Sports

A lack of making plays proved the difference in loss to USC

During the chaos that ensued after Saturday night after USC's 20-17 upset win against fourth-ranked Stanford at the sold-out Los Angeles Coliseum, Stanford head coach David Shaw didn't have a chance to shake hands with Trojans' interim head coach Ed Orgeron. Shaw tried, but couldn't find him, as many of the 93,607 fans stormed the field. He'll follow up by phone.

By the time he returned to the Cardinal locker room, Shaw was met by looks of disappointment and frustration. Victory was within grasp several times, but USC -- not Stanford -- made the big plays down the stretch to deprive the Cardinal of winning its fifth-straight game against the Trojans.

"It's not a good feeling," said running back Tyler Gaffney, who did his part, rushing for 158 yards and two touchdowns. "It's the first time anybody on this team lost to them. It's a tough pill to swallow."

Gaffney, who eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the fifth-consecutive game, ran hard all night. On his first TD scamper, he appeared stopped at the line of scrimmage, but bounced outside and bolted 35 yards to the end zone.

"Unbelievable," Shaw said.

* * *

The loss to USC dropped Stanford to ninth in this week's BCS Standings, still a favorable position for a decent bowl game. Alabama ranks No. 1, Florida State No. 2 and Ohio State No. 3, all with 10-0 records.

* * *

Stanford players knew a resurgent USC team would be ready to play, and never led in the game. The Cardinal fought back from a 17-7 deficit to tie the score in the third quarter, and twice moved the ball into the red zone, only to come up empty when a 30-yard field goal was blocked and quarterback Kevin Hogan threw the first of two interceptions on third and goal at the USC 10.

"I take complete responsibility for the first one," said Shaw, noting that Trojan defensive back Dion Bailey read the play perfectly. "It was a bad call by me."

On the second pick, Hogan was under pressure and tried to make a play toward the sideline, but put the ball up for grabs. It was tipped and intercepted by freshman safety Su'a Craven.

"He was trying to do too much," Shaw said. "He should have thrown the ball away or taken the sack. We have to execute better."

For the second straight week, Stanford had a field goal blocked. Starting kicker Jordan Williamson warmed up but felt "no pop" in his leg, so Shaw sat him down in favor of Conrad Ukropina. His kick could have given the Cardinal a 20-17 lead and momentum in the fourth quarter, but lineman Chad Wheeler blocked it.

"I don't know what happened," said Shaw. "It was hard to see from where I was standing."

While giving full credit to USC for playing hard from start to finish, Shaw knows this was a winnable contest.

"That's the story of the game -- missed opportunities," he said. "They made the plays at the end to win it."

* * *

Gaffney said there was no letdown after last week's emotional victory against second-ranked Oregon.

"We were focused for USC last Saturday," he said. "Win or lose, we stay even-keeled. That's what we preach around here."

* * *

After allowing USC to score on its first three offensive possessions, the Cardinal defense stiffened and held the Trojans scoreless in the second half until the final minute when Andre Heidari kicked a 47-yard game-winning field goal with 19 seconds remaining.

Asked how the defense regrouped, outside linebacker Trent Murphy said, "A little mentality, a little X's and O's."

Murphy was his usual disruptive self. He made eight tackles, including four for loss, and forced a fumble. Inside linebacker Shayne Skov collected a team-high nine tackles and a recovered a fumble.

* * *

Shaw said winning games in November in the Pac-12 Conference is a tall order. As proof, he pointed out Stanford's recent schedule that has seen it play UCLA, Oregon State, Oregon and USC in consecutive games.

"There's no comparison to any other conference in the county," said Shaw. "People can say what they want, but it's not even close. It's tough. You have to try to run the gauntlet. It's the only chance."

* * *

Next up for Stanford is the Big Game against Cal on Saturday at 1 p.m. Given the tough defeat to USC, Shaw was asked how difficult it will be to prepare for the Bears, who have yet to win a Pac-12 game this season.

"It's the Big Game and it's home," he said. "There's going to be energy and there's going to be fire. If it's not there during the week, it's our job as coaches to manufacture it."

* * *

Extra points

Stanford extended it streak of forcing at least one turnover to 35-consecutive games. That ranks second nationally behind Missouri (39) . . . The Cardinal defense limited USC to 23 yards rushing, but allowed 288 yards through the air, mostly on short and intermediate passes . . . Neither team was effective on third down, Stanford converting 4-of-12 attempts and the Trojans 4 of 14.

Comments

Posted by Darren, a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:50 am

Coach Shaw is a class act. Tough loss, but handled with grace.


Posted by BleedCardinal, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Coach Shaw - love him - but he need to take more responsibility for these bad losses. He could start by realizing that he is the HEAD Coach - he is the star, he is point man, he is the reason why recruits will come to play at Stanford -- but he has got to trust his staff. Let your offensive coordinator call the plays the whole 100 yards, not 80. Stop taking over the play calling in the red zone. As someone pointed out in another post, Saban ain't pacing around with a playbook is he?


Posted by Miguel, a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm

I am loathe to criticize a football coach, as my only tie to college football has been as a fan. But my uneasy feeling that the late-game play calling in Stanford's two losses was atrocious, has been echoed by some media sport pundits. Don't understand why the coaches seem to lose faith in the power run game late in the game. Had the Utah game been put on Gaffney's feet, instead of Hogan's hands, in the closing moments, a different result was likely. Similarly, why was Hogan throwing the ball with about 3 minutes left when the power run game could have advanced the ball, or at least run out the clock for overtime ?


Posted by macbaldy, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm

This USC game was a team loss, players and coaches, particularly on the offensive side. The Utah loss was more about slumps on both sides of the ball. Against USC, Hogan shouldn't have been allowed to try to carry the team in the 4th Quarter; he'd actually been quite good for the first 3 quarters but the ground game with Gaffney was solid. There's something missing to a "run-first" offense that doesn't believe in a "run-last" effort, especially when the run game is working. Surmise: "run-first" has merely been a gamesmanship facade. Further surmise: Sometimes, going away from a strength is the best way to expose weaknesses. Coach Shaw overthinks his gamesmanship.


Posted by Ben Factor, a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2013 at 12:45 am

USC follower here. I saw the above comments that Shaw abandoned the run, so I looked at the play by play. The run stopped working, so Shaw went to the pass. That last Stanford drive followed a three and out--three failed rushing plays. USC was keying against the run, as common sense would dictate when Stanford needed to score. Hogan had to get it done, and he started OK, then got pressured and made a mistake, and didn't throw it far enough out of bounds.

USC couldn't run AT ALL in the second half. USC stupidly ignored Stanford's adjustments, and kept trying to repeat the first half, instead of more 1st down play-action passes and/or assorted other plays against its own first-half tendencies. Kessler was so unnerved by the failed run game and couple of hard rushes that he missed a bunch of passes even when he had time. Plus he fumbled on one of those hard rushes.

I give credit to Shaw for changing gears faster than USC did, when he saw that the run game was over for the day.


Both teams have top 10 opponent-adjusted defenses on footballoutsiders.com. The strength of both defenses is the front seven. Neither offense was going to be able to push ahead with same old same old, i.e., running the football. The respective defenses weren't having it and the outcome was handed over to the respective QBs.

Hogan had to step up and didn't. Throw it out of bounds on 2nd down, and Stanford would likely have won.

Kessler didn't step up either, until the very last possession. But then he did. And that was the game.

If Pat Haden, USC's athletic director were granted one wish, he would hire David Shaw. USC is actually a top 25 university, but it's not Stanford. USC admits a lot of athletes that Stanford won't admit. It recruited about 55 4-star and 5-star players in the last five years; Stanford recruited about 25. Imagine Shaw coaching USC's skill players and overall speed. If USC had Shaw, it would be all over for the rest of the Pac-12.

Count your blessings; in Shaw, you have first prize.


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