USC vs. Stanford: A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one

USC vs. #23 Stanford
September 7, 2019 at 7:35pm
Los Angeles, CA: 62,109 (of 77,500)
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

We’re starting out with another meme of the week:

The absolute domination wasn’t the only surprise. Below is a picture of what showed on the screen at the end of the game. The scary thing is that was a the exact score of a previous USC-Fresno State game back in 2013.

Conspiracy. Games are rigged!

Before I bore you with another conspiracy theory, I’ll get back to what really matters.

In an enjoyably short game, USC displayed a level of dominance not seen for the past season or two. It began with a shaky start where the offense failed to score much and the defense allowed scores on Stanford’s first four drives—but then shut them out from there. They held Stanford without scoring for 38 minutes while simultaneously putting up 35 unanswered points for the victory.

To give you an idea of how rare this performance was, here are some stats:

  • Ranked for the first time since September 15, 2018.
  • Most points scored since November 4, 2017, when USC defeated Arizona 49-35
  • Largest margin of victory since October 28, 2017, when USC defeated Arizona State 48-17

Those are the backhanded compliments of stats though. Kedon Slovis produced some truly impressive numbers in his first career start. He completed 28 of 33 (84.8%) for 377 yards and 3 TDs. Which is the:

  • Most yards since since Cody Kessler threw for 410 against Idaho on September 12, 2015
  • Highest completion percentage (with at least 20 attempts) since Matt Barkley completed 95% of passes (19 of 20) against Colorado on October 20, 2012.

To put that into perspective, he was about four incompletions away from the NCAA record for completion percentage. Two of those incompletes were drops by a receiver. Something else you might notice is that the previous highs were against far inferior, unranked opponents. For Slovis to come in and put up numbers that big says a lot about both him and offensive coordinator, Graham Harrell.

Slovis made some suboptimal choices, but didn’t really make any outright mistakes in decisionmaking. That’s more than one should expect out of a true freshman in their first start. He didn’t crumble under pressure and even checks downfield for a throw before taking off to run. All-in-all, the way he handled the game appeared very unfreshmanlike.

Harrell also taught the offense some new tricks. Going from the last few seasons to now, we have seen the offense go from false starts and bad snaps being a staple to drawing multiple offsides penalties from the opposing defense. It’s a hell of an improvement.

GOOD/BADISMS

BEST: Slovis’ 39-yard deep pass that landed perfectly into Amon-Ra St. Brown’s arms despite a cornerback and safety in coverage.

GOOD: Tyler Vaughns redeemed himself by making some difficult catches after sitting out for a few dropped passes.

BAD: Allowing the Stanford offense to gain an uncomfortable number of yards on while the defense was in Cover 1.

GOOD: 8.1 yards per play for this game. For reference on how high that is, if they can maintain a similar average throughout the season, it would be the third highest average in the nation for the decade.

GOOD: Olaijah Griffin showed himself to be a great red zone defender. The true sophomore corner had some difficulties against Fresno St. with deep coverage, but has also redeemed himself

GOOD: Finally breaking 60,000 attendees at a home game since November 2017.

GOOD: Pulling off a seven play, 70 yard drive in the two minutes before the half.

GOOD: WiFi works actually well.

GOOD: The USC band throwing some shade at the Stanford band, saying that they traveled to 19 countries and have never been prohibited from playing at Disneyland.

BAD: Punt numbers aren’t as good as hoped

CommBro Breaker

When the end of the season rolls around, we may find out that Stanford had a 1-11 kind of effort in them. Also, with more film available on the USC offensive tendencies and actual film on Slovis, teams may be able to develop a gameplan to frustrate the young quarterback in this new offense— but for now, this win looks great on paper. Beating a ranked conference team by more than three touchdowns isn’t easy and should be enjoyed.

Double CommBro Breaker

On the other hand, more first team reps and college experience could mean that Slovis could actually improve as the season progresses. I’m not here for bold predictions so I’m going with the safe route of: “we’ll see.” Oh and you probably want me to acknowledge that Swann is gone, so there. I acknowledged it.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #1: Slovis completed passes of 30 of more yards to four different receivers. As if there weren’t enough ridiculous Slovis stats.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: Slovis completed a pass to eight different receivers…which is more than the total number of completed passes he had last week.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #3: The defense amassing 6 pass breakups and 10 tackles for a loss.

