the ground in front of an open Steven Mitchell. Even if Cody Kessler had landed that ball perfectly into Mitchell’s hands, it would’ve been an uphill battle to close the 12-point deficit in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

The offense failed not only to convert a 4th down on that drive, but also failed to score on the following one to make the score a little more respectable. Aided by penalties, the USC offense made it to the Stanford 19-yard line looking for a desperate heave into the end zone. Kessler would not get that opportunity after taking a sack with no timeouts remaining. The result looked all too familiar for weary SC fans.

The pregame featured All-Century Pac-12 picks basked in applause (and some in boos). The Trojans dominated these picks, composing nearly half the All-Century team and Reggie Bush being the only player to be selected at two positions. That dominance did not translate to the current players and staff on the field. Instead, another #5 put on a show at running back.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford’s #5 and Heisman finalist managed to compile 461 all-purpose yards. It’s probably no coincidence that he looks up to another player that put up big numbers in the all-purpose yards and was a Heisman finalist. That player happens to be Reggie Bush.

McCaffrey put up so many yards that he broke Barry Sander’s NCAA single-season all-purpose yard record. The he went and sat down next to Barry Sanders Jr. Poor USC. Poor Bush. And poor Sanders family. It was not a good loook for Helton’s debut as the official head coach of USC.

The look of someone that only gets 1 yard on 1 carry while he goes to the same school as the guy that broke his dad’s record.

The mistakes started early, but the Trojans still had plenty of chances to take the game. In the end, they could not recover.

The USC defense started out with some costly penalties and being able to hold McCaffrey to marginal gains. The Stanford offense quickly made it to the red zone before the USC defense stiffened up and held the Cardinal to a field goal. The trend continued throughout the first half as a USC’s offense was unable to get anything going. Stanford made it to the red zone for all four of their meaningful first half drives, but came away with only 13 points. I would consider it a victory for USC’s defense, considering USC’s offense left them out to dry with under 9 minutes of possession in the first half.

Basically, Stanford did to USC what USC did to UCLA. They won the turnover battle, ran the ball well, and drained the clock. USC’s most promising drive in the first half came away with only a field goal. Like I’ve said, slow starts aren’t going to win you very many games against top 10 teams.

Whatever Helton puts in their Gatorade Powerade during halftime really works—at least temporarily.

Don't tell them it's just water.

Don’t tell them it’s just water.

For the first ten minutes of the half, they played like they deserved to be in a championship game, scoring 13 points to take the lead. That made 16 unanswered points spanning from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second. Sadly, that could not be sustained. Even when things were going right, things went wrong, like having their PAT blocked.

Just when you thought the Trojans might have a chance at winning it, Stanford rolls through on a 78-yard drive for the touchdown. On 3rd-and-6 with a chance to stop Stanford deep in their own territory, USC’s defense has a linebacker guarding McCaffrey out of the backfield and only one deep safety. McCaffrey outsped the defense to take it 67 yards before being stopped at the USC 7. Hogan scored on a rushing touchdown one play later.

No matter. USC can just turn that around with offensive production similar to what they did the past two drives, right? Wrong. Before they even get possession back, the mistakes stack up. Justin Davis and Adoree’ Jackson run into each other at the USC 5 trying to get the kick-off, then Soma Vainuku’s penalty takes them to the 3. At least they didn’t fumble it—but there’s still time for that.

USC’s offense now had the unenviable job of moving the ball out from under the shadow of their own goal post. They nearly got to mid-field before the mistakes hit a breaking point. The strip-sack followed by the scoop-and-score gave Stanford a two-score lead and the final piece of a huge momentum swing.

The Trojans’ possibility of winning continued to slim down as they were playing from behind with time against them. However, credit to them, they fought on. A big run by Adoree’ and handful of other plays had them in the the red zone. Then a curious thing happened. USC ran a zone read play to perfection. Kessler took the ball in from 12 yards out, untouched. If you saw it, you quite possibly witnessed the first zone read play ever run by USC. Stanford was so woefully unprepared for it, the defensive end crashed down on the running back immediately. Simply beautiful. It was followed by an ugly 2-point conversion play that broke down and failed. Such is life as a USC fan these days.

This brings me back to the beginning of the post. The Trojans could not score again and could not stop the Carindal from scoring. USC could bring Stanford to a 3rd down, but then fail to guard McCaffrey out of the backfield or allow some guy wide open in a seam between two zones.

All in all, Stanford scored on all but two (out of nine) of their meaningful drives, whereas USC failed to score on six (out of 10) of them. The game went down a lot like the one against Oregon. It was a forced fumble that was the beginning of the end and ending in a 3-score loss. It was also saddening to see continued failure in the 2-minute drill even after the head coaching change.

With that the Pac-12 North is 5-0 in Pac-12 title games. No one other than Stanford or Oregon have won the conference since USC’s 2008 title.

CommBro Breaker

While the loss was bad and the 41-22 final looked even worse, the College Football Playoff Committee seemed to think that performance was enough to keep the Trojans in the rankings at #25. It’s something. A win against a solid 9-3 Wisconsin would cement a spot in the final rankings.

Also, Reggie Bush, out of some perfect combination of technicalities, managed to find his way into the stadium and cheer on his college team. As part of the NCAA sanctions on USC, the school must disassociate with Reggie Bush—forever. So in some ways, the sanctions never really end. The reason he was able to attend was because he was invited by the Pac-12 as a member of the All-Century team. It also happens to be his home stadium since he is a 49er running back. Being witness to this and the zone read play might have made the trip up to Santa Clara worth it, despite the nasty loss. It was for me at least.

The coaching changes made on Sunday were a step in the right direction. I hate seeing people lose their jobs, but it was probably necessary moving forward. This leaves both the former assistants and USC more time to find what they need. During Helton’s presser, he managed to answer two of the questions I had from The Helton Hire post:

  • Does he have the contacts and evaluation ability to assemble a good coaching staff?
  • Does he have the personality to fire any or all of his assistants if they underperform even if they are his friends and have been there for years?
  • Can he consistently replace assistants that move on from the program?
  • What kind of offense and defense would he install now that he has control?
  • Will he be effective at creating his own playbooks for offense and defense?
  • Can he effectively develop players over a span of four years?
  • Will he retain playcalling duties on gameday?

Outside of losing the Pac-12 title game, he has said the right things and made the right moves. Let’s hope he can figure it all out before the 2016 season opener.

Misleading Stat of the Week: Jahleel Pinner averaged only one yard per reception against Stanford.

Context: Pinner only had 1 reception which went for 1 yard and a touchdown. With all those ones, he should just trade numbers with Darreus Rogers!

Real Stats:

Rush  Rush 40+ 50+ 60+ 70+
Name Team Yr Pos G Attempts Yards TD Yards Yards Yards Yards
Ronald Jones II USC FR RB 13 145 940 8 4 2 2 1
Christian McCaffrey Stanford SO RB 13 319 1847 8 4 2 1 1
Derrick Henry Alabama JR RB 13 339 1986 23 5 4 2 1

Ronald Jones is actually on par with Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry in longer runs. What’s crazy is that did it in less than half the carries! If he continues to develop and gets more carries, he could become a Heisman finalist someday.

ESPN 30 for 30: Trojan War

Trojan War

I had the pleasure of attending an early screening of ESPN’s 30 for 30: Trojan War, complete with a Q&A session with Aaron Rashaan Thomas (Director and USC Cinematic Arts Alumnus), Keyshawn Johnson (Executive Producer and former USC wide receiver), and Mario Diaz (Producer). USC’s School of Cinematic Arts hosted the event at the Ray Stark Family Theatre and it was moderated by SCA Professor Ted Braun. The 77 minute film is packed with great stuff and interesting perspectives.

This won’t follow my typical movie review format since it has to do with USC Football. Besides, it’s a documentary—everything the film covers has already happened. However, I will respect your right to be spoiler-free. Consider the following a fair warning:

SPOILERS                SPOILERS


SPOILER. Like the sum total of a UCLA football season. They exist, peak, and celebrate upsetting USC. Whoops, too harsh? I’m half kidding.

