USC had perfection in the making – an undefeated season, the Heisman-winning quarterback, and a possible BCS national title. Then those dreams of perfection stumbled, and crashed, as the No. 2 Trojans did in a 21-14 loss to No. 21 Stanford
The team with all the hopes and aspirations, driven even higher by coming off their two-year bowl ban, looked flat in defeat.
With 11:19 left in the second quarter, running back Silas Reed scored a touchdown on a one-yard run to give USC a 14-7 lead.
From there though, the Trojans played as if they were on cruise control. The precision and focus USC relied on earlier seemed to evaporate. At the center of it all was quarterback Matt Barkley.
Barkley missed easy short throws and failed to break the pocket early enough at times.
When the big moment did arise, he didn’t deliver. With the Cardinal riding the momentum after just having tied the score at 14-14, Barkley engineered the Trojans to a measly three-and-out on their next possession.
Stanford then scored another touchdown to take the lead, and the game, 21-14. The Trojans had one last possession to right the ship, but costly penalties and the inability to protect Matt Barkley did them in.
Maybe the most baffling part was what USC tight end Randall Telfer alluded to afterwards, when he said the Trojans were “not as mentally prepared as we should have been.”
Stanford, ranked and coming off three consecutive wins over USC, gave them no indication that this game was going to be a cakewalk.
If there were distractions, Coach Lane Kiffin’s antics were at the forefront of them.
Kiffin, who has a strict policy that bans media members from reporting injuries that occur at practice, felt a local reporter, Scott Wolf of the LA Daily News, had broken those rules when he reported of an injury to a Trojans kicker earlier in the week. Consequently, Kiffin banned him from two weeks of practice and the next home game. Wolf though received the news from outside sources, not from practice, and USC officials wisely overturned those punishments. Still the whole incident became a widespread fiasco.
Another distraction may have been all the attention on one of the most heralded Heisman campaigns ever by USC for Matt Barkley.
Barkley though looked far from that Heisman-frontrunner on Saturday night.
With two future NFL first round wideouts at his disposal, the senior led the offense to an underachieving 14 points while throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Luckily for USC the loss doesn’t eliminate them from the national championship picture even though they are now ranked No. 13 in the AP Top 25.
Many of the teams ranked ahead of the Trojans are undefeated, but will play each other, including No. 1 Alabama/No. 2 LSU, No. 4 Florida State/No. 10 Clemson, and No. 6 Oklahoma/No. 12 Texas.
USC meanwhile will play No. 3 Oregon, No. 11 Notre Dame, No. 19 UCLA, No. 22 Arizona and a possible rematch with Oregon/Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game. The Trojans, with a strong schedule coupled with an early loss, rather than a late loss, could climb back into the top two if they win out.
If the Trojans can make that climb, Matt Barkley should return to the Heisman spotlight.
It may not be perfection for USC, but it can still be confetti.