Here’s the eighth post in our "film study" series.
Every other day from now until Aug. 25, we’re watching one of the games USC played last season and putting up a set of pertinent-to-this-year notes, going of course in chronological order from the Minnesota season opener to the UCLA season finale. At the end, we’ll have one last post with our overall takeaways from the re-watching. By then, it’ll be the week of this year’s opener.
We’ve already done USC’s 19-17 win over Minnesota, 23-14 win over Utah, 38-17 win over Syracuse, 44-23 loss to Arizona State, 48-41 win over Arizona, 30-9 win over Cal and 31-17 win over Notre Dame. Here, now, are our five notes -- four big things and a bunch of little ones -- from USC’s 56-48 triple-overtime loss to Stanford on Oct. 29, 2011.
The game was billed as a battle between Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley, and it largely lived up to that billing.
Stats sometimes lie, and they can almost always be manipulated to support a variety of arguments. But Luck and Barkley's numbers tell the exact story from this contest -- both were superb, and both had one key mistake, an interception. Luck was slightly more accurate than Barkley, as the numbers show, and significantly more effective running the ball, which really helped in the overtime periods.
The best single drive by either quarterback had to be Luck's rebound after his near-death pick-six to Nickell Robey late in the fourth. Not that Barkley's last-ditch effort beginning with 38 seconds to go wasn't valiant -- it was, and more on that soon -- but it wasn't effective.
But Luck led his team right down the field in just over two minutes and forced overtime. He was, however, helped significantly by T.J. McDonald's unlucky personal-foul penalty on Chris Owusu.
The final (failed) drive
Now, about that last USC regulation drive.
Yes, it does seem as if Robert Woods exited the playing field with one second remaining, which should have given the Trojans the opportunity to kick a game-winning 50-yard field goal.
No, it was not called as such by the officiating crew.
But that doesn't change the fact that the whole mess was set up by Lane Kiffin, who made a colossal mistake after the first play of USC's final drive. When Barkley completed his first pass to Woods to get the Trojans to the 44, Kiffin should have called for a timeout immediately, without fuss.
Instead, USC hurried to the line and ran another pass play, which went incomplete. Not even counting the failed pass, the Trojans lost between four and five seconds on their trip up to the line.
They ended the game with two unused timeouts. One of them should most certainly have been employed, and there's no excuse for that.
It's a little ironic, too, that USC complained in the week leading up to this game about Notre Dame not using their timeouts in the final minutes of the previous week, isn't it?
Agony for McNeal
From a media-member perspective, the most memorable off-field moment of the 2011 season came about an hour after Curtis McNeal's end-zone fumble to give Stanford the win.
McNeal, clearly shattered by his mistake in the most serious of situations, owned up to it to an extent few collegiate athletes ever do.
"I feel like beating myself up, but I just gotta keep my head up and keep pushing," McNeal said at the time. "I'm going to face worse things in life. I just have to keep my head up."
McNeal really did keep his head up over the remaining month of the season, and he had plenty of reason. He was one of the main reasons the Trojans were in the game to begin with, considering he broke consecutive big gainers for touchdowns early in the third quarter.
About seeing the fumble, it's still hard to tell who exactly caused it; but as best as we could tell it was Ben Gardner, a sophomore defensive end, who poked it out just as McNeal was getting set to juke left. It sounds like the TV broadcast thought it was a different Cardinal player. But A.J. Tarpley, the same linebacker who picked off Barkley earlier, definitely recovered it.
And, yes, Marqise Lee nearly scored on the previous play. USC was about a foot, and successful two-point conversion, away from a fourth overtime.
A sort of lack of offense
This game really provides a lot of hope for the 2012 season.
The Trojans nearly beat the sixth-ranked team in the country, and they didn't even play all that well on offense. Woods was nowhere near 100 percent by this point in the season, and he dropped two passes. (For the record, he also seriously struggled with a second-quarter kick return, muffing it on the catch and fumbling it as he was about to get tackled.)
No back besides McNeal got more than one carry. Barkley telegraphed his throw to Tarpley in the first quarter. There's a lot of room for improvement.
Final notes: The Trojans committed only three penalties the entire game and none in the first half, which was cause for marvel from TV announcers Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit. … Funny, this game featured Kyle Prater's only catch of his USC career, a seven-yard grab for a first down in the first quarter. ... For what it's worth, then-freshman J.R. Tavai was playing exclusively inside, at defensive tackle, when he was in this game. And he was in the game a lot, including as early as the second series. Tavai has been working as a defensive end of late in spring practice. ... There was a really, really poor no-call on a pass-interference penalty by Stanford's Terrence Brown in the first quarter. He didn't even turn around to look at the ball approaching. ... This was not Tre Madden's best day. He whiffed on a special-teams tackle in the first half, then was targeted immediately after being inserted into the defense when Dion Bailey suffered a concussion in the second overtime. Madden didn't play poorly but was comfortably beaten by Stanford's Levine Toilolo.