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» Futures: Ronnie Harrison

Though teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick gets more headlines, the other Alabama safety prospect in this year's draft deserves plenty of attention too.

17 Sep 2012

One Foot Inbounds: The Sack of Troy

by Matt Hinton

It's no great feat of analysis to point out what went wrong after it's gone wrong –- 20/20 hindsight and all that -– but it was also no secret coming into the season that USC's glaring weakness as a national contender was its defensive line. Read those season previews closely enough, somewhere down in the footnotes beneath odes to quarterback Matt Barkley and his world-class wide receivers, and you'll find it. That concern only deepened when senior defensive end Devon Kennard was ruled out for the year in preseason drills, leaving one returning starter along the front four, Wes Horton, who was subsequently injured himself in the Trojans' win over Syracuse. So it probably should not have come as any surprise that Stanford, nouveau beacon of old-school, salt-of-the-earth power running, turned out to be the opponent that exploited it.

True, the Cardinal came into Saturday with lingering questions of their own about replacing a pair of All-American mainstays on the offensive line (David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin) who went among the top 45 picks of the draft. As did departed tight end Coby Fleener. And of course no one had had any good idea how defenses would react against the run without Andrew Luck's $14 million arm to account for. As it turns out, the answer is that it doesn't matter how they're going to react, because Stanford is still going to run over them, anyway.

Against USC, the Cardinal pounded out 202 yards on the ground, the vast majority courtesy of the resident workhorse, Stepfan Taylor, who broke a 59-yard touchdown run in the first half and averaged 5.7 for the night on 27 carries. His success early on, against an inexperienced front besieged by injuries and NCAA-mandated scholarship cuts, made life much easier for Luck's successor at quarterback, Josh Nunes, who rebounded from a pair of interceptions in the first half with a pair of touchdown passes in the second. USC rotated just six defensive linemen all game; Stanford held the ball for more than 19 minutes after halftime to USC's eleven, and outscored the Trojans in that span 14-0.

The part of that equation that was surprising was the gradual, but readily apparent, collapse of the USC offensive line in front of Barkley. It left the brightest star in college football looking like a sleepwalker who's just awoken to find himself in the middle of a highway. Most glaring was the absence of senior center Khaled Holmes, whose replacement, Cyrus Hobbi, struggled physically with his blocks, and subsequently struggled with everything else -– awkward exchanges with Barkley, tangled feet as Barkley began his drops, a key holding penalty from which the Trojans never recovered on their final, failed drive to tie at the end of the game. But there was more than enough fail up front to go around: altogether, Barkley was sacked five times by five different defenders, and the team as a whole netted 26 yards rushing (including sack yardage) on 28 attempts. After going ahead 14-7 in the second quarter, USC's final nine offensive possessions resulted in four three-and-outs, two interceptions, a fumble, and two turnovers on downs.

With that, Barkley will end his college career 0-4 as a starter against the one-time West Coast whipping boy, and won't even have Luck's presence in the opposing huddle to blame for it. What that says about Barkley's "legacy" or place in the lineage of great Trojan quarterbacks over the past decade, it's still a little too soon to say: the Pac-12 championship, BCS, and Heisman Trophy remain within reach, albeit with a greatly reduced margin of error. The Trojans and Cardinal could very well see each other again in December in the conference championship game. But the record doesn't leave much doubt about which program is built on more solid footing.


  • With Michigan State's 20-3 loss to Notre Dame, the Big Ten's record against teams from other major conferences this season falls to a dismal 4-8, and gets even more dismal when you realize three of those four wins belong to Northwestern, quiet conqueror of Syracuse, Vanderbilt, and Boston College. The only other win in the category: Ohio State's 35-28 escape against California, did nothing to burnish anyone's opinion of the Buckeyes, or of the conference in general -– the latest polls both fail include a single Big Ten team in the top fifteen. Michigan's trip to Notre Dame Saturday is the league's last chance to put a respectable skin on the wall before its members turn the knives on themselves.
  • The most disappointing outfit in the conference, by far, is two-time defending champion Wisconsin, which narrowly escaped an upset at the hands of Utah State Saturday after getting ambushed at Oregon State. (In the opener, the Badgers narrowly escaped an upset at the hands of Northern Iowa.) The really bad news for the Big Ten: Because Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible to play for the conference championship while on probation, Wisconsin is probably still the odds-on favorite to represent the Leaders Division, even if it winds up nowhere near the year-end polls.
  • Florida, two years and two starting quarterbacks removed from its last respectable offense, hit the gas in the second half of a 37-20 win at Tennessee, embarking on three touchdown drives after halftime covering 80, 70, and 78 yards, all on three plays or less. Given a little time in just his second career start, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel was light years ahead of his rough-and-tumble initiation last week at Texas A&M, especially during the second half surge. After the break, Driskel completed 8-of-10 passes with three going for at least 20 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Better yet, he wasn't sacked (A&M got to him six times) and didn't commit a turnover for the second week in a row.
  • Colorado is 0-3 after being trounced by Fresno State, 69-14, and neither the record nor the final score can begin to convey the extent of the Buffaloes' ineptitude. At the end of the first half, Fresno led 55-7 and had outgained Colorado 516 yards to 123; at one point in the first quarter, the Bulldogs scored five touchdowns in the span of ten offensive snaps, including a 97-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to Isaiah Burse and a 94-yard touchdown run by Robbie Rouse on consecutive series. (In this case, the defense literally could have done just as well remaining on the sidelines.) With losses to Colorado State and Sacramento State already on the books, the Buffs have one more chance to get it together Saturday against fellow Pac-12 doormat Washington State, or they'll be on the fast track to 0-12.
  • Best ending of the year to date goes to BYU-Utah, which not only went down to the wire in the wee hours of Sunday morning, but featured not one, not two, but three celebratory field-stormings by the Utah student body, whose euphoria over beating its instate rival knew no bounds. The first rush came after the game clock mistakenly ticked to zero on an incomplete pass by BYU at the end of the fourth quarter, apparently sealing a 24-21 Utah victory; officials subsequently cleared the field, restored one second to the clock and allowed BYU to line up for a field goal attempt to tie from 51 yards out. The second rush came when that attempt was blocked -– as soon as the attempt was blocked, while the ball was still technically live, thereby drawing a 15-yard penalty against the Ute sideline (and essentially half the stadium) for streaming onto the field with a play in progress. Again, officials cleared the field, and again BYU lined up for the tying field goal, this time from 36 yards out. From there, the re-kick doinked off the left upright, the score went final and the fans claimed the field for good. Got all that? Fine, just watch the sequence unfold.


1. Alabama (3-0). Watching the Crimson Tide play is about as much fun as watching someone get a piano dropped on them.
2. LSU (3-0). Just hangin' out, waiting for the start of SEC play this week at Auburn.
3. Oregon (3-0). Really, really wish there was a better option here than a team that's feasted on Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. We'll know more late Saturday/early Sunday vs. Arizona.
4. Florida State (3-0). See above. Obliterated Wake Forest in vintage fashion, but jury is out on the 'Noles until Saturday night against Clemson.
5. Stanford (3-0). Nothing fluky about the Cardinal's win over USC, the best of the season to date.
6. Florida (3-0). Gators betrayed September hype in 2010 and 2011, but until further notice, back-to-back road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee command respect.
7. Georgia (3-0). Jarvis Jones notwithstanding, the defense is beginning to look like a potential issue.
8. Ohio State (3-0). Braxton Miller is the truth, but nothing to get worked up about in a too-close-for-comfort win over Cal.
9. Notre Dame (3-0). Big Ten asterisks apply to Michigan State, but for now, a 17-point road win over a top-10 opponent goes down as Notre Dame's best win in a decade.
10. USC (2-1). Trojans still have every major goal in front of them if they're perfect from here on, but obviously a lot of work to do along both sides of the line of scrimmage.
11. West Virginia (2-0). Wake me when the Mountaineers hit the Big 12 schedule.
12. Oklahoma (2-0). Sooners get a chance to knock off some early rust Saturday against Kansas State.
13. South Carolina (3-0). Gamecocks are beginning to identify a few weapons other than Marcus Lattimore, although against the likes of Alabama-Birmingham, everyone is a potential weapon.
14. Clemson (3-0). Proverbial statement game in Tallahassee could make or break the season.
15. Texas (3-0). Longhorn offense showed up at Ole Miss. Not sure about the Rebel defense that was there to meet them.
16. UCLA (3-0). Another week, another outsized effort from the Bruin offense in a 37-6 win over Houston.
17. Arizona (3-0). Rich Rodriguez has been Arizona's head coach for three games, two of which rank as the two most prolific games in school history in terms of total offense.
18. Kansas State (3-0). Wildcats will do everything in their power to drag the pace at Oklahoma to a screeching halt.
19. Mississippi State (3-0). Backloaded schedule sets up perfectly for a 7-0 start before it starts getting heavy.
20. Michigan State (2-1). Spartans' opening night win over Boise State is still the best by any Big Ten team this year.
21. Northwestern (3-0). Wildcats swept the Smartypants Series against Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College.
22. Louisville (3-0). Cardinals allowed four touchdown passes in the final 20 minutes of a near-collapse against North Carolina, so I'll just mumble something about Teddy Bridgewater and move on.
23. Oregon State (1-0). Bye week allows Beavers to milk that win over Wisconsin before it turns sour.
24. Iowa State (3-0). Well, why not? Beat Texas Tech on Saturday, and the Cyclones are only an upset away from at least breaking even for the third time in four years.
25. Rutgers (3-0). Strictly for the sweet open-field spin move tailback Jawan Jamison flashed on his icing touchdown run at South Florida.


1. Matt Elam, S, Florida. Playing largely from the nickel, Elam was everywhere in the Gators' win over Tennessee, leading the team in tackles while also notching a sack and a momentum-turning interception against Vol quarterback Tyler Bray. After Elam's pick in the third quarter, the Gators scored 17 unanswered points to turn a 20-20 nail-biter into a 37-20 rout.

2. Jordan Richards and Terrence Brown, DBs, Stanford. While the front four was harassing Matt Barkley into submission, Richards and Brown locked down his All-American targets, future first-rounders Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, combining to pick off two Barkley passes and break up six more without allowing a touchdown.

3. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame. Playing just days after the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend, Te'o held his ground in the middle of an impenetrable Irish defense that kept Michigan State's burly running game to just 50 yards on the ground in a 20-3 upset. Te'o was credited with a team-high 12 tackles (seven solo, five assists), including one for loss, and generally was everywhere the Spartans did not want him to be.

4. Cornelius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State. Moving into the starting lineup in place of injured All-American Brandon Jenkins, Carradine was the beastliest member of a characteristically feral front four in FSU's 52-0 annihilation of Wake Forest, racking up two solo sacks and generously sharing a third with linemate Bjoern Werner. As bad as the Seminoles' early competition has been, they've made it look even worse, yielding a grand total of 310 yards and three points in three games.

5. Nick Clancy, LB, Boston College. Channeling the spirit of the Great Tackler before him, Luke Kuechly, Clancy racked up a whopping 24 tackles (14 solo, 10 assists) in BC's 22-13 loss at Northwestern, easily the best individual total in a single game this year. If only he'd gotten the Wildcats to the ground before they'd managed to rush for 293 yards...

Posted by: Matt Hinton on 17 Sep 2012

23 comments, Last at 19 Sep 2012, 5:50pm by Aaron Brooks Good Twin


by sjt (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:31pm

I actually think Stanford's defense deserves at least as much credit for the win. Their front was able to shut down the running game without overloading the box, which forced USC's offense to revert to their only real offensive strategy: throw passes to Lee or Woods and pray that they outrun everyone else on the field. Its a great trick when it works, but Stanford almost always had deep safeties over the top and their corners were very physical all game.

Or maybe Kiffin just sucked at play calling. He kept slamming his running backs straight into the teeth of the defense despite his line being overmatched. He kept Barkley under center even in obvious passing situations despite the fact that Stanford was targeting the backup center as a weak link. He didn't seem to have any passing game adjustment to Stanford playing 2 safeties 20 yards off the line.

by 4everBruin :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:53pm

Good analysis! Stanford's defensive line shut down the run, allowing them to put great pressure on Barkley and increase coverage in the secondary.

USC was out prepared, out coached and out muscled by Stanford. Great coaching job by Shaw and his staff. I don't think USC will be able to run the gauntlet of the elite uptempo offenses they will face this year in conference. I see them finishing with 3 losses. USC has great athletes, a great QB and NFL good receivers; they aren't going to fold up and blow away. However, their depth issues on both sides of the ball were illuminated in this game.


by stephenbawesome :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:59pm

Technically, couldn't USC face Stanford again in the Pac 12 championship game? There's a chance Barkley gets another shot.

by sjt (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 2:06pm

Yup, though its probably more likely that USC will make the CG than Stanford, who would have to beat out Oregon to with their division.

by sjt (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 2:07pm

"To win their division", that is.

by Kal :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 2:51pm

If we were ranking this as if people beat someone good, it'd be what? Alabama, Stanford, Notre Dame, Arizona? That's probably not that bad a list, at least right now.

by mm (old) (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 8:14pm

Northwestern has beaten 3 AQ teams, even if none of them are noteworthy.

Florida has defeated both Tennessee and A&M on the road.

Georgia beat Missouri (who themselves didn't need their starting QB or most of their O-line to beat Arizona State).

by quigley (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 2:58pm

The really frightening things for USC is that must really alter their identity to compensate for the deficiencies in the OL. I only watched the last several minutes of the game, but Stanford really was successful at applying pressure up the middle. Every QB as difficulty with that. Stanford set the template.

They'd already attempted to shorten up the passing game vs. Cuse. Now rolling Barkley and more rush constraint plays are going to be need. The Trojans really need a bye week (they have none).

by Will Allen :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 4:06pm

Might Colorado be the worst BCS conference team ever? Have we see such a team get beat by 55 by a non BCS school?

