CFN Thoughts - Stanford Shocks USC
Posted Sep 15, 2012

CFN's Instant Analysis on Stanford's gamechanger over the Trojans

E-mail Pete Fiutak
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Why is Alabama above and beyond dominant? Why is LSU blowing everyone off the ball over the first three games? Why are those two who there are and USC who it is?

Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line.

Of course the Tide and Tigers are great defensively – Stepfan Taylor doesn't dream about running for 156 yards against those two – but it's the play of the front five on offense that separates them from the pack.

Why does the Wisconsin offense all of a sudden stink? The line has been awful. Why is Florida bruising its way to 3-0? The offensive line blasted Texas A&M and Tennessee off the ball. Why did Pitt upset Virginia Tech? The Hokie defensive front spent Saturday afternoon looking up at the sky.

Why is USC out of the national title hunt? The offensive line almost got Matt Barkley killed.

Barkley might be out of the Heisman chase now, but he proved to the pro scouts that he could take a licking and keep on firing away. His line failed with tackle Khaled Holmes hurting, the running game when nowhere netting just 23 yards, and the offense sputtered and coughed in the second half with no one getting any room to operate.

The USC defensive front did its part in the loss, too.

Stanford could barely run on San Jose State and Duke, netting just 245 yards in the two games, but it gouged the Trojan defensive line – the expected Achilles' heel of the ultra-talented team – for 200 yards and a score.

Flash and dash only goes so far. The L.A. glitz needed the toughness to win a slugfest like this, and it didn't have it.

By Richard Cirminiello

Mash beat flash.

USC brought its stars to the Farm—Matt, Marqise, Robert and Silas. Unleash the paparazzi. Stanford? Blue-collar to its core, a collection of hard-working grinders on both sides of the ball, none of whom would qualify as household names. The Cardinal shocked the second-ranked Trojans with an old-fashioned formula built on the backs of linemen, fullbacks, tight ends and an incessant pass rush that made former Heisman favorite Matt Barkley appear downright ordinary in the face of constant heat. Stanford proved tonight that the game, for all of its intricacies, remain somewhat simple. He who beats the blocks and makes the tackles still wins the game.

For Stanford head coach David Shaw, tonight was his coming-out party. No more Andrew Luck to lean upon. This was Shaw's win all the way, out scheming Lane Kiffin in an upset that's going to immediately shake up the race to the BCS National Championship Game. Shaw can officially step outside of the long shadow of Jim Harbaugh, even though his successor's fingerprints were all over this victory. It was Harbaugh who first changed the culture in Palo Alto, preaching a pro-style system that leaned on the running game, an attacking defense and good fundamentals. Shaw has done a phenomenal job of not only adapting to the brand, but furthering it.

As far as USC goes, a lack of depth caught up to it earlier than most expected. The O-line, beaten like an egg all night, was unable to withstand an ankle injury to C Khaled Holmes. Now what? The Trojans remain the favorite in the Pac-12 South, but the gap between them and UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State isn't what it was 24 hours ago.

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

Now, can we stop it with the USCw hype?

The Trojans were certainly the most overrated team out west, with a defense that before today had struggled to stop Syracuse and on Saturday allowed 21 points to the 97th best offense in America. Yes, the Standford Cardinal, after facing terribly challenging foes in SJSU and Duke, entered this match-up versus the mighty Trojans barely in the top 100 in total offense.

Yet they pretty much owned this USC defense, notching 417 yards of total offense, including 202 ground yards on 37 carries (6 ypc).

STOP. Imagine the 2012 Oregon offense against this 2012 USC defense. Shiver if you must. Continue.

On offense, there's no truth to the rumor that the sidelined Arkansas signal caller Tyler Wilson sent a telegram to Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley with this simple, one word message: "Duck!"

And he wasn't talking about Oregon.

USC's offensive line played like it had a party to go to. But it was more than just protecting Barkley… USC only had 26 rushing yards on 28 carries.

After such a pedestrian effort, can we stop over-hyping the Trojans now?

By Bart Doan
Follow me @Bart_cfn

Tell me if you've heard this script before. Highly ranked Southern Cal team goes into a solid but not great team's venue, loses in shocking upset.

This felt eerily like a Pete Carroll coached game. Highly ranked Southern Cal stumble bummed to a 21-14 loss. With under two minutes left and the ball, Matt Barkley's legacy was to be made at Southern Cal. It is written 0-4. All day, USC's offensive line got drummed. All day, they sped up Matt's internal clock and caused high throws. All day, their opportune defense cause turnovers. This was supposed to be USC's year, off probation, able to show the world the talent they've been accumulating. But they forgot to show it on the line, and saw a Stanford team that had the wood to stand tall. Pun intended. A bad pun, at that, admittedly. David Shaw got as signature of a win as one can expect, and constantly mixed pre-snap pressure to befell Barkley and USC. Maybe the NCAA was unfair in hammering USC, but Stanford was not. Deja vu...

