Here are five takeaways from the USC Trojans’ 41-31 loss to Stanford:
1. Defensive shortcomings came to light
Coming into the season there were concerns about the ability of the defensive line to apply pressure, and about the ability of the defensive staff to make adjustments during the course of a game. Both of those issues came to light against the Cardinal, as the Trojans were unable to contain or put significant pressure on Kevin Hogan, who was able to control the tempo of the game with his arm and his feet. And it was no secret that Stanford was going to run the ball to the left side of the line, as they did it over and over again with consistent results. There were no significant adjustments to stop the run, and no changes in pressure even after Hogan was hobbled with a leg issue in the second half.
2. Time of possession
There is debate over the true impact of this stat in many games, but it says something when one team is able to create a nearly two-to-one ratio in terms of controlling the football. Stanford held the ball for 39:29 of the game, and that number was helped by converting 8 of 12 third down conversion attempts. Not only were the Cardinal able to maintain drives, but it also helped keep the USC offense off the field.
3. USC offense did enough to win
If you would have told USC fans that the Trojans were going to score 31 points in the game, there would have been a lot of smiling faces expecting a victory. And the fact that USC scored 31 points while holding the ball for only 20:31 shows how explosive the offense was, including an impressive opening drive that saw runs on seven of nine plays and resulted in an early 7-0 lead. The Trojans averaged 7.1 yards per play on the night and had no turnovers, which are numbers that should win the majority of games. If there is one adjustment that needed to be made, it’s the realization of how the Stanford offense was dominating time of possession, and perhaps the Trojans could have gone into more of a ball control mode themselves.
USC had eight penalties for 87 yards, and they were costly. There were a pair of penalties on a 97-yard kickoff return from Adoree’ Jackson that took a touchdown off the board. The Trojans were able to mount a scoring drive immediately afterwards, so no points were lost, but it was still deflating to see such an exciting play taken away. The biggest penalty came late in the third quarter when USC was backed up in its own end, with the score 31-28 in favor of Stanford. The Trojans faced a 2nd-and-8 at the 26-yard line and Cody Kessler hit Isaac Whitney for a seven-yard gain, but center Max Tuerk was called for a personal foul and instead of 3rd-and-1, it was now 2nd-and-16. USC was unable to convert and had to punt the ball back to Cardinal, who got the ball on the Trojans’ side of the field and promptly drove for a touchdown to make it 38-28.
5. The stats didn’t determine the outcome
All of the above stats played into the final result of the game, but as much as anything this was a case of Stanford simply taking it to the Trojans in a physical fashion. Former USC assistant coach Marv Goux used to refer to this kind of match-up as “big man on big man football” and Stanford was able to impose its will on both sides of the line to come away with the win.