Lane Kiffin and his USC Trojans have got one hell of an offense, that's for sure. And this week they made the plays when they counted. The defense however, looked just as soft as they have all year, allowing Heisman Trophy candidate QB Andrew Luck and the Cardinal roll down the field to set up a relatively easy game-winning field goal as time expired.
Moral victories are still ticks in the loss column, but this week the Trojans bounced back from an emotional, tough game at the Coliseum to lose again on the last play of the game in the always boisterous Stanford Stadium. Matt Barkley and company have shown that they've got the mettle to withstand all of the negativity surrounding USC right now, and performed amazingly all night long.
This wasn't like last year's flop against Washington and Arizona, or blowouts to Oregon and Stanford. And it wasn't anything like the loss at the Coliseum from three years ago to Stanford that shocked then-No. 1 USC.
You can't blame this loss on Lane Kiffin, nor really on the Trojan players. They delivered when the game was on the line and Kiffin really made some intelligent and gutsy play calls to put the Trojans ahead with under 1:10 in the fourth quarter.
His dad, Trojan defensive coordinator (and defensive god) Monty Kiffin, just hasn't been able to orchestrate any relevant and clutch key stops that could very well have the Trojans 6-0 heading into the meat of their schedule.
The Trojan defense has been just north of atrocious this season, losing two close games where the USC offense was able to nearly score at will. Matt Barkley and his weapons, Robert Woods, Allen Bradford, Dillon Baxter, and Ronald Johnson have been lighting up defenses for seriously impressive numbers, but the USC defense has been getting lit up for similar figures all season long.
Tonight marks the second night in consecutive games that a Trojan has had a single-game tally of 200-plus yards, as freshman wide-out Robert Woods finished the night with 219 yards on 12 receptions and 3 touchdowns.
Last week, it was senior running back Allen Bradford's impressive performance of 223 yards on 21 carries and 2 touchdowns that led the Trojans, though just as this week, those numbers were wasted on a last second loss to Washington.
Even though they've fallen short twice in as many weeks, they've been impressive offensively, even converting on third downs well, something last year's team couldn't do to save Jeremy Bates' life. Before tonight, USC was ranked fifth in FBS in third down conversion percentage, and going 9-15 on 3rd down tonight is only going to allow them to climb those rankings.
USC's 2010 squad was ranked 11th in the country in total offense coming into tonight's game. That puts them second in the Pac-10 behind No. 3 Oregon, who came into this week with the nation's top offense, and just above tonight's victor, No. 16 Stanford, who entered the week with the 13th best offense.
They have an incredibly balanced attack this year as well, entering the week with more than 1,000 yards (and averaging over 200 yards per game) both through the air, and on the ground.
However you slice the cake, USC has two losses, even if both could have been easily avoided. They are still immensely talented, but that talent is equalized by their sincere lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball, and by their consistent lack of discipline, as they are ranked seventh and fifth worst in the nation in total penalties and penalty yardage, respectively.
Their defense may be thin and young, and the program may be plagued with negative attention and distractions, but this team got better after last week's loss and took a great Stanford team to the wire this week. They played well, and if they keep improving week after week, they're going to string together a nice season regardless of the number in the wins column.
Ted Tedford and the Cal Bears better come ready to play next week in LA, because you can bet your bottom dollar that USC will be ready to go come kickoff.
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