In terms of the actual game, Lane Kiffin did well, but not enough. In the big picture, I'm not sure you could ask for much more. This wasn't a case of a couple of fluke plays keeping the Trojans in the game Saturday night. They went toe to toe with a top-10 team (No. 6 in the AP Top 25 pregame, and No. 4 in today's rankings) and proved that they are just as good as Stanford. For a young team in the second year of a bowl ban, that's pretty impressive.
But his clock management at the end of the game has to be called into question again. To try running a game-winning drive with 33 seconds left and to end the game without points, holding on to two timeouts, is indefensible. Robert Woods was solely responsible for the outcome of the play that ended regulation and has to know that with timeouts left, getting to the sideline is meaningless. But the play call itself is one that could be debated. With nine seconds left, the entire playbook is wide open. If you think a short crossing route over the middle is the best play you have to pick up eight or 10 yards, fine. I just don't know that I agree.
The second issue cropped up in the fourth quarter. After running the ball so effectively in the second half, USC took over possession with 5:10 left in a 27-all game. The Trojans ran four plays -- all passes -- and then punted. The defense bailed them out with a Nickell Robey interception, but that offensive possession might have been the most questionable series of the game.
Woods did not have his best game. But with the injuries he's playing through and what he has already accomplished this year, he has built up more than enough credit from USC fans. Sure, it would have been nice to have USC's best player playing his best game when the rest of the team did so well, but you have to credit Woods for fighting until the end and giving it his all. I'm guessing he doesn't make that same end-of-regulation mistake again.
Absolutely nothing but praise for Curtis McNeal. Sure, he fumbled at the end, but he was the biggest reason the Trojans were still in it at that point. He's running as well as any USC tailback has in the last several years.
There are always complaints with officials after every game. Most of the time you throw your hands up and deal with it, and while I don't believe the officiating determined the outcome of the game in any way, there are certainly a few questions left unanswered.
At the end of regulation, the facts were that Woods went down with one second left and Kiffin called and was granted an immediate timeout by the line judge on his sideline. Apparently, the head referee ruled that Kiffin wouldn't have had time to call and be granted the timeout in the span of that one second, so time expired. The referee announced this after watching the replay and determining that there was indeed time left on the clock. My question is, What happened to indisputable video evidence? Didn't the video evidence say that Woods was down with time and Kiffin called a timeout? And yet the determination is a judgment call that Kiffin wouldn't have had the time to call the timeout? Still not sure I completely understand this, although again, it's not as though the game was lost by the referees making that call.
The play I have a bigger problem with occurred during overtime. On Stanford's possession during the second overtime, the Cardinal were flagged for holding at the line of scrimmage, the USC 20-yard line, on a second-and-5 play. Seemingly, the Cardinal would line up for their next snap facing a second-and-15 situation from the 30-yard line. Except they didn't. For some reason, the ball was spotted at the 22 and Stanford had a second-and-7. Who knows whether that changes the game, but if anyone has an explanation for it, I'd love to hear it.
There were enough "what-ifs" to make it apparent that USC can play with and beat teams like Stanford. The Trojans didn't get any obvious breaks with fluke turnovers or blatant officiating. It will be interesting to see how the Trojans build on this. A trip to Colorado should provide a nice opportunity to regroup on the road and focus on a team that shouldn't, on the surface, create many problems.