This is college football, after all. Here are the grades that Stanford and USC receive for their performances on Saturday night.
Stanford Offense: B+
Call us spoiled, but the Cardinal offense was not clicking on all cylinders, and the USC defense is one of the shabbiest in the PAC-10. The Stanford offensive numbers were fairly impressive (478 yards and 37 points) but the Card only edged USC in time of possession by under a minute and lost 3 fumbles. Turnovers can kill an otherwise impressive offensive performance, and Stanford needs to improve ball security in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, the beautiful game-ending drive proves that Stanford can move the ball down the field, and a B+ is a pretty good grade. Andrew Luck gets an A: the redshirt sophomore completed 83% of his passing attempts (yes, that number is correct) for 285 yards and 3 scores, all without throwing an interception. Plus, he did this:
USC Offense: A-
The Trojans posted fewer points than the Card, but picked up more yards and committed 2 fewer turnovers. Matt Barkley threw for 390 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions while completing over 62% of his passing attempts. That’s a career day, even for a highly-respected quarterback. USC’s biggest offensive frustration came in the running game. After rushing for over 200 yards last week against Washington, starting halfback Allen Bradford only managed 33 yards on 13 carries last night. Barkley had as many yards on 5 scrambles. The Trojans mustered a measly 108 combined rushing yards, which isn’t good enough to win in most cases, last night’s game included. Regardless of how well Barkley plays, any team running the pro style offense needs a solid running game. USC didn’t have it.
Stanford Defense: C-
The Cardinal D was effective at shutting down Bradford and the USC running game, but the passing defense completely fell apart. Matt Barkley is a talented player, but he’s not nearly as good as he looked in Stanford Stadium yesterday. Before yesterday, Barkley had not thrown for more than 290 yards in a game this year. He threw for 390 against Stanford. That’s the highest yardage game of his career, and only the second time ever that he’s thrown for over 300 yards (the last time was against Notre Dame in 2009). Perhaps more disturbingly, freshman Robert Woods caught 12 balls for 224 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those numbers account for 48% of his career catches, 75% of his career touchdowns, and 56% of his career receiving yards. That’s downright absurd. Although Woods deserves a lot of credit for such a breakout performance, Stanford needs to find a way to get its corners to limit big-play receivers’ production statistics. Though the Card escaped with a win yesterday, the defense cannot continue playing like this and expect to win.
To illustrate the point most dramatically: on USC’s first drive of the 4th quarter, 3 Trojans wideouts lined up to Barkley’s left, and only 2 Stanford defensive backs lined up to guard them. Barkley read the defense, hit the uncovered Ronald Johnson on a screen, and picked up an easy 11 yards. That’s not championship-caliber defense.
USC Defense: C
The Trojans get a C here mostly because they’ve been panned throughout the sports media world as an incredible disappointment. They didn’t play very well against Stanford, but they recovered 3 fumbles, kept the game close, and held Stanford to 7 points fewer than the Card’s average scoring this season. They blew assignments, had costly penalties, and didn’t play big in the game’s biggest spots. But compared to their reputation, they produced an average performance.
Stanford Special Teams: A-
They probably don’t deserve a grade this high (missed extra points are not exactly desirable), but they held USC’s superb athletes to mediocre returns and Chris Owusu looks to be back as one of the country’s best return men. Nate Whitaker missed a very important extra point, but he did make up for it.
USC Special Teams: B
We’ve come to expect freakish athletes from Troy, and that normally means very dangerous punt and kick returners. There wasn’t a whole lot of that going on last night. Lane Kiffin doesn’t have much to complain about when it comes to his special teams, but they didn’t do anything special.
USC Final Grade: B+
The Trojans were double-digit underdogs coming off a heartbreaking loss at home last week, and they gave Stanford a close game. Matt Barkley performed like the blue-chip recruit he was coming out of high school two years ago, and Robert Woods could emerge as USC’s next great wide receiver. The Trojans didn’t win, but they fought until the end and outperformed what nearly everyone thought they were capable of against a superior Stanford team.
Stanford Final Grade: B
Stanford should have blown USC out. That’s all there is to it. If the Cardinal had any other quarterback in the country–Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker, Matt Barkley, Denard Robinson, whoever–they would have lost this game. That’s a testament to Andrew Luck’s remarkable leadership and skill, but also to the fact that the Cardinal rely upon Luck and the passing game to pick up the defense’s slack. That’s a dangerous way to go about doing business. Stanford left the field with a win last night, but without much cause for optimism. The Card need the upcoming bye week to regroup, have its injured players rest up, and come back in two weeks looking like the early-season Stanford football team. If they do, they’ll have an easy time beating Washington State for Homecoming on the 23rd, and will have a good chance to beat a dangerous Arizona team 2 weeks later.