This time, the team that played the role of spoiler was the University of Texas Longhorns—well…not quite. They actually got a national championship while simultaneously ending USC’s 34 game winning streak. That’s where it starts out. It touches on this before rewinding back to set the stage.

There’s been speculation on the accuracy of Trojan War’s portrayal ever since it was announced. After more information came out, there was a lot of controversy over a…controversey. The line many Trojan fans took issue with was, “As it would be later discovered, though, the program was committing sins…” Sins! People almost rioted over this mere mention in the description. Sure, there’s a possibility that it would mislead or whatever, but it’s a description. Don’t boycott the film over some misguided attempt at staying true to principles. In the end, the film sold a solid narrative that could even be construed as a Trojan lean.

The crew procured interviews from a multitude of big names and those directly impacted by the program during that time period. Names include rapper and USC fan Snoop Dogg (of course), former Texas head coach Mack Brown, Pete Carroll, LenDale White, Matt Leinart, a smattering of former players from Texas and USC, and even Lance Armstrong.

The focus is mainly on the trio of White, Bush, and Leinart during the first few seasons of Pete Carroll’s tenure at USC. It touches briefly on the events before Carroll’s arrival and the aftermath of his dynastic run.

The documentary was told through the narration by Michael B. Jordan and included a quirky screenplay-styled overlay. Segments were marked by the quotes read by producer Larry Turman. These parts were probably the most jarring. There was so much excitement and strong story-telling that Turman’s book quotes almost seemed like an interruption. They were using Turman as a connector to bring it all back to Hollywood. I’m not trying to hate on the guy, but those parts were much slower compared to the rest of the film.

To be fair, the rest of film was jam packed to the point of exploding. Mario Diaz said that they had 30 terabytes of footage split across three hard drives. Keep in mind, this stuff was before all the HD 1080p or 4k crap. We’re talking low-resolution 480p stuff from the early 2000s. They estimated it to be about 500-600 minutes worth of footage. In order to cut it down to the desired 77 minutes (and toss in vital interviews), a lot of material had to be left out.

They could not afford to include bits about the post-2005 parts of the dynasty or the NCAA and their impending case with Todd McNair. Diaz says that they actually had content regarding the NCAA, but those parts made it “feel like a different movie.” Perhaps they are hinting at a part II? Or they’ll simply throw it on the DVD bonus content and call it a day. Don’t call me out for wild speculation years from now if they don’t do a second part. I presented a balanced view here. Speaking of balance…

Keyshawn Johnson and Aaron Rashaan Thomas both agreed that it was difficult to steer away from bias. The duo were both Trojan, through and through, which is probably why they sought out NYU alum Mario Diaz to balance them out. They included a lot of peoples’ opinions and didn’t comment on them overtly, but you could tell they were steering you one way or the other.

Lastly, they were unfortunately unable to get an interview with Bush. Keyshawn addressed this in a satisfying way. During the Q&A session, he said that he tried up to very end to have Bush put his stamp on it. However, Bush preferred not to relive the pain that ultimately strained his family relations and got him permanently disbarred him from the USC campus.

What I find amusing/amazing about it all: the outcome of the games shown in the film have long since been decided, yet the filmmakers recreated the scene and atmosphere. You could almost feel the tension and collective holding of breath from the audience. If you are a Trojan fan, I highly recommend it.

CommBro Breaker

Most of the occurrences in the film happened a little over a decade ago—short enough that many still remember living through those moments. It’s interesting coming from my perspective. I know a fair bit about what went down and how it was viewed at the time and I have the unique opportunity of comparing it to its film representation. I get to see how a piece of history is framed and the ways it will affect those with no knowledge about the subject matter.

Future college football fans, Trojans, and perhaps random kids forced to watch this documentary by a parent would have their perspective shaped by this interpretation. Decades or even a CENTURIESSSSSS from now, when those with memories of the Pete Carroll dynasty have passed, this would be referred to as near truth. I doubt there will be historians trying to dig up college football documents and interview footage in order to try and “debunk” it. It would be an understatement to say that I am satisfied with the product they put forth. Maybe it’s just propaganda…but in 100 years, nobody will know.

Trojan War will air Tuesday, October 13 at 6pm PT on ESPN.


I have been given the privilege to guest-write on City of Angles and will hopefully not blow away any future chances of guest-writing again.

Without further ado…




Apparently the NCAA has released a briefing (which is anything but brief) regarding why they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Todd McNair is a boldfaced liar. And it all revolves around…a selfie. And no we are not talking about “The Chainsmokers” selfie, because if we were, then there would’ve at least been a half dozen more selfie retakes and thus more “photo evidence”. This leads me to my first piece of circumstantial evidence on why the photo is fake.

#1. One Photo—One Perfect Photo

Isn’t it curious why there was only one selfie taken? I’m no selfie expert, but I do know that getting the first elusive money selfie shot with a 2005 cell phone is probably as slim of a chance as Cal beating USC for the National Championship next year. How do I know there weren’t any more shots taken? Because that would’ve clearly helped NCAA’s case and they would’ve released it (or USCFootball.com would’ve). Bam! Onto point two.

#2. The Original Shot

If you are thinking, “what original shot?” that is precisely my point. There isn’t one. Or they aren’t willing to show it. Isn’t curious that these dimensions are not typical of any phone and that the photo was therefore cropped? Some of you may be saying, “But wait, you said that selfie shots are hard to take and maybe they had to crop it, right?” hate to say this (well not really 😛 ) but—you’re wrong—kinda. You see, that would’ve been slightly believable; however, they also changed the photo format from the traditional jpg (the type a cell phone generally takes) and converted it to a bmp. This makes it extremely difficult to conclusively determine whether the photo was fake or not. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually a chimney—burning and altering evidence. Anywho, there is still the issue of Lloyd being in the photo. If you believe that this photo still has the possibility of being genuine, then I will present you my final, more concrete piece of evidence.

#3. “The Phantom Phinger”

I’ve looked this up and unfortunately couldn’t find an explanation. Let’s take a quick gander at the finger resting on McNair’s shoulder on the photo above. Does something seem off? Actually, lets rewind a little first. The whole photo looks off. The awkward pose, the hand that doesn’t seem to belong to anybody, the two successful photo-bombers (and apparently wannabe agents). It was so awkward that, my good friends and I decided that we would try to remake this photo.

Very Awkward Pose...

Very Awkward Pose…pheaturing the phantom phinger

Yeah, this probably didn’t work due to our photo taking skills if anything but thought it would be fun to try…you know for perspective purposes.

Back to the “phantom phinger”. If the way his finger is cut doesn’t scream photoshopped, I don’t know what does. It looks completely cut as if he is digging his finger into his clavicle region. Even the reflection off his fingernail looks off (that may be my eyes want it too though).

Lastly, why it doesn’t matter…

Now I know there are some of you that still don’t believe (most likely USC-haters and NCAA-lovers); however, this doesn’t even matter…not in the slightest. By a show of hands, how many of you have ever taken a photo with someone you didn’t know? Yes this includes photobombings, parties, tailgates, concerts, etc. Now how many of your friends just assumed that because you have a photo with someone, you must’ve talked about: (insert subject here). Sounds a little ridiculous doesn’t it. Well that’s exactly what happened. The NCAA made assumptions that: (1) McNair must’ve known these people (2) McNair must’ve talked about giving Bush benefits. These assumptions were all “validated” through one major piece of evidence: the selfie.

Ultimately, I understand that I brought up a ton off the wall evidence and points of view that are all pretty circumstantial; however, here’s the kicker—so did the NCAA and yet they acted on it, in attempt to destroy a football program and a coaches career. And kids, this is why you don’t go to parties.

Thank you and until next time,

Johnny Foosball


CommBro Breaker

Your homie, commbro is back. People normally do forewards for this sort of thing, but screw it—afterword. I don’t get this whole Phantom Menace business or whatever, but that picture is about as bad as Jar Jar Binks. That means someone just created because they thought they were being clever (sorry George Lucas. Still Trojan bros, right?) Anyway, we hoped you enjoyed that little tirade. It saved me from doing a rant myself.