What’s up, Trojan Fans! Welcome to the first ever TrojanWire Running Game Diary. The 901 Bar and Grill was gracious enough to let me watch the game here, since the VS channel isn’t available with the university housing cable package ($50,000 a year and I can’t even watch all the away games???).
The Trojans are one of many teams playing today that are looking to avenge a big upset loss from last season, and so far all of them have been successful. Hopefully a good omen for the Men of Troy.
While I’m waiting for the game to start, I’ll blab a bit about my first impressions from the 23-point win in the USC men’s basketball opener against UC Irvine. For the few students who opted to stay for the opener instead of making the trip to San Fran for the weekender, they saw solid performances by Taj Gibson, Dwight Lewis, Daniel Hackett and freshman phenom Demar Derozan. I guess that’s pretty much what everyone was expecting, though. And hey, even Percy Miller (a.k.a. Lil Romeo) saw some time in the waning minutes of the blowout! Who could have asked for anything better??
Back to the main event – if you’re unfamiliar with what a running game diary is, be sure to check out Bill Simmons’ page on ESPN.com. As far as I know, he conceived the idea, and I’m just stealing it from him. Basically I’ll be writing at various intervals during the game, commenting on the plays, the announcers, and anything else I feel is pertinent. So, without further ado, lets get this thing started!
4:01pm – The 9-0 switches over to VS and we’re ready to rock in Palo Alto. Before cutting to a commercial, VS shows a short montage of the upset 24-23 loss last season at the Coliseum. It’s gotta suck to be one of the fans who will be forever enshrined in Trojan history for looking horrified, shocked, or crying during that game. They certainly got their 15 minutes from the media’s pre-game coverage montages.
4:07 – USC wins the toss and defers. Surprise, surprise, David Beuhler boots another beauty and it’s downed for a touchback. A screen play on second and 8 picks up 27 to Delano Howell the 49 yard line. Adam Rose, the USC blogger for the L.A. times observed last week that the Trojans haven’t allowed a Touchdown on a drive longer than 70 yards.
4:11 – On a third and 11, Stanford’s QB, