Blank face. Cold emotion. Mouth drops without knowing.
If you experienced these three reactions when USC Trojans running back Curtis McNeal fumbled to end an epic game of football, which the Stanford Cardinal ultimately won in triple overtime by recovering said fumble in the end zone, finishing a 56-48 victory, you’re probably having a bad morning wondering how could USC lose this game when they seemingly had it in the bag at several points.
Back to irrelevancy. Back to sucking. Back to not being considered a top college program. Back to wondering if Pete Carroll will ever come back.
It was a tough loss for the No. 20 USC Trojans last night losing again to No. 4 Stanford, who have defeated the Trojans in four of their last five meetings and winning at the Coliseum in three straight tries.
But for a team that should accept no moral victories, this one should be an exception.
"It's good we held them to the wire," quarterback Matt Barkley said. "Moral victory, you could say, or whatever, but that's not good enough for us. All our guys are disappointed, because we know we had them."
You did have them, Matt, you were about to beat an undefeated Stanford team that prior to this game, was ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense, beat their opponents by an average margin of 32 points per game, and faced an offensive line that have only allowed two sacks to Andrew Luck all year.
But the USC defense exposed Stanford. They only held them to an average rushing attempt of 3.9 yards, which is below Stanford’s average of 5.6 yards per carry. They did the near impossible and intercepted a ball from Andrew Luck and ran it in for a touchdown.
The Trojans picked apart the Cardinal secondary for the most part. USC wide receiver Robert Woods missed on some key drops, one that could have been scored on a touchdown and another that could have been caught in the redzone for a first down, and he ran a bad route in the critical moments of the game. His mistakes were Stanford’s best plays in the secondary, along with some of Barkley’s over thrown balls.
A lot may be made from the referees' inconsistency umpiring late in the game with such questions as:
Should USC had one second on the clock when Woods ran out of bounds?
Why didn’t the referee spot the ball on the 30-yard line, and instead placed the ball on the 22 after Stanford was called for a holding penalty?
Was the TJ McDonald hit on Chris Owusu really targeting?
Fair questions. But bottom line, Stanford outplayed USC. They outplayed a Trojans team that had more freshmen and sophomores regularly rotating in the game than juniors and seniors. That is why Trojans fans should hold their heads up high.
The better play makers, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Dion Bailey, Nickell Robey to name a few, are only scratching the surface as none of them are in their third year in school. Whether Barkley comes back for his senior year or not, the next quarterback heir to don cardinal and gold will be behind an offensive line that will return four starters.
The youth of the Trojans almost broke through a Stanford team littered by junior and senior starters.
Most of the talk when USC was sanctioned was how the Trojans would handle the two seasons going forward without playing in a bowl game. Lane Kiffin’s first year at the helm resulted in a 8-4 record, this season he’s now 6-2, almost going 7-1. His team won an awe-inspiring game last week against Notre Dame in South Bend. With four games left in the season, the Trojans best record they could have is 10-2, with the Oregon Ducks being the most formidable opponent.
As experience grows with this young Trojans team, so will the games. They will know how to prepare in key situations. They’ll know how to line up at a position and read the opposing teams play better. This happens in football. Players start to catch on, and having much playing time in a young career will come a long way entering their junior and senior years.
The best is yet to come for USC, with 2012 being the earliest where the Trojans will "break through". It will be the first year in which the Trojans could participate in a game to be "fighting for".
But in this sanction year, the Trojans have showed that they have been fighting on.