The Wisconsin situation really drives home what it means to lose good assistants, if you aren't in the midst of a recruiting hotbed. The most surprising thing about Bielema firing the o-line coach to me is that he hired the guy to begin with, given the philosophical differences in his approach, compared to the guy who is with the Bucs now.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 6:16pm

Long-winded reply would go here, except the spam-filter ate it.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 7:29pm


by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 8:13pm

The gist was that while 55 points is amazing, the early 90s Temple teams were also pretty bad and the 1976-1981 Northwestern teams were legendarily bad (42-0 loss to Utah).

The worst loss of the bunch, though, was probably the 1990 Vanderbilt team losing by 37 to a 1-10 post-ban SMU team who turned around and lost the next game by 36 to Tulane. Technically SMU was in a BCS-ancestor conference, but that stretch of teams barely rated Div-IAA status.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 1:10am

OK, perhaps worst BCS team of the BCS era? Where's Fresno projected to finish?

by Tom Gower :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 1:40am

Washington State is the worst BCS team of recent vintage, with F/+ disliking the 2009 team (-32.4%) more than the 2008 team that went through a 183-14 three game stretch (-27.6%).

Northwestern when they lost to Utah 42-0 was in the first year of the Dennis Green era.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 2:00am

OK, I looked up one report that said Fresno was voted, by somebody connected to the reconstituted Mountain West, to likely come in third behind Boise and Nevada, so they aren't the worst of a bad conference. Still, they have a new coach, and only went 4-9 in the WAC last year, so for a BCS team to lose by 55 to them is remarkable. Of course, the Buffalo already have lost to a CSU program which was one of the worst teams in the country last year. I'd say Colorado has a chance to be historic this year.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 11:08am

They may not be the worst BCS team ever, but I'll throw CU in for a different dubious honor. I challenge anybody to find a team with a national title in the modern era with less fan support. (And I'm not just talking now or the Dan Hawkins era, I mean when they were still pretty good under Neuheisel and Gary Barnett.)

Tickets are available for every home game right up until kickoff. (They were supposedly so psyched to be joining the Pac-12, but when USC made its inaugural visit to Boulder last season, they were BEGGING people to buy reduced-price tickets for the televised game and still didn't sellout.) When they were still in the Big 12, Nebraska and Texas were the only guaranteed sellouts, and that was because the visiting schools filled half the stadium. (It got so bad that for the last couple meetings with Nebraska, CU actually publicly implored season ticket holders to not sell their tix to Cornhusker fans.) Part of the reason their athletic department was in the red prior to the Pac-12 move was they spent millions putting luxury suites in the stadium that they were never able to sell.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 6:16pm

What's "modern era" for football purposes? I'm assuming it's at least post-war, to eliminate the WWII-era Army teams that used professional players and other draft dodgers.

Minnesota (1960) and Pitt (1976) get lukewarm support. Miami has never been a good draw, even when they were good. Those three are probably in better shape than CU. That said, Minnesota was wandering in the wilderness for years, playing in front of a lot of garbage bags in the Metrodome.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 6:46pm

Good examples. I was thinking much more recent. CU won it in 1990. I can give a pass to teams from that far back, but when most of the people who saw you win the title are still alive and the stadium is still not full even in good years, it's pretty sad. Miami can give them a run for the money, but at least the Canes are not the only game in town. CU's student section is typically dead and their stadium is in the heart of campus.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 5:50pm

Colorado's home attendance has actually outpaced Miami's, even in Miami's new stadium.

And even with the competition, 15 times as many people live near Coral Gables as live near Boulder.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 5:44pm
by GK (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 6:19pm

"25. Rutgers (3-0). Strictly for the sweet open-field spin move tailback Jawan Jamison flashed on his icing touchdown run at South Florida."

We'll take it!

Unfortunately Arkansas has looked horrible and thus ruined the matchup this weekend. Before, it was a win-win: beat the Razorbacks to score a huge win for the program; lose close to the Razorbacks and "you can hang with the big boys"; lose big and "you were supposed to". Now it's almost the opposite: a win over an SEC team having a terrible off year, lose and you lost to them having a terrible off year.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 10:43am

This just seems to a USC "thing." Under Pete Carroll games like that tended to be against teams like Oregon State they were looking past and not against ranked opponents like Stanford, but the storyline was very similar: USC builds a first-half lead but never puts enough distance to be safe, then they shutdown for the rest of the game eventually losing late.

by Kal :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 7:47pm

In 2005 the script was exactly the opposite; they would start somewhat slow and they pour on ridiculous points/yards later. But yes, they don't have that 'finish' kind of mentality that you see on teams like Alabama, though even Alabama slacks from time to time.