Khaled Holmes needs to come back. USC's most indispensable position has clearly been center. Cyrus Hobbi was a flat-out disaster at center last week; while Abe Markowitz is likely to start there this week if Holmes can't go, the fact that USC went with Hobbi last week when Markowitz was healthy says more than any Lane Kiffin press conference ever will.
It wasn't just the center position that was messed up; the entire USC offensive line looked hideous from the outset. Trojan pass protection constantly broke down, they committed penalties, and they got no push for their running backs against a stout Stanford front.
The communication is supposed to start at center with Holmes; without him the unit looked totally lost. People always take stock in injuries to the quarterback and the offensive tackle, but they constantly forget the center (especially a good center) might be just as invaluable as a loss at either of those positions.
After being one of the top teams in not allowing tackles for loss in 2011 (52 allowed last season, tied for 7th) USC has given up 24 already this season, tying them for 117th. The Trojans surrendered ten tackles for loss in the Stanford game, including five sacks. It's not like surrendering fewest TFL allowed is a formula for success, but those are alarming numbers, particularly considering the lack of quality replacements.
With Matt Kalil applying his work at the pro level, Holmes needs to heal as quickly as possible. He was practicing before the game but it looked like it was all for show. Will it be another magic act before Cal this week?
USC defenders need to be more disciplined. The Trojans were very sloppy in their tackling on the two Stepfan Taylor touchdowns, and they were even worse on the Josh Nunes first down. USC took poor angles on each of those open-field plays and tried to rush making tackles rather than doing the standard defensive play and wrapping the man up.
USC probably could use Wes Horton back right about now, particularly since it looks like they'll be dealing with at least a half-decent Cal offensive line filled with solid playmakers. The Trojans defense has been shaky two weeks running,
Matt Barkley needs to adapt to pressure better. Given, this is not the best game to evaluate Barkley in, but it's stunning how poorly he reacted to pressure at times in this game. Those two interceptions he threw in the second quarter were total gaffes, but he never could really find a way to get comfortable at stepping into the pocket and delivering good throws, instead retreating back or letting a football go too quickly or move off target. He missed drawing Stanford into a 12 man on the field situation. He did a bad job of identifying the blitzers and adjusting the offense. It was a very questionable performance.
Barkley isn't going to get away with this type of erratic decision-making in the pros. He might not even get into it once he reaches conference play. Barkley has to learn to play better when he faces heat. Matt Kalil isn't walking through that door.
Lane Kiffin, what the hell man. For almost the entire second half you kept on throwing Barkley out there in obvious passing formations (shotgun five-wide empty set half the plays) when it was clear the O-line looked overwhelmed. Where was the max protect? The bootlegs? Anything to soften up the Cardinal pass defense and open up the run game? Anything to keep the USC offense on the field and wear the Stanford defense out? Not playing it straight instead of running some weird 4th down touchdown try from a field goal formation?
It's not like USC was executing well, but that was some funky playcalling.
All that being said, this is probably USC's big mulligan of the year. They lost by seven. Cal is next, a team they generally own. They should be fine. Emphasis on "should."
SB Nation snippets
Stepfan Taylor’s gaudy 213 yards of total offense (153 on the ground and 60 receiving) don’t fully explain just how valuable he was last Saturday. The OL and Taylor’s tough running combined to produce zero carries of negative yards. USC employed a similar defensive approach to that of Duke and SJSU by bringing the safeties up to the line of scrimmage. While this can ostensibly slow down run game it also leaves them susceptible to big plays because there is no deep defender. They were basically gambling they would stop the RB after a short gain, but Stepfan made the Trojans pay by reeling off a 59 yard TD run that included two cutbacks and showed great patience settig up his block. Patience also came into play in the second half as Monte Kiffin reacted by playing more coverage by dropping the LBs deep to take away the TEs and deeper WR routes. Stanford countered with the screen game and Taylor finished with 6 catches, but none bigger than the 23 yard TD on a screen where he dodged three tacklers and set up the guards, Danser and Wilkes, to pull and lead the way up the sideline. Stepfan has vision, patience, speed, power, hands, and is the best blocking RB in the country that I have seen. Total package at the position and another Heisman hopeful from the Stanford backfield.
Yogi Roth had an excellent breakdown at Pac-12.com of how Stanford's running game wore down USC with a few playbook staples. Check it out, particularly if you can view the videos.
When you wake up this morning USC, make sure you realize what you almost accomplished against a vastly, vastly, vastly, under-rated Stanford football program. A program that if they played in the SEC would be compared to LSU, Alabama or Florida and rightfully so.
A few minor adjustments and tweaks here and there and the sky is the limit. Don’t take that glass half empty approach with the wheels falling off...look at the game for what it was...a great college football game where one great team playing at full strength wore another great team at half strength down, and in the closing moments, won the game.
Character is born in the storm...It’s time for Trojan Nation to bounce back and recognize what a great opportunity we have in front of us with Barkley still chomping at the bit to write his Heisman moment.