Misleading Stat of the Week #1: USC still lost the time of possession battle this week. Luckily, it didn’t matter

USC vs. Stanford: Familiar Terror-tory

Stanford vs. USC
September 8, 2018 at 5:45pm
Stanford Stadium, Palto Alto, CA: 42,586
Total Time: 3 hours 13 minutes

If you’re wondering what that cursed image is, it’s a sculpture representing my facial expression during this entire game. It also happens to be actual “art” sitting on Stanford’s campus.

Two SCents

Despite repeatedly allowing tight end seam routes to pick up large chunks of yardage, the defense did enough to expect a win. The run offense managed decently (with over 4 yards per carry when not counting the 4 sacks allowed), but the sub 50% completion percentage constantly caused drives to sputter out.

CommBro Breaker

Falling behind early meant more passing. More passing meant moving away from a run game that was working towards a passing game that wasn’t. This game is enough to move my evaluation of Helton from “meh, but we’ll see” to a definitive “we need better.” If you believe differently, feel free to interject. At least they played a pretty clean game from a penalty perspective (4 for 35 yards)

Ridiculous Stat of the Week: 0 sacks of KJ Costello. Somehow they got away with that.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week #2: USC had as many turnovers as points

2017 Pac-12 Championship Game

USC vs. Stanford
December 1, 2017 at 5:05pm
Levi’s Stadium: 48,031
Total Time: 3 hours 33 minutes

Typically, re-runs on TV aren’t very good. The rematch between USC and Stanford in 2017 was also a repeat of the 2015 Pac-12 championship game. Both results this season turned out better than that 2015 championship game, so maybe re-runs aren’t all bad.

USC’s victory last night won them their first conference championship since 2008 and the first since the expansion to twelve teams. What’s even crazier is that USC had to show the entire South division how it’s done. Despite all the South teams except Utah having an appearance, none of them have been able to unseat a North school. USC would also have the most Pac-12 South titles if that fake-o South title wasn’t awarded to UCLA back in ’11.

Speaking of all things 11, it is also USC’s first time having 11 or more wins since their NCAA record 7 straight 11+ win seasons spanning from 2002 to 2008 (a record that Alabama tied this season and can likely break next season). Winning that many games is no strange thing for USC.

Where it gets curious is that USC being at 11 wins with a Pac-12 championship and not cracking the top 7. Both Wisconsin and 3-loss Auburn get placed above the Trojans? Even though this was ultimately up to the CFP committee to decide, I feel that the Pac-12 conference has to take the blame on this. So begins my rant.

Now, if you don’t like my rants, you can skip ahead to the Doge to read the game summary. Otherwise, you can to enjoy the ensuing tirade.

The Pac-12 has the clowniest commissioner in the Power 5—and quite possibly all of the FBS (I don’t know the G5 commissioners at all so I can’t comment on them). The Pac-12 referees have been immortalized in dank memery with things like the Glasses Ref twitter. The conference has been left out of the playoff twice in four years and gets trashed in the first round even when they haven’t.

When asked “If you have to prioritize between a playoff game and parity, how would you do that?,” Larry responded saying if he couldn’t have both, he would favor parity over the playoff because he thinks that’s a better sign of conference health. Unsurprisingly, Scott likes his parity artificially inflated and forced. He accomplishes it by having things like:

  • Week night games (Thursday and Friday)
  • Late night starts (7:30pm-8pm PT start)
    • That means 8pm games end at about 2:30am ET. Many east coasters don’t stay up to watch it. Then they don’t vote for the Pac-12 teams in things like rankings, individual postseason awards, etc.
  • Late night, week night, road games (like USC-Cal 2016)
  • No bye weeks (like Arizona 2015, USC 2017)
  • Conference Championship on Friday nights at 5pm (5 of 7 have been on Friday)
    • People who have regular 9 to 5 jobs have to take time off work just to catch it on TV. Even worse if they actually want to make it to the stadium
    • 10,000 more people attended the last Pac-12 championships game featuring Stanford and USC. It was on a Saturday
  • Team going on road during short week (Saturday game followed Friday road game)
    • Pac-12 teams are 0-9 coming off of that situation over the past 2 years
  • Pac-12 Officials that routinely have half the conference in the bottom 10 of penalties per game.
  • Pac-12 Officials that basically cannot officiate most games without multiple controversies
  • 9 game conference schedule that gives half the teams an extra loss
    • It gives rise to talk like “USC only beat one team with more than 7 wins.” Yes, because the conference was busy cannibalizing itself.
    • The Big Ten and Pac-12 are left out of the playoffs for 2017. The Big Ten had just switched to match the Big 12 and Pac-12’s 9-game conference schedule
    • The Big 12 and Pac-12 have each missed the playoffs twice. They are the only ones to have used 9-game conference schedules through the whole playoff era
    • The ACC and SEC are the only two P5 conference that haven’t missed a playoff. They play 8 game schedules

That’s not even counting all the random weird stuff they do. Stuff like leaving USC out to dry when the unjust sanctions were handed out by the NCAA. Or their failure of a network that still isn’t on DirecTV and doesn’t generate nearly as much revenue as the other P5 conferences. I wonder if people from other parts of the countries look at the Pac and think they’re barely better than the WAC or MWC.

end rant

An elegant doge for a more civilized age. One where fools didn’t mouth off on the internet.

 

The result of the game was satisfying. This Stanford team was a better than the one SC destroyed in September. The K.J. Costello led offense fared much better than when Keller Chryst was at QB, but still couldn’t get seal the deal. It’s difficult to beat any team twice in one season, let alone one like Stanford, so congrats to Clay Helton and his team for the accomplishments this season.

Speaking of accomplishments, one of the features of these championship games is both schools displaying their famous alumni. Stanford listed famous alumni like…”Herbet” Hoover. Damn…as if the man’s name hasn’t been dragged through enough mud. That’s not nearly as embarrassing as their band though.

Much to the glee of USC fans (and probably some Stanford fans) the Leland Stanford Jr. University Marching Band’s annoying voice over got cut off—like their NY6 Bowl hopes.

GOOD/BADISMS

GOOD: Darnold was able to complete quite a few deep passes. That earned the respect of the opposing defenses, thus opening up more big runs. He also managed to have a zero turnover game.

GOODa: A red zone defense that managed to stop Stanford stone cold at their own game in a pivotal moment.

GOODb:The offense then answered with a 99-yard drive for a touchdown. They also had a separate 97-yard drive for a touchdown late in the second quarter.

GOOD: Calling a play from under center in a short yardage situation.

GOOD: The coaches didn’t force balance down the offense’s throat. They ran more than they passed (43 rush-24 pass) and it worked well. The team averaged a respectable 4.1 yards per carry.

GOOD: Ronald Jones gaining 140 yards on the ground. He was only tackled for a loss once the entire game. That afforded him an average of nearly 5 yards per carry.

GOOD: Tyler Vaughns somehow jukes immediately after a catch so often.

GOOD: Michael Pittman set a career high 146 receiving yards and bailed the offense out of some tough situations.

GOOD: Converting both fourth down attempts while stopping Stanford’s.

GOOD: Darnold was voted the MVP, but if I was personally deciding, I would’ve given it to Uchenna Nwosu. He was one of the most impactful players on the field.

CONFUSED: Stanford fumbled four times but managed to recover all of them.

BAD: Same old sloppy mistakes. We also got to see an uncommon handoff going wrong way.

BAD: DBs lacking discipline (turning to stare into the backfield, mistiming jumps, etc.) and allow large completions. GOOD: Iman Marshall played extremely well, as did Hawkins, but BAD: the rest had some trouble. The most memorable was allowing a 42-yard completion with 1 minute left in the 2nd half. The kicker was that the receiver was double-teamed with both DBs in position to bat the ball. It wasn’t even like Iman’s cursed bounce two weeks ago against UCLA.

GOOD: Having a lead as large as 10 in a tough game. Stanford also never once took the lead in the game. The best they did was tie it at 7-7.

GOOD: A 4th-and-2 with a big game on the line was converted to put the final nail in the Kiffin (sorry, I had to sneak that in). Does that ease some of the pain of a decade old 4th-and-2 call by the Kiff himself? All aboard the Lane Train? #CometothefaU? HAHA. Anyway, that was an impressive passing conversion when most teams would be inclined to run it.

