USC Trojans: Pete Carroll
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Trojans red hot on and off field
It could be argued USC is the hottest team in the country after beating No. 4 Stanford this past Saturday. All of the success on the field also has given the Trojans a ton of recruiting momentum. In front of a packed house of recruits, including No. 7 overall prospect Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and Alabama four-star offensive tackle commit Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), the Trojans put on a show that brought back memories of the glory years of Pete Carroll. The victory generated a lot of positive comments from recruits, and now it's cool to have USC on your list again. It will be interesting to see how seriously USC looks at Ed Orgeron as a candidate for the Trojans' coaching position, because recruits certainly are warming up to the idea. "If Coach O isn't there, then I'm not looking at USC anymore," one top prospect said. "I would follow that guy anywhere."
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Standing outside the Los Angeles Coliseum locker room entrance, Haden simply stated: “They have hope now.”
Without the return of “hope,” the Trojans' likelihood of upsetting arch-rival Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday night would have been harder than former USC head coach Lane Kiffin not calling for a bubble screen or a fade. The Irish could have been primed for one of its most satisfying poundings of this series.
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Is the USC head coaching position really wide open, or is Pat Haden merely conducting a perfunctory search while knowing that Jack Del Rio is already his guy? It’s an interesting question, and the answers you get from connected boosters vary . . .
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Lane Kiffin has suffered through the slings and arrows from media and fans during all three of his head-coaching stops, so the distinguishing aspect of USC's news conference on Sunday over his termination was that no one said anything bad about Kiffin.
Athletic director Pat Haden, who deemed it "disrespectful" to talk about his upcoming coaching search, started by thanking Kiffin and lauding his effort. He said he had received no complaints about Kiffin from assistant coaches or players. Interim coach Ed Orgeron said Kiffin was always receptive to him and said he would have handled the early-season QB controversy the same way. The players said they had been 100 percent behind Kiffin.
Haden also again noted that Kiffin had been handed a tough job. Severe NCAA sanctions undoubtedly made it more difficult to win like USC is accustomed to winning.
And yet ...
"I’ve said all along, we’ve graded on a curve," Haden said, "but we failed on the curve, too."
Haden said he made his final decision during the Trojans' 62-41 loss at Arizona State, but he also noted that "this has been brewing for a while. It hadn't felt particularly good, even since the Hawaii game."
Haden said he and Kiffin met for 45 minutes at the airport after the USC charter landed around 3 a.m. Haden admitted that Kiffin was blindsided and fought for his job.
"Lane was clearly disappointed," Haden said. "Lane is a great recruiter. He battled me. He really tried to keep his job and I respect that."
There will be changes with Kiffin gone. For one, Orgeron said QBs coach Clay Helton will take over as offensive coordinator and playcaller, though Orgeron added that he didn't think the offense would change much philosophically. Cody Kessler will remain the starting QB.
Orgeron also said USC will again open practices to the media.
"I want us to have some fun over these next eight games and let the chips fall where they may," he said.
Of course, the first question is whether Orgeron has a chance to become permanent head coach. Orgeron was head coach at Ole Miss from 2005 to 2007, so he knows the basics of running a program and he has a long history at USC, ranging back to the glory days under Pete Carroll. To this, Orgeron would merely say he is focused on the Trojans' next eight games, but he didn't seem to want to close the door on the possibility.
It will be interesting to see how the players react. Orgeron is as fiery a coach as there is in the nation, and his intensity works on players in practice, games and in recruiting. But can he re-motivate a team that is pretty media savvy when it comes to saying the right things to reporters at news conferences but that also seems pretty indifferent on the field?
We'll get our first impression when Arizona visits on Oct. 10, a Thursday night game.
Said Orgeron, "We're here to answer the bell."
The Trojans’ Class of 2014 recruiting efforts mirrored the product on the field. There were a few bright spots like highly regarded ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), ESPN 300 linebacker D.J. Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) and ESPN 300 offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), but it was also a class full of incompletions, fumbles and big misses.
You have to win the recruiting wars in Los Angeles if you’re going to dominate at USC. It’s something that Pete Carroll figured out the second he stepped into Heritage Hall, but Kiffin was never able to fully embrace.
However, the Trojans now have a chance to reset things.
If USC makes the right hire, there’s still a real chance to lure a number of the West’s best prospects. Twenty-seven of the Top 100 and eight of the top 15 prospects in California have yet to make up their minds.
Plus, there will be kids who are committed to other schools that will take a long look at the Trojans again with a new coach in charge. You can bet that players like ESPN 300 offensive lineman and Alabama commit Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), ESPN 300 athlete and Arizona commit Marquis Ware (Los Angeles/Salesian), Elite 11 quarterback and Miami commit Brad Kaaya (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade) and many other committed players in California will get calls from the new USC staff.
In recruiting, nothing can erase the errors of the old and give a school some new momentum like a coaching change.
USC now has the chance to right its recruiting wrongs. Coupled with the fact recruits and high school coaches still consider the Trojans Los Angeles’ football team, USC’s run to signing day in February could alter the Pac-12 for years to come.
While Carroll's dynastic run at USC was notoriously about non-stop competition, he also understood team dynamics. He believed that it was important to name a starting quarterback as soon as possible. When he saw separation, he believed a starter should be "anointed." And, yes, that was the term he used.
"Part of the reason for naming [Sanchez] is to see [leadership] come out," Carroll told me in 2008. "He wasn't able to show it. He hadn't been anointed yet."
That formal anointing allowed the quarterback to gain and then demonstrate confidence. He became the offensive leader.
In the spring of 2011, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator, leaned on this lesson when he opted to name Keith Price his starter over Nick Montana.
In all three cases, a coach made a decision and it turned out to be the right one. That is what good coaches do. They use their wisdom and intuition to make decisions that help their football team reach its potential.
At a place like USC, "reach its potential," means winning and winning big. And that is -- critically -- where USC coach Lane Kiffin, who also coached under Carroll, has fallen short. He has made decisions and they have turned out to be the wrong ones. Those wrong decisions now have him riding an 8-7 record since his team started the 2012 season ranked No. 1.
When judging Kiffin, that is what matters: The concrete decisions he makes and the real-world results of those decisions. It's not about folks who have never talked to him one-on-one judging his personality or character. It's not about the perception that he's smug or hasn't paid his coaching dues. Forget perception and personality. It's about results.
Two games into the 2013 season, after a miserably disappointing 2012 campaign, those results have been terrible, at least in the specific areas that Kiffin oversees: offense and quarterbacks. Though Clay Helton is the titular quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Kiffin's decision -- another bad one -- to retain play-calling duties this fall makes him responsible entirely for the results on offense.
Of course, a defense lawyer pleading Kiffin's case could try to change the narrative. He could say USC doesn't have a Leinart, Sanchez or even a Price on its roster. He could say the QB competition was too close to call -- to anoint -- at the end of spring practices. He could say Kiffin should be able to call plays because it's his team, as Carroll called plays on defense and Sarkisian calls his offensive plays. He could say USC is leading with its stout defense. He could say NCAA sanctions are hurting Kiffin's offense.
He could say the season is far from over, and that would be unquestionably true.
The easy and decisive counter to all that is to wheel in a TV and turn on a replay of the loss to Washington State. To use a Kiffin phrase, "It is what it is." And that is horrific. If the prosecutor wanted to pile on, he'd then make it a double-feature with the Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.
Yet, it's also easy to counter each defense argument.
QB talent? Max Wittek was No. 3 and Cody Kessler was No. 29 in the ESPN.com ranking of QB recruits in 2011. True freshman Max Browne was the No. 2 QB in the 2013 class. Young QBs across the country are putting up big numbers, most of whom were lower rated than these guys.
Competition too close to call? There wasn't an observer during spring practices who didn't believe Kessler had outplayed Wittek.
Call his own plays because it's his team? As the head coach, it's his job to judge performance objectively. By any measure, USC's offensive playcaller in 2012 failed at his job. He also certainly failed through two games this season.
Leading with a stout defense? Well, take a look at the scoreboard. That stout defense needed more help if winning remains the goal.
