October 29, 2011

Quick Reads: Stanford-USC

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By Willys DeVoll
Matt Barkley

he very idea of Quick Reads seems a bit silly after a triple-overtime thriller, and especially after a triple-overtime thriller like the one Stanford and USC just completed. After all, if you didn’t watch the game, you’re not going to get caught up from a few bullet points. But, nonetheless, here are some points that should be relevant to Stanford and USC going forward, contained in your Halloween Weekend Quick Reads:

  • Should this game have gone differently, either with a larger Stanford win or a USC upset? Probably. The officials, in characteristic Pac-12 officiating manner, blew too many calls to fully enumerate here. And between the strange playcalling (more on that later), the lack of coordination between Matt Barkley and Robert Woods (more on them later) and a bevy of injuries, who knows how many times out of 100 the game would end up as it did.
  • That said, that the game was close should work to Stanford’s benefit, at least in certain respects. Here are three such respects, roughly ordered by significance to the state of the Stanford football program:
    1. USC played very well, which should do two things (or potentially two variants of the same thing). USC will have a chance to move up in the polls despite the loss, given the quality of Stanford and the closeness of the game. That elevates Stanford’s strength of schedule. Furthermore, that USC put up a good fight could garner additional respect for Stanford among human voters that don’t methodically weigh strength of schedule–giving the Card a better chance to move up in the polls and end up in a better place come January.
    2. Luck’s Heisman candidacy might reach an all-time high. There are very few, if any, other quarterbacks that could have done what Luck did tonight to get Stanford back into the game in the 2nd half. His final line: 29-40 for 325 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception.
    3. People have to pay attention to Stanford. Blowing teams out is good for style points, but bad for encouraging viewers to spend their Saturday nights actually watching the games. Being on the West Coast doesn’t help, given the time zone relative to a large chunk of the American viewing public. Playing in instant classics does help. Playing in instant classics against traditional powerhouses helps even more.
  • Saturday night was no shining moment for Stanford head coach David Shaw, who made a handful of highly questionable coaching moves. Shaw’s done a good job this season–that much is pretty agreed-upon–but deciding to implement the Wildcat and snap the ball directly to Tyler Gaffney on a third and middle-yardage situation in the 4th quarter of a close game is crazy. Why? Refer to point (2) above.
  • Stanford outgained USC on the ground and in the air, won time of possession, committed fewer turnovers and was more effective on 3rd down. Penalties, though, do a lot of work in explaining why the game lasted as long as it did and was as close as it was. Stanford committed 11 penalties for a total of 91 yards, which well exceeds the Card’s season average.
  • Speed can rip big holes in the Stanford defense, as several Trojans showed in the Coliseum. Robert Woods and running back Curtis McNeal wreaked havoc after getting the ball, and that’s no positive harbinger for Stanford’s upcoming game with Oregon. Stanford can compete with any team in a Big 10-style slugfest. When games become track meets, the outcome becomes less certain for the Card.
  • Luck is clearly the hero of the night, but Griff Whalen (6 catches, 102 yards) deserves great praise as well. So, too, does Stepfan Taylor, who rather quietly recorded 99 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 carries.
  • The most interesting break-out star of the game, though, is likely true freshman wide receiver and special teams contributor Ty Montgomery, who enjoyed the best game of his career. The rookie left the field with 87 receiving yards on 5 catches and a couple of key plays on coverage teams.
  • Matt Barkley ought not be forgotten, as his performance nearly (key word there) equalled that of Luck. Barkley finished with 284 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception on 28-45 throwing.
  • The shame for him and USC will be that Barkley and Woods had several costly miscommunications. Woods finished with 89 receiving yards and a touchdown on 9 catches, but on multiple occasions ran routes different from what Barkley anticipated. Woods’s drops will also haunt the USC roster, coaching staff and fans for at least the next week.
  • Once again, Stanford played a costly first half. The two teams combined to score 16 points in the first 30 minutes despite accumulating a total of 104 points by the end of the night. As predicted, these defenses were not good enough to hold down potent offensive attacks for the duration of the game, but the first-half defensive efforts of both teams were admirable.
  • Seriously: go watch the replay of this game if you missed it. You’ll enjoy it. You’ll also enjoy it more if you know that the good guys win.
  • The @DailyAxe¬†Twitter account was once again a great tool–until Twitter shut it down for reaching the hourly tweet cap halfway through the 4th quarter. Apologies to those of you counting on the game updates, and a special thanks to Stanford legends Toby Gerhart and Greg Camarillo for using the updates to keep up with the game from the Vikings’ team hotel.
  • Keep an eye out for the new national polls, which come out on Sunday afternoon.

(Headline image courtesy of Neon Tommy on Flickr)

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About the Author

Willys DeVoll
Willys DeVoll is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Axe. He writes about Stanford sports for and writes fiction, reviews and commentary elsewhere.


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