CommBro Breaker

USC makes it to a Rose Bowl without being a champion in 2016. In 2017, they don’t go to the Rose Bowl as conference champion. The world is a weird place. See you at the Cotton Bowl?

Lottery Stats

On average, USC gets more than 1 penalty every 10 plays. That makes them 115th in the nation for that stat.

Running count of fourth down conversions: 10 of 24 (41.67%)

Running count of opponent fourth down conversions: 14 of 25 (56%)

USC vs. Stanford: The Answer to Life

USC vs. Stanford
September 9, 2017 at 5:40pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 77,614 (93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 11 minutes

You know what I like about USC-Stanford games? The game clock actually runs at a decent pace. The teams usually have balanced drives that actually last a while. It’s like being able to watch a rally in a volleyball game rather than back-and-forth aces.

There isn’t too much I want to say about this game. They really turned it around from last week. Stanford scored less against the Trojans than the Broncos did. Shocking.

Also shocking was getting 307 yards rushing even after losing yards on kneel downs. Forget about it being a rank #14 team…David Shaw coached Stanford teams have allowed an average of 115 yards rushing per game. Being able to put over 300 yards on them in a single game shows the caliber of the running backs and the offensive line’s runblocking. The 307 yards amassed by the Trojans would have been one fourth of Stanford’s total rushing yards allowed over fourteen games in the 2013 season.

Good-Badisms

Bad-Good: Back-to-back two interceptions is not a good look. The first pick in the game I might let go. Gotta take risks, sometimes it doesn’t go your way. The second one was another into double coverage and had almost no chance of being completed. No more of that, please. On the other hand, he threw four touchdown passes and most of them were superb throws.

Good: Defense did their job, other than one or two big plays allowed.

Bad: This one isn’t on the team. C’mon Pac-12 officials…There were some blatantly bad calls and lack of calls. Seems par for course in Stanford-SC matchups though.

“Clock operator, please reset the game clock to…”

Good: Two one hundred yard rushers.

Good: Continued Deontay performance.

Good: #14 Stanford looks to be the hardest team on USC’s regular season schedule. Barring any surprises, USC just has to remain consistent and healthy. It’s college football, though, and there will always be surprises.

Good: Balanced and complete offense.

Don’t know: USC offense looks like it’s gone through a lot of changes like:

  • Running out of split back sets. Usually, even when they line up like that, they motion one back out before the play starts
  • More RPO plays
  • Speed option play

CommBro Breaker

Ain’t City of Angles if I don’t spit some stats at ye.

This was USC’s largest margin of victory against Stanford since 2008 (45-23).

Oh, and I should probably explain the title. 42—the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

USC vs. Stanford: False Start, True Struggle

Stanford vs. USC
September 17, 2016 at 5:14pm
Stanford Stadium, Palto Alto, CA: 48,763 (50,424)
Total Time: 3 hours 3 minutes

This was one of those games where everyone asks “Oh my gosh, what happened?” It’s really hard to describe even with a few sentence explanation. Quite simply, that was a pretty horrible game. You can blame the refs for some bad calls/non-calls, but that’d be quite disingenuous.

Frankly, this coaching staff and team have shown almost all that they need to at this point. They’ve played tough opponents, mediocre ones, and conference foes. I almost don’t even want to write about it. There are no excuses left to give at this point. They aren’t sandbagging against lesser opponents, they aren’t just overmatched by the #1 team in the nation. This team has serious problem and they just aren’t where they need to be or where they should be.

With a few key exceptions, the team needs to take a quantum leap to stay competitive this season. I’m afraid that it won’t happen fast enough. They didn’t show anything new since playing against Alabama. It was the same deal, down to the first half 3-17 score.

Taking a look at the USC-Stanford games since 2010, a lot of the games were within one possession. Starting with the first game in 2015, it moved up to two possession. It then moved up to three possessions in the 2015 rematch, and remained that way in 2016. Meanwhile, they continually score less on offense—hitting a 24 year low in points score on Stanford. They lost 9-23 back in 1992…before most of the players on either rosters were born. It suggests that the team’s trajectory is going in the wrong direction.

Game USC Stanford Differential Result
2010 35 37 -2 L
2011 (3OT) 48 56 -8 L
2012 14 21 -7 L
2013 20 17 3 W
2014 13 10 3 W
2015 31 41 -10 L
2015 (Pac-12 CG) 22 41 -19 L
2016 10 27 -17 L

There is a growing vocal minority clamoring on making the switch from Browne to Darnold. As cathartic as it can be to blame such an easy thing, such a risky change probably wouldn’t produce the results they seek. Browne carries a similar problem as Cody Kessler did in holding onto the ball too long rather than trying to throw a receiver open in the middle of the field.

Everyone has issues: Browne, the receivers, the offensive line. The bigger problem is that they tend to succeed out of phase. Here are a few scenarios:

Receivers get open>QB sees them>One o-lineman allows DE in for a sack
Receviers get open>O-line blocks well>QB holds onto ball
O-line blocks well>QB ready to throw>Receivers covered completely

Then sometimes they step up their game, with two failing:

QB ready to throw>Receivers can’t get open>O-line allows LB in for a sack
O-line blocks well>Receivers can’t get open>QB holds onto ball too long

Or an even better scenario:

O-line false start

About those false starts…seriously embarrassing. The Trojans amassed six false starts in the game. They actually had more false starts than points in the first half—5 false starts, 3 points.

Good thing we couldn’t hear them though since the officials’ mics weren’t even working. The Pac-12 is really the model conference!

Another glaring obstacle—other than trying to find new synonyms for “problem”—is Helton’s management of timeouts. He habitually burns throughthem too fast and too furiously.

By my judgment, he has a very basketball-like mentality with them. He uses it to draw up specific plays. That stuff should really have been prepped long before and just signalled to the QB. Yet somehow, they can leave the sideline confused and unorganized. Perhaps that’s where they planned their little hot potato trick play that ended with an incomplete pass.

What’s the purpose of the no huddle if you can’t even communicate properly? They aren’t even really using it for hurry-up offense and yet they have to suffer all the drawbacks like each individual player needing to understand the call.

I’m going to stop droning on and go into hurry-up mode:

  • Christian McCaffrey consistently picked up 5 or 6 yards on first down, allowing Stanford to continual run on second and third down in order to convert.
  • USC on the other hand, had negative plays on first down and/or penalties, making them need 10+ yards on third downs (average of 10.08 to go on third down)
    • Forcing them into passing situations or just running to set up a punt
  • Like the Alabama game, miscommunications and defensive breakdowns allows explosive play for TD
    • Team gave up like in Alabama game too

Sad Stat of the Week #1: The last time USC started 1-2 is 2001.

Sad Stat of the Week #2: USC’s offense is averaging 20.3 points per game, tied for 108th in the nation

Justin Davis had this to say: “If we don’t play disciplined with this talent, this talent is going to waste”

CommBro Breaker

The real Commbro Breaker is nobody got ejected this game.

Positives in hurry-up mode:

  • Deontay Burnett deserves recognition for his efforts. I didn’t mention him last game, but he definitely has contributed his fair share the past two games
  • A decent redzone stand, holding Stanford to 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Stanford still went for it, and got the touchdown in the end, but I guess you can’t stop them forever at the 1.
    • I’m really bad at this positivity thing
  • Adoree’ Jackson’s interception
  • Browne continues to have above average poise in the pocket that you’d like to see in a quarterback
  • USC offense while lining up under center
  • Steven Mitchell continues his consistency
  • Touchdown against a ranked opponent?
  • At least we’re using tight ends now
  • Okay, I give up…kind of like the team did

Misleading Stat of the Week: Stanford actually decreased USC’s tackles for loss allowed per game from 9 to 7.33.

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.

USC vs. Stanford: Error 404 Defense Not Found

USC vs. Stanford
September 19, 2015 at 5:00pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: 78,306
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

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Fig A. Wilcox’s play sheet

Let’s just get right to it. The last time USC won out in September was in Lane Kiffin’s first year (2010). September losses have pretty much become a habit with the Stanford capping off a five year streak.

Speaking of 2010, that’s what USC’s defense looked like. Stanford was completing passes all over the middle of the field and running it up the gut successfully. It was as if we had a 4-0-4 formation on defense since the linebackers were nowhere to be found! Just kidding, that’s mean. Outside linebacker Su’a Cravens made a lot of plays and was one of the redeeming factors on defense.

Although the transitive property doesn’t really work in college football (or football in general), here’s something to think about:

How does USC’s defense allow more points than a Central Florida team that goes on to lose to Furman. The Furman Paladins are in the same FCS conference as the Wofford Terriers, which even Idaho could beat.

USC Stanford UCF

Despite continued subpar play by the offensive line, Cody Kessler managed to string together respectable drives and decent numbers. Bad snaps and a run game that eventually faltered. Sure, he made mistakes

Kevin Hogan had one of the best games of his career. Although his statistics are comparable to Kessler’s the stats don’t tell the entire story.

I’d venture to say that if Kessler had the same amount of time in the pocket as Hogan, the USC offense would probably never have punted.

With the time of possession slanted (angled?!) heavily in Stanford’s favor, it was hard to get on the field and score points. Stanford controlled the ball nearly twice as long as USC did. Who would’ve thought USC would get caught in a shootout with Stanford? No side produced any turnovers and both teams had nine meanginful possessions, so it came down to punting, turnovers on downs, and being held to field goals.

Punts:
USC: 3
Stanford: 2

Field Goals:
USC: 1
Stanford: 2

Turnover on Downs:
USC: 1
Stanford: 0

So if we do the simple math, if USC had one less turnover on downs and punt, they would tie Stanford. Suppose one went for a touchdown and the other was held to a field goal. The score would’ve been tied.

USC would routinely forced a third down situation and Stanford answered by converting an astouding 66.7% (8/12) of third downs. Had USC stopped them two more times, this game could’ve been extremely different.

Alternatively, had the offense converted some more of their own third downs, the outcome would’ve been different as well. Going 4 of 10 on third downs isn’t pretty, but it’s hard to ask an offense to do much more than they did. Let’s be honest. Kessler’s stats are probably still Heisman worthy. In three games, he’s thrown 89 passes and completed 78.7% for 922 yards, 10 TD and 0 INT. He has also continued to improve on things he has been criticized for. For one, he took off and ran for the first down when the lane was there. That 18 yard run set up the touchdown to retake the lead.

Unfortunately, his underthrown swing pass to Tre Madden earlier in that drive is what ultimately killed USC’s running game. After running successfully in the first half, Madden, fell awkwardly after making the catch. He would not run the ball again. After the running backs picked up 126 yards in the first half, they posted a measly 22 yards in the second half.

What’s more concerning is that the offensive line couldn’t protect Kessler on numerous occasions. Their pass blocking remains one of many weak points for this team. The line also picked up half the teams penalties (4 for 45), all by the returning starters Chad Wheeler, Zach Banner, and Max Tuerk. Some of them like the personal foul were completely preventable. Those costly penalties quickly caused drives to stall out.

That wasn’t the end of stupid penalties though. There was stupid stuff like an unnecessary holding that got Adoree’ Jackson’s kickoff return called back. To make matters worse, they tacked on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. What would’ve been a touchdown, quickly became starting within their own 10-yard line.

Through the first two games, the Trojans picked up just nine penalties. Against Stanford, it came out to eight—and that’s not counting all the offset and declined penatlies.

The defensive line could not create enough pressure with a standard 4-man rush. Furthermore, Hogan had a wide open left edge when he was flushed out of the pocket. Had Hogan not get rolled up under Anthony Sarao at the start of the second half, he may have exploited the lack of contain on the left edge many more times. Regardless, Hogan threw some of the best passes of his career and certainly the best he ever played against USC in three tries. On multiple deep passes he had perfect touch, making them pretty much indefensible once in the air.

Needless to say, Sark needs to get together with Coach Connelly and Wilcox to work on some things.

CommBro Breaker (some things to make you less depressed)

Only three teams haven’t turned the ball over this season: USC, LSU, and West Virginia. Both LSU and WVU have only played two games to USC’s three.

No kickoffs out of bounds this week!!! Special teams win!

Wide receivers have been blocking really well—better than they have been in years. They have turned some standard runs into big gains. On JuJu’s 54-yard catch and run, Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell Jr. threw key blocks.

Double CommBro Breaker

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC is last place in the Pac-12 standings.