NCAA sanctions? Really? You'd use that argument after losing at home to a team that has averaged 9.8 losses per season over the past five years?
Kiffin's chief problem in 2012 was getting distracted by little things. He seemed consumed with gimmicks and gamesmanship. He hasn't seemed to grasp the fundamental fact of coaching USC: If superior players execute well, they win just about every time.
USC still has superior players. While that advantage might not be as decisive these days when matched with Oregon and Stanford, or even a rising UCLA, it certainly is when standing opposite Washington State.
Kiffin made a pair of decisions entering the 2013 season: 1. He would retain play-calling duties; 2. He would play two quarterbacks. After two games, those decisions are abject failures by even charitable measures.
Based on the "Fire Kiffin" chants in the Coliseum as the clock wound down last weekend, more than a few folks are done with charitable measures.
It's no secret that in the Los Angeles sports market, winning is a major component to filling the vastness of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which lists a capacity of 93,607.
Nobody has done football winning at the collegiate level in the City of Angels quite like the University of Southern California Trojans. With such accomplishments as 11 national championships, 37 conference titles, 46 bowl appearances and six Heisman Trophy winners, you'd think that would be enough to draw the masses into its fabled home in Exposition Park.
Filling the Coliseum for games against rival UCLA and Notre Dame rarely has been a problem. Others on the schedule, though, have been the challenge to put bodies in seats. USC always has had its core fans, but it takes more than that to fill the Coliseum on a weekly basis. It takes superstars, as well.
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SS Troy Polamalu: It’s hard to imagine right now, considering that he turned out to be one of the elite safeties in USC history, but there was a point when then-USC head coach Paul Hackett basically had to be talked into offering Polamalu a scholarship. Polamalu had moved to a small town in Oregon for his high school career at Winston (Ore.) Douglas, and the long arm of recruiting coverage wasn’t as big then, so there wasn’t a lot of hype about him. Polamalu had an offer from Stanford, which he was close to accepting, along with the possibility of playing baseball at USC, but his uncle Kennedy Polamalu was a former Trojans fullback who was then coaching at San Diego State. The elder Polamalu reached out to Hackett and assured him his nephew was worth the ride, and the rest is history. Polamalu ended up an All-American for the Trojans, was a first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers and has won two Super Bowls. -- Garry Paskwietz
DL Dan Owens: The former La Habra (Calif.) High defensive lineman wasn’t all that well known outside of prep football crazy Orange County at the time, and he wasn’t exactly a household recruiting name, either. Owens was a quick and very physical player, but he was not flashy. In the 1985 Orange County prep All-Star Game, his coach had to restrict him in practice because he was such a disruptive force. Owens work ethic and unrelenting style of play elevated him from a recruiting secret eventually into a major cog along the USC defensive line. Former Trojans All-America defensive lineman Tim Ryan and Owens teammate once said that the Orange County was really “underrated” and that he did things on film that were just amazing. Owens' work ethic and non-stop motor turned him into an All-Pac-10 selection his senior season, and he was later rewarded as the 35th player selected in the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He started his rookie season with the Lions and later played for the Atlanta Falcons. Not bad for a kid who said at the time upon entering USC that his only goal was to be successful in college. -- Greg Katz
There is another sense of anticipation because the University of Southern California finally reached agreement with the Board of Directors of the California Science Center recently regarding parking revenue, meaning this should allow the State of California to give the okay for the University to move ahead with its plans to renovate the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Of course, this all sounds good, but until one can see physical proof of the much-needed additions to the Grand Old Lady of Exposition Park, it all seems like the same old dog and pony show. Trojans fans know what improvements they’d like to see, but it appears those additions probably won’t be in place for the upcoming season.
It’s funny how the Coliseum is viewed depending on the success of its major tenant, the USC football team. When the Trojans are in their zenith -- like in the Pete Carroll era -- the historic venue becomes the original Yankee Stadium in its prime. When the Trojans are staggering and lacking in expectations, folks refer to it as a dump and there is discussion of a number of options, some not some pleasant if you’re the Coliseum.
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And there was much rejoicing!
So, what have been the Pac-12 highs and lows of this often confounding system? Thanks for asking!
1. USC drubs Oklahoma for the 2004 national title: The 55-19 victory over unbeaten Oklahoma was the most dominant display of the BCS era. It was also the pinnacle of the Trojans' dynasty under Pete Carroll. It's worth noting that future Pac-12 member Utah also whipped Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to finish unbeaten that same year.
3. The year of the Northwest: After the 2000 season, three teams from the Northwest finished ranked in the AP top seven. Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and finished third. Oregon State drubbed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished fourth. Oregon beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl to finish seventh.
4. Oregon gets left out but finishes No. 2: One of the grand faux paus of the BCS era was Nebraska playing Miami for the 2001 national title. Nebraska was coming off a 62-36 loss to Colorado, but the computers failed to notice, and the Cornhuskers were euthanized by the Hurricanes before halftime. The Ducks would whip that same Colorado team 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl and finish ranked No. 2.
5. Oregon and Stanford both win: The 2012-13 bowl season wasn't good to the Pac-12, but Oregon pounded Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks finished ranked No. 2 and Stanford was seventh. It was just the second time two Pac-10/12 teams won BCS bowl games in the same season.
1. Just one BCS national title, lots of frustration: No conference has more legitimate gripes with the BCS system than the Pac-12. Multiple seasons saw the conference have teams skipped over, most notably Oregon in 2001 and USC in 2003 and 2008. And ask California fans about how Texas coach Mack Brown gamed the system in 2004, preventing the Bears from playing in the Rose Bowl.
2. USC's three-peat gets Vince Younged: It's difficult to look at Texas's epic 41-38 win over USC as anything but great college football art -- perhaps the all-time greatest game -- but Trojans fans don't feel that way. The loss prevented USC from claiming three consecutive national titles and, of course, a second BCS crown for the Pac-10/12.
3. Oregon falls short versus Auburn: Oregon looked like a great team and Auburn a team with two great players before the BCS title game after the 2010 season. The Ducks chose a bad time to play one of their worst games of the season, but they still nearly prevailed before being undone by a dramatic game-winning drive from the Tigers.
4. Make a field goal, Stanford: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed three field goals, including a certain game-winner from 35 yards on the last play of regulation, in the Cardinal's 41-38 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2011 season. Williamson also missed from 43 yards in overtime, which set the Cowboys up for the win. Stanford dominated the game, outgaining the Cowboys 590 yards to 412, with a 243-13 edge in rushing.
5. Ducks drop Rose Bowl: Oregon fell flat in Chip Kelly's first BCS bowl game, with the favored Ducks losing to Ohio State 26-17 in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor had perhaps the best game of his career -- 266 yards passing, 72 rushing -- and the Ducks offense struggled, gaining just 260 yards.
After a 4-7 season the next year, Oregon State coach Joe Avezzano hired him to coach running backs. In 1984, he was the offensive coordinator at Chico State. The Ducks went 6-5 that year.
Funny how things turn out. Back then, there was little to suggest Aliotti would become a defensive coach, or that he would circle back to Oregon, or that there would be any reason to go back to Eugene. After all, if Aliotti wanted to climb the coaching ladder, didn't he want to go to a place where you had a chance to win?
Yet here he is, now close enough to an Oregon lifer that we're going to call him that, a guy who has been a firsthand witness to a program rising from nothing to respectability to legitimate goodness. And then to the cusp of greatness.
And anyone who knows Aliotti, 58, will guess that there was a prelude to that quote -- "It's not about me" -- and a postlude -- "It's really, really special" -- as well as some entertaining parentheticals along the way.
Yet this season includes something new: respect.
Aliotti has been a good defensive coordinator for a long time, although his defenses often were outmanned. During the Ducks' rise under Chip Kelly, Oregon has played better defense than most folks realized, but it often required observers to look behind the numbers. And who has time for that?
Yet before this season began, more than a few pundits, including folks on the benighted East Coast, took a look at the Ducks' depth chart and noted that there were some salty characters on the mean side of the ball. The Ducks had some size to go along with their speed. There were some 300-pounders inside and there was, as coaches say, "great length" across the board, with seven of the top nine defensive linemen over 6-foot-4. And four over 6-6.
They passed the sight test.
What about the football part of football? Glad you asked. ESPN's numbers guy, Brad Edwards, took a closer look at the Oregon defense this week, noting that if you go beyond some superficial numbers that don't look impressive, you can make a case that the Ducks are playing defense on par with the finest teams in the country.
He took a measure of the Oregon defense only when an opponent was within 28 points, noting, "Using only statistics from when the score is within 28 points allows us to evaluate how teams perform when the starters are on the field and playing with maximum intensity."
What did he find? First, he found the Ducks have allowed 19 touchdowns this season -- one a pick-six against the offense -- but only seven were given up when the game margin was within 28 points.
Then he entered that into his Bat Computer.
Here's what he found. The Ducks ranked third in the nation, behind only Alabama and Notre Dame, in points per drive at 0.89. The Ducks allow just 4.03 yards per play, which ranks fourth in the nation. The Oregon defense leads the nation in red zone TD percentage at 22 percent, or four TDs allowed in 18 drives. Finally, on third-down conversion defense, the Ducks rank second, trailing only Oregon State, with a 24.7 percent success rate.
Not bad, eh?
Aliotti's defense, however, will face a major test on a big stage Saturday when it visits USC. Although the Trojans' offense has been surprisingly inconsistent this season, it still has all the main players from the squad that turned in a scintillating performance a year ago while ending the Ducks' 21-game Autzen Stadium winning streak with a 38-35 victory.
"Those great receivers and the quarterback were able to have their way with us last year," Aliotti said. "They beat our defense last year with their offense."
Matt Barkley completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards with four touchdowns as the Trojans rolled up 462 yards. Marqise Lee, then a true freshman, caught eight passes for 187 yards and a score. Aliotti, by the way, was perhaps more upset about the Trojans' 139 rushing yards than the passing numbers.
Barkley is a four-year starter who has seen just about every defense. He's not easy to fool. But that doesn't mean Aliotti isn't going to try.
"The best I can answer is we're going to do a little bit of all of it," he said.
And Aliotti has a lot of tricks in his bag. When you talk to opposing offensive coaches, it's clear the Ducks' defense has evolved in the past few years. Calling it "multiple" doesn't do it justice. You could almost call it "nonstandard." Aliotti will give a general idea of the evolution, but he doesn't want even that to appear in print.
USC coach Lane Kiffin coached the Trojans' offense under Pete Carroll from 2001 to '06. He sees dramatic changes.
"You see no similarities," he said. "You'd think it was a different staff. Obviously it's not; they've been there forever. I don't know what changed, but they are very different. They are very multiple. They change fronts. They disguise things very well."
Aliotti has played a lot of chess games with opposing offenses since he returned to Oregon for good in 1999. Shutting down Barkley and the Trojans on Saturday would help him further secure his grandmaster bona fides this fall.
Is Oregon-USC about a passing of the guard?
The one absolute history teaches us is there will be change. Nothing lasts forever. Empires fall. In ancient times, no one could conceive a world without Roman domination. Look at Italy now.
USC has 11 national championships. Oregon has none. And it wasn't too long ago that USC under Pete Carroll made a dynastic run that terrorized college football. From 2002 to 2008, USC was college football's pre-eminent power, the lone program that made the SEC quake in fear.
But there is a distinct sense that Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are headed to the Coliseum on Saturday to grab the Pac-12 sword from Tommy Trojan and take it back to Eugene.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the preseason, the overwhelming consensus was USC was ready to reclaim its place atop college football. The Trojans, emerging from a two-year postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA, welcomed back 19 starters from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. They looked like a potentially all-time great team on offense, with a talented defense playing a strong supporting role.
Meanwhile, Oregon was replacing six offensive starters, including a two-year starter at quarterback in Darron Thomas and its all-time leading rusher, LaMichael James. The defense looked stout, but there were plenty of questions. It seemed premature, despite three consecutive Pac-12 titles, to call the Ducks a "reload, not rebuild" outfit.
