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USC done in by bad defense in last-second disaster

BILL PLASCHKE

For the second week in a row, the Trojans can't cling to victory, this time losing to Stanford, 37-35, as time expires on a 30-yard field goal.

October 09, 2010|Bill Plaschke
  • James Boyd reacts as Stanford's game-winning field goal splits the uprights to give the Cardinal a 37-35 victory as time expires on Saturday.
James Boyd reacts as Stanford's game-winning field goal splits the… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

It didn't happen again. It wouldn't happen again. How in the name of all that is Kiffin could it happen again?

Didn't the USC defensive players spend the week, like, tackling? Didn't they practice, you know, covering? Forget about having no clue, do they also have no memory?

Apparently not. And now another last-minute nightmare has threatened to make this 2010 season horribly unforgettable.

For a second consecutive week Saturday, the Trojans defense responded to an opponent's final gasp by performing awkward and unnecessary CPR, breathing new life into a team that swiftly took theirs.

For a second consecutive week, a Trojans victory ended in despair, disillusionment and a last-second field goal, this time a 30-yard kick by Nate Whitaker to give Stanford a 37-35 victory.

"The second week in a row," lamented Coach Lane Kiffin.

The second reek in a row.

Last week, the Washington Huskies beat the Trojans on 10-play, 61-yard drive that ended in a 32-yard field goal at the clock's final blink.

This week, it was a seven-play, 62-yard drive that ended in thousands of dancing, cheering, redshirted kids filling up Stanford Stadium with smirks and struts.

Yeah, that Stanford. Why did it have to be Stanford? Why did it have to be Jim Harbaugh's team? Again?

This was the third time in four years that the Annoying One has led Stanford over USC. Last year, he poured it on with a two-point conversion late in a 55-21 victory. Three years ago, his team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history with a 24-23 win over the second-ranked Trojans.

This time, even though the Cardinal was a 10-point favorite, the defeat held its own special pain.

"We are at the lowest of lows," quarterback Matt Barkley said.

Moments before Stanford's winning push, the Trojans had taken the lead with a gritty 51-play drive that included a fourth-down conversion and Allen Bradford's three-yard touchdown run.

The Trojans defense had set up that drive, believe it or not, when Chris Galippo forced a Stanford fumble.

All was good. The Cardinal began its final drive on its 26-yard line, and the first play was a simple four-yard pass. But then Galippo had another big hit, only this one flattened the Trojans, as he delivered a late blow on receiver Doug Baldwin after the play.

Baldwin had been wrapped up by Shane Horton at the time. His progress was clearly stopped. Galippo was clearly reckless. Kiffin's team continues to play with a lack of discipline in big situations that turn them into devastating situations.

"This was a tough one to swallow," Galippo said.

Give the kid credit for facing the criticism. But even after only six games, it's hard to imagine a more damaging penalty this season, as his teammates heard the news and wilted.

The Cardinal suddenly had the ball on the 45-yard line, at which point quarterback Andrew Luck shrugged and found a wide-open Coby Fleener for 11 yards, then wide-open Baldwin for 13 yards.

Then Stepfan Taylor shrugged and ran right, over seemingly miles of green, for a 15-yard gain that helped set up the winning field goal.

Whitaker had not missed this season in nine attempts. And even though he had missed an extra-point try, he did not miss this, nailing the kick and once again sending the Trojans to their knees.

At least this time, afterward, Harbaugh didn't need to ask, "What's your deal?"

A year after Harbaugh had an infamously testy midfield exchange with then-USC coach Pete Carroll, no such questions were necessary.

This time, everybody knows USC's football deal.

They can't wrap anyone up, as they gave up 498 yards, meaning they have averaged 517 yards given up the last two weeks. They can't stay with any receiver downfield. The only thing they can stop is their own momentum. The only thing they are sacking is this season.

They need to tank the new Tampa 2 scheme. They need to discipline the kids who can't keep their penalties to themselves. A week after they discussed tweaking the approach, Lane Kiffin and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin need to have an even longer father-son chat.

"I'm trying to focus on the positive," Lane said. "We could have had another game like last year. … I'd rather have it this way."

Really?

This time, the Trojans defense was not only embarrassing, but it was obscuring, the ineptness overshadowing some offensive greatness.

You should be reading headlines today about Robert Woods' emergence as the newest Trojans blur, with a dozen catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. You should be reading about Barkley's increased toughness, 390 yards worth of passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions and the leading of what was apparently a game-winning drive.

Apparently not. Again.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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