By Phil Harrison
Follow me @PhilHarrisonCFN

So maybe that Andrew Luck fella wasn't as important to the Stanford program as we all thought.

USC was thought to be the class of the Pac-12, and a serious national-title contender. On display Saturday night however, was the Cardinal serving notice that it should be a team also in the conversation for supremacy in the conference.

And just how did Stanford do it? Defense, and more defense.

All the talk heading into this game centered around the laser-lights and pyrotechnics being put up by Matt Barkley and crew, but those exploits simply got blown-up tonight in Palo Alto. The Trojans, pushed around all night by an aggressive Stanford defensive-front, could only muster twenty-three total yards on the ground.

And the defensive-line didn't stop there. It's a testament to Matt Barkley and his receivers that they were able to will their way to 253 yards through the air--all while dealing with the constant onslaught of pressure in the passing game.

The yards through the air weren't nearly enough.

Stanford was simply the better team. It was balanced on offense, smothering on defense, and better on the sidelines as well.

And without getting too far ahead of ourselves, you've got to like how October 13 is lining up against Notre Dame. You've also got to be curious to see how things might play out leading up to November 17 at Autzen Stadium against Oregon.

You'd be foolish to count Stanford out of either.

By Terry Johnson
Follow me @TPJCollFootball

Andrew Who?

Much to everyone's surprise, there's a new contender in the national championship race after Stanford's upset of USC.

That's right, it's still considered an upset. Even though the Cardinal had won the last three meetings in this series, the Trojans seemingly had the upper hand in this matchup. After all, their offense boasted some of the top offensive weapons in the country including Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, and Silas Redd.

It didn't matter. At the end of the day, the Stanford defense was simply better than the USC offense. The Cardinal pass rush harassed Barkley night, recording five sacks. The pressure was at its peak when the game was on the line, as the defense recorded sacks back-to-back plays on the final drive.

Now that Stanford is 3-0, it's time to give David Shaw credit for leaving his own mark on the program. Shaw undoubtedly took some criticism last year for moving to a more physical style of offense despite having Andrew Luck under center. The approach paid dividends tonight, as the Cardinal running game ran through the Trojans to the tune 200 yards. More impressively, the success on the ground allowed Stanford to hold the ball for over eleven minutes in the fourth quarter, limiting USC to just two possessions in the final stanza.

Mark your calendar for November 17. The winner of the Stanford - Oregon game should play for the national championship.

By Matt Zemek

Much more will – and should – be said about the first seismic and nationally significant upset of the 2012 college football season, but in the immediate aftermath of Stanford's victory over USC, know this: Two coaches did much to shape their reputations on Saturday evening in Palo Alto, Calif.

You can say that Stanford boss David Shaw makes questionable moves in specific game situations. He took the ball out of Andrew Luck's hands in the Fiesta Bowl. He trusted his field goal kicker too much in this tilt against the Men of Troy. His offense was ordinary against USC; the Cardinal did miss Andrew Luck, and anyone who says otherwise is being overly reductionist in assessing this upset.

However, for all of Shaw's weak points, it's worth noting that coaching is about more than the Xs and Os on gameday. Coaching is about leadership, motivation, recruiting, salesmanship, and maintaining the right competitive culture… much as a certain fellow named Pete Carroll did at USC, and as Jim Harbaugh did to set the table for Shaw last season. It is clear that Shaw – without Andrew Luck – has kept the Stanford Way, the Harbaugh Way, very much intact. The physical run-first identity is still there. His players trust him completely. The Cardinal's front seven was relentless against the Trojans, and Stanford was good enough to translate that advantage into victory.

On the other side of the divide, one of the biggest questions of the 2012 season surrounded Lane Kiffin: Would this coach, after finally justifying the faith USC placed in him a few years ago, own the moment in his first season as a legitimate national title contender? Kiffin's team showed plenty of rust and raggedness in week two against Syracuse. This showdown at Stanford was supposed to be the event in which USC made its prowess known to the Pac-12 and the rest of the nation. The utter lack of coordination and fluidity in the Trojans' offense – Kiffin's realm of expertise – suggests that USC's new coach has a lot to learn about handling the heat as a favored team. Kiffin might get there in time, but he now knows that the climb is going to be longer and more arduous than he and his team hoped it would be.