Stanford vs. USC: 10 Things We Learned in the Trojans' Victory over the Cardinal
Kicker Andre Heidari connected on a 47-yard field goal with 0:19 left to give the USC Trojans a 20-17 victory over the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.
Quarterback Cody Kessler went 25-of-37 for 288 yards and a touchdown. His ability to extend plays with his legs within the pocket and find open receivers truly helped the offense function well.
Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney rushed for 158 yards on 24 carries. While Gaffney played well, quarterback Kevin Hogan threw two egregious interceptions in the loss.
The legend of "Coach O" is also growing every game. Will Ed Orgeron actually become the permanent head man for the Trojans?
Here's 10 things we learned in the USC victory over Stanford.
Kevin Hogan Made Two Monumental Mistakes
The Stanford signal-caller had a poor night all around.
He went 14-of-25 for only 127 yards. To be fair, the play-calling didn't necessarily help matters much. Hogan never fully got into a rhythm due to the extremely conservative offensive game plan.
However, Hogan threw two interceptions that ultimately lost Stanford the game. In the early part of the fourth quarter, Stanford put together a very nice drive. On a 3rd-and-goal from the USC 10-yard line, Hogan locked his eyes onto a receiver and threw an easy interception to USC defender Dion Bailey.
At the very least, Stanford was in prime position to take a lead with a short field goal.
Toward the end of the fourth quarter, Hogan was in the process of being sacked. As he was falling to the ground, he threw the ball toward the sideline in an effort to not lose yardage. The ball was tipped and ultimately intercepted by true freshman safety Su'a Cravens.
The interception was also turned into the eventual game-winning field goal by Andre Heidari.
All in all, this was a game that Hogan will want to forget about.
Lee and Agholor Were Huge
Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor are the most dynamic duo of receivers in the entire Pac-12.
The twosome combined for 14 catches and 197 yards receiving. Whenever faced with a third-down attempt, Kessler seemingly always looked for Lee or Agholor.
Agholor in particular was devastating down the field vertically. He went up over Stanford defensive backs multiple times in order to make grabs. He led the Trojans with eight catches for 104 yards.
Lee was utilized more on the perimeter in order to get him in space. Seemingly healthy for the first time in weeks, he looked quick and decisive with his cutting on the field. Lee had six catches for 83 yards.
The explosive wideout left the game late, but appeared to be fine after the game.
The Play-Calling Lost Stanford the Game
Puzzling. Conservative. Bizarre.
All three of the adjectives shown above are apt when describing Stanford's offensive efforts.
There were times where Stanford showed signs of life offensively. The run game with Tyler Gaffney was established, along with a sprinkling of unconventional ways to get playmakers the ball (on reverses and misdirection). The Cardinal scored a touchdown on the first drive of the second half, and the play-calling was relatively creative and imaginative.
Then, the Stanford offense seemingly crawled into a shell and went uber-conservative. There was no semblance of diversity or aggressiveness. Stanford reverted into running the ball on first and second down with minimal success, and then was forced to throw on third down.
USC stacked the box and made Hogan beat the Trojans with his arm. Stanford never adjusted, and thus got beat.
Cody Kessler Keeps Growing
USC's signal-caller continues to improve and grow as a passer.
Kessler went 25-of-37 for 288 yards and a touchdown. His poise in the pocket was absolutely fantastic. When the play broke down, Kessler used his feet to elude pressure and find receivers down the field. His mobility aided in him converting multiple third-down plays.
This game continues a string of strong games for Kessler. He's only thrown two interceptions in the last six games. Since the firing of Lane Kiffin, it just appears as if Kessler's playing with more freedom and confidence.
Kessler did not throw an interception, and his counterpart threw two.
It's perhaps the most important statistic of the night.
The Atmosphere Rattled Stanford Early
The atmosphere in the Coliseum was absolutely electric on Saturday night. It was eerily reminiscent of a Pete Carroll-coached USC team from yesteryear.
Stanford suffered greatly from the hysteria in the stands. On the first drive of the game, the Cardinal had to call two timeouts in order to not be flagged for a delay of game. A false start penalty also occurred due to the noise level. The Cardinal just weren't comfortable from the start.
The sellout crowd emptied onto the field after the conclusion of the contest in chaotic fashion. Would anyone have envisioned this scene after USC lost earlier in the season (at home) to Washington State?
Stanford Suffered from an Emotional Hangover
Stanford, usually a team prided in poise, discipline and consistency, was anything but on Saturday night.
It was a very uncharacteristic performance for David Shaw's team. Penalties, a lack of execution and mental errors plagued the team. Stanford never seemed to fully get on track offensively. Rash decision-making hindered multiple promising drives. The unimaginative play-calling also didn't help matters much.
One could make the case that the Cardinal expelled an inordinate amount of energy the previous week against Oregon. Stanford came into Saturday's game emotionally drained.
The team started flat and as a result, lost the football game.
USC's Defense Battled All Game Long
USC's defense allowed 210 yards on the ground. Usually those numbers wouldn't constitute a very successful night.
However, looks can be deceiving. The Trojans' defense stood toe-to-toe with Stanford's prominent and vaunted offensive line. In the first half, USC was getting constant pressure on Hogan and the Stanford offense.
The fascinating thing is that the Trojans won this game against a top-five team with literally no depth. As this tweet by CBS writer Bruce Feldman details, USC played only two defensive subs all night long, and one of those subs only played one snap.
It was an absolutely gritty effort by the USC defense.
Ty Montgomery Didn't Have a Great Game
Stanford's leading receiver had a forgettable game on Saturday night.
On the Cardinal's first drive of the game, Montgomery ran past USC cornerback Josh Shaw and was wide open streaking down the sidelines. Hogan hit him right in the hands with the ball...and Montgomery dropped it. It likely would have been a touchdown had Montgomery held onto the ball.
Later in the game on a third-down attempt, Hogan rolled out and found a wide open Montgomery near the sidelines. Again, Montgomery dropped the ball.
The wideout finished with only four catches for 23 yards. He also failed to make any sort of impact in the return game.
On a night where Stanford needed its best receiver to make plays, Montgomery failed to do so.
USC Needs Balance Offensively
Going forward, USC needs a balanced effort on offense.
Stanford's front seven is one of the best in college football. It's a big, physical, experienced group that brings it on every down. Regardless, USC needs to rush the ball more successfully than it did against the Cardinal.
The Trojans rushed for 23 yards on 27 carries. It equates to less than one yard per carry.
USC shouldn't have any problems rushing the ball next week at Colorado. The following week against the UCLA Bruins could be another story. Against the crosstown rival, there needs to be a semblance of balance on the offensive side of the football.
USC will not beat the Bruins if it becomes one-dimensional.
The Legend of Coach O Continues
The legend of "Coach O" continues.
While the depth isn't there, the overall talent is. This team sorely lacked confidence under former head coach Lane Kiffin. It was a strange, tense atmosphere that robbed the team of any enthusiasm.
Since taking over, Ed Orgeron has simplified things and has lightened the mood. Ed Orgeron has given this team belief.
USC has a mathematical shot at winning the Pac-12 South Division. Should the Trojans win out and finish at 10-3, will Orgeron be named as the permanent head coach?
It's a question that Pat Haden seriously needs to ponder.