Oregon has been a well-oiled machine. It has rolled over everyone like an army of steamrollers and sat its starters for large portions of the second half. Sure, the schedule hasn't featured any A-list foes. But Arizona, Arizona State and Washington are a combined 14-10 with wins over Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon State and USC, and the Ducks beat them by a combined count of 144-42.
USC has flashed brilliance at times on both sides of the ball this season, but that only serves to provide a stark contrast for the moments of inexplicable mediocrity and sloppiness. The Trojans are 120th -- last! -- in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game. And last by a fairly wide margin.
Quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions. He threw seven all of last year.
And to cut to the chase, USC already has two losses, to Stanford and Arizona, that have thrown a blanket of "Neh" over what was supposed to be not only the Pac-12 game of the year, but also perhaps the national game of the year.
So it's fair to ask what it might mean -- big picture -- if Oregon prevails and then goes on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title: Are the Ducks poised to displace USC atop the conference for the long term?
USC fans would rightly counter, "Well, how about the Ducks win a national title first?" That's fair.
Oregon fans probably would admit there's a reasonable -- and nagging -- qualifier here also: "As long as coach Chip Kelly stays in Eugene."
While Oregon probably wouldn't tumble into mediocrity if Kelly bolted for the NFL -- the program is too rich and too Nike'd -- this run of dominance feels like its foundation is built on Kelly's cult of "Win the Day" personality.
But the Pac-12 blog, just like Kelly quashing an interesting question, won't deal in hypotheticals.
So then, if the Ducks roll over the Trojans on Saturday by multiple touchdowns -- an unthinkable idea in the preseason -- and go on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title, that feels like it could be a resonating statement.
Further, USC has two more years of scholarship sanctions. It can sign no more than 15 players for the next two recruiting classes (though there's some backwards-looking wiggle room coach Lane Kiffin has skillfully exploited) and can't exceed more than 75 players on scholarship, instead of the standard 85. All along, the point has been repeatedly made that USC will be most taxed by sanctions over the next two to three years.
Meanwhile, a glance at Oregon's roster, led by redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota, and sophomore fancypants De'Anthony Thomas, suggests the Ducks aren't going anywhere. This is almost certainly a preseason top-five team in 2013.
It seems like a potential old-school to new-school transition is at hand. From a program with iconic uniforms and pageantry that is immediately recognizable to college football fans across the country, to a program that changes uniforms every week and isn't afraid to wear lime-green socks.
Of course, the reality is USC won't go easily into the night. It has too much tradition. And let's not forget this: Location, location, location. USC's presence in Southern California's recruiting hotbed means the potential for program greatness is built-in.
And maybe USC pulls the shocker on Saturday and gets to smirk back at all the doubters.
Yet if Oregon takes care of business as most now expect, something might very well change. When someone asks, "Tell me about the Pac-12?" The new response will be, "Well, of course, there's Oregon first. You know about them, right?"
He said he thought it was "bananas." He also felt some sympathy for the replacement referees forced to make a decision on the game-deciding play in the end zone involving Seahawks receiver Golden Tate.
Tate appeared to shove a defender and commit offesnive pass interference before wrestling the football away from Green Bay defender M.D. Jennings. One referee thought it was a touchdown and one didn't, but it was ruled a catch. The call was reviewed but stood because of inconclusive evidence.
"It was crazy," Barkley said Tuesday. "I've never seen something like it. It seems like these refs are getting the worst calls possible to try to officiate.
"It's like, now, out of all times, the hardest calls fall on their shoulders."
Outrage over the replacement referees -- the NFL's regular refs are on strike -- has erupted all across the sports world since Monday night. Barkley declined to get into the controversy of the call itself.
"I won't comment on whether it was an interception or not," Barkley said. "It's about time the real refs were back in the game."
Of course, Barkley's former coach at USC, Pete Carroll, now heads the Seahawks, and Carroll was elated about Monday's outcome.
We know about Tavita Pritchard's last-minute touchdown to Mark Bradford in 2007, giving the Cardinal (41-point underdogs) a shocking victory and ending USC's 35-game home win streak. We know the Trojans stomped the Cardinal a year later. We certainly remember Toby Gerhart's three-touchdown performance, the 2-point conversion attempt and the Pete Carroll/Jim Harbaugh "what's your deal?" moment.
Well, would you look at that ... we're rehashing the gory details. Oh well, no reason to stop now.
We remember Nate Whitaker's field goal with four seconds left in 2010 and the triple-overtime thriller in 2011.
"I think it's a little more friendly rivalry and respectful rivalry maybe between the coaches than the last couple of coaches," USC coach Lane Kiffin said with a laugh. "Any time you go to the last play of the game two years in a row -- in what I think were extremely well-played games by both teams, very exciting games, great quarterback play -- yeah, it's become a rivalry. ... That's a lot of credit to Stanford. For a few years it wasn't. Obviously, Coach Harbaugh came in and really changed it and Coach [David] Shaw has picked up the flag and ran from there."
You probably won't see any mid-field fireworks between Kiffin and Shaw. The two go back a long time.
"The thing you have to remember about me and Lane, our dads worked together for years and we've known each other for a long time," Shaw said. "I have the utmost respect for Monte and since I've known Lane, he's been nothing but upfront and straight-forward with me. There is no animosity between us except for those 60 minutes on Saturday."
Of course, we also remember the playful jab Kiffin took at Shaw in the spring.
The No. 21 Cardinal have won the past three meetings and four of the past five. And it's no surprise that a guy named Andrew Luck was at the helm for those three. But Luck is gone and Matt Barkley returns at quarterback for the No. 2 Trojans. He's back to settle that unfinished business. And though he'll never admit it, part of it is probably getting a win over Stanford, the only Pac-12 team he has failed to beat in his career.
And he has as good a chance as any this year. His wide receivers -- Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- are the best in the country. Something that Shaw is very aware of.
"In all the years I was in the NFL and studied college wide receivers, and since I’ve been here studying different offenses, I’ve never seen a college team with two guys like this. There’s never been [a pair like them] in the modern era," Shaw said.
"There are three ‘explosions’ for a receiver. There’s explosion off the ball, explosion into the cut, and explosion after the catch. Usually, they decrease, with the last one not as big as the two before. With Woods, all three are explosive. It’s like Joey Galloway in his prime. You see the same thing from Marqise Lee, except a bigger version.”
Heading into this week the Cardinal are allowing the highest completion rate of any defense in the conference. But that doesn't concern Shaw, who said he'll give up short passes all day. It's about third-down defense, red-zone defense and making tackles.
It's the making tackles part that could be troublesome, especially when dealing with Lee. The sophomore sensation has gained 73.4 percent of his 263 receiving yards this year have come after the catch.* Worth noting, too, that Stanford safety Ed Reynolds leads the conference in interceptions (3) and is tied for second in passes defended (4).
And the Cardinal have their own offensive concerns in the post-Luck era. Last year, the Cardinal had the fewest three-and-out drives in all of FBS when Luck was running the show. So far this year, they rank 75th* while converting just 28 percent of the time on third down. The Cardinal have to keep drives alive to keep Barkley off the field. No easy task against Monte Kiffin's defense.
"You can't put him in a box and say he's a Tampa-2 guy because every known blitz to man, he's done at some point," Shaw said. "Whether it's strongside blitz, weakside blitzes, secondary blitzes, three-down nickel blitzes; he's got it all in his bag and it's just what he chooses to do that week. We're preparing for a variety of things."
For Kiffin and the prep-not-hype-motivated Trojans, a lot of them are trying to treat this just like any other game as they continue to make a push toward a national championship.
"I think when you come to a place like SC, you end up being a lot of people's rivals," Kiffin said. "I guess that's the best way to describe it. We end up being everyone's rivalry. Obviously, the most historic rivalry out of conference is Notre Dame. Then UCLA is cross-town. Now Oregon and Stanford within the last few years have become big rivalries as well."
Saturday marks another chapter in what has been a fantastic run between these two teams. Vegas puts the Trojans as a 10-point road favorite. On paper, that makes sense. If you check this morning's blog predictions, I have the Trojans winning by two touchdowns. But just be prepared for anything to happen. Because lately, in matchups between these two teams, anything does.
* ESPN Stats & Information