For the third year in a row, the Stanford vs. Oregon game was the game of the year in the Pac, and through the first two quarters it looked like it was going to be the same game it always is: a tight first half followed by a second half Oregon blowout.
In the first halves in 2010 and ’11, Stanford had a tight 47-46 advantage, but in the second halves, Oregon had an incredible 59-14 advantage. But this year, the hungry Cardinal flipped the script.
The Ducks started with 246 1st half yards and left some points on the field with two failed 4th down conversions, one inside the Stanford 10. We all had to think that the Ducks were going to put it together in the 2nd half like they always do, but Stanford’s extremely disciplined front seven had other ideas. The Cardinal came out of the locker room and simply played the best half of defense of any team in college football this season, holding the best offense in the nation to one touchdown in each half.
The unstoppable Ducks had only 169 yards in the 2nd half and following one touchdown drive in the mid 3rd, Oregon’s drives for the remainder of the game were:
14 yards, missed FG.
3 yards, punt.
9 yards, punt.
5 yards, punt,
26 yards, punt,
1 yard, missed FG.
The Ducks’ incredible Kenjon Barner, who averages 129 yards per game and 6.5 per carry, did next to nothing. Carrying more than his season average of 20 times, but gaining only 66 yards and never finding the endzone.
Oregon’s defense wasn’t bad either, holding a Stanford offense that averages 28 ppg to 10 in regulation. Michael Clay had an amazing 20 tackles and the Ducks forced 3 turnovers (for a +2 margin).
But just as they did last week against Oregon Sate, the Cardinal lost the turnover battle by a significant margin, but the defense seemed to take pride in not allowing the turnovers to effect the game. Last week, the Cardinal did not allow a single first down and only 3 points on 4 turnovers. This week, Stanford was lights out again, allowing one first down, but zero points off turnovers. For the second week in a row, they were able to prevent an explosive offense from capturing momentum.
Stanford is now a two game sweep of UCLA from going to the Rose Bowl and Oregon is likely going to have to come up with ways to be excited about a trip to the Holiday Bowl. The task of beating UCLA two weeks in a row isn’t much of a reward for Stanford, but they finally took their division rivals down with everything on the line. Congratulations to the Cardinal.
The Crosstown Showdown may not have been the game of the week, but with the South Division Championship on the line, it was the biggest USC – UCLA game in recent memory. The Trojans has a ton on the line on Saturday. Losses to Arizona and Oregon had forced the Trojans to re-calibrate their National Championship expectations, but with the rivalry games and a possible Championship rematch with Oregon coming up, sending matt Barkley out with a Rose Bowl was somehow still in play.
The only problem was, even with so much on the line for the most talented team in the country, it was UCLA who looked like the team desperate for a win. The Bruins startled the USC fan base with a ridiculous refusal to allow USC’s drum major his traditional pre-game planting of his sword in the turf (which UCLA timorously re-branded as “stabbing”).
To the displeasure of the Trojan Family, the Spirit of Troy complied with this absurdity and the tone of submission carried over to the game where UCLA set the tone from the beginning, intercepting Matt Barkley’s first pass and converting it into a touchdown in only 4 plays.
USC’s incredible offensive talent was heard from, with Barkley throwing three touchdowns. But not before turning the ball over three times (once on downs) and spotting the Bruins had a 24-0 lead.
For USC it was the nail in the coffin of their BCS hopes and it could not have come in more fitting fashion. No one is questioning the talent on the Trojans roster, but the mental errors and sloppy defense that killed the Trojans on Saturday are the same issues that have caused USC to become the first pre-season #1 to fall out of the AP rankings altogether in nearly 50 years.
First the defense: After allowing a USC record 1300+ yards in back to back games, the grumbling started about Monty’s inability to combat the spread. But those two disasters were far from the end of the story. The fact is, USC’s defense is the worst in Trojan history.
With two games against top competition still ahead, the Trojans have already surrendered 400+ yards 5 times this season. The most in USC history. The Trojans are also surrendering more than 420 yards per game, that’s 20 yards more than the all time SC record, set by another Kiffin & Father team in 2010. And perhaps the most telling stat: Prior to 2009, the most yards per game ever allowed by a USC team was the 386.5 allowed in 1991. Since 2009, that mark has been broken… every single season.
Now, turnovers. The championship Trojan teams of last decade were built on the strength of huge turnover margins. USC was near the top of the nation in this category every championship year. In 2005 with Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator, the Trojans were a tremendous +21. Since Matt Barkley took over at quarterback, that advantage has disappeared. In Barkley’s 4 seasons, the Trojans have been in the black with takeaways only once (a pedestrian +4 in 2010), and this year stand at exactly 0. It’s not secret why. Matt Barkley’s 15 INTs is 2nd in the FBS, and trails only Dalton Williams of the 1-10 Akron Zips. The senior QB is on pace (even missing a game with injury) to break the modern (Carroll Era forward) INT record he set his freshman year.
Finally, Penalties. Coach Kiffin has boasted this weekend that he and his staff have “fixed the penalties” that plagued the Trojans all season, but winning the penalty battle against UCLA, the most penalized team in the nation, is not worth bragging about. Though it is true the Trojans have been well below their season average for the past two games, their 51 yards on Saturday is merely average nationally and on the season, they rank #117 in yards per game. Totally unacceptable for a team with senior starters all over the field.
On Saturday, UCLA wasn’t the more talented team, but they were motivated and more focused. The Bruins were not playing for a consolation prize. They wanted a Trojan head to hang on the mantle, and with every lazy attempt by Lamar Dawson to tackle Johnathan Franklin, it became apparent that USC was all too happy to oblige. Just like the drum major.
It shouldn’t take any external motivation to get the Trojans up for the Irish next week, but the Sun Bowl may be another matter.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK:
In the game that means the most to every player from Los Angeles, no one played with more desire than UCLA’s dynamic Johnathan Franklin. The man they call “The Mayor” absolutely did run Los Angeles on Saturday shredding USC for 171 hungry yards and two critical touchdowns.
USC made an incredible effort to climb out of its 24-0 hole in the first half, and drew to within 3 points of the Bruins midway through the 4th quarter. But on it’s ensuing drive, the Bruins gave Franklin the ball on 4 of their 9 plays, the Mayor took the last one for a 29 yard touchdown that humiliated all three levels of the USC defense and iced the game for the Bruins.
Franklin is UCLA’s all-time leading rusher and on Saturday surpassed the 4,000 yard mark. By earning a trip to the Pac-12 Championship game, Franklin just bought himself an extra game to put more distance between himself and all the other running backs in UCLA history.