I realize that what I’m about to say probably borders on heretical, but here it goes anyway: Stanford got thoroughly outplayed and outcoached by USC last night, and it’s fairly miraculous that our beloved Cardinal managed to leave the Coliseum with a victory. Of course, any team needs some luck (and no, I don’t mean Andrew Luck) to win a triple-overtime game, but Stanford got so many breaks that I have to wonder if the oft-cited “football gods” actually exist and are smiling on the Card.
Let’s start with the horrendous play of our defense, which sorely misses injured starters Shayne Skov and Delano Howell. It couldn’t stop the run—Curtis McNeal ran right over Stanford’s vaunted front seven for 145 yards on 20 carries. More than anything, though, the secondary blew so many coverages that I could have stayed at The Peninsula Beverly Hills if I had a dollar for each one. There were several plays where Stanford’s defensive backs got torched and then got lucky when the Trojans failed to execute, usually via a dropped pass or an overthrown ball from USC quarterback Matt Barkley. I vividly remember one instance where star USC receiver Robert Woods had nothing but green in front of him, only to see the pass bounce off his right hand harmlessly onto the turf. To top it all off, the pass rush was nonexistent; Barkley got hit a few times but didn’t take a single sack.
Then there was the miracle drive with three minutes remaining to tie the game at 34 each. Sure, Andrew Luck led a great drive down the field to tie the score with about 40 seconds remaining; however, the offense probably never would have scored that touchdown without a personal-foul penalty on USC’s T.J. McDonald to keep the drive alive after a third down incompletion.
Of course, there’s also the fact that USC probably would have had the chance to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired in regulation had it not been for a momentous screw-up. With nine seconds left to go, Barkley completed a pass to Woods to get into field goal range, but Woods ran to the side instead of going down and calling timeout; his run took the remaining seconds off the clock and sent the game to OT. “I was yelling at Robert to get down because I could see the clock,” Barkley said later. “That play never really goes that far across the field. It’s designed to turn upfield.”
Last but not least, let’s talk about the penalties. Stanford committed 11 penalties for 91 yards; USC got hit with three for 35 yards. You’re just not supposed to make that many mistakes against a team like USC and walk away with a win. Penalties killed a Cardinal drive or two and extended Trojan offensive drives as well. It’s not that the refs were homers, either—Stanford just played sloppy football.
As any football player or coach will tell you, a win is a win no matter how you got it, and it keeps Stanford undefeated and in the hunt for the national championship. On Saturday, the team that played better couldn’t close it out and win the game, and that happens all the time in football. Stanford fans had just better hope that the USC performance isn’t the best this team is capable of, because if it is, then the Nov. 12 showdown with Oregon is definitely not going to be a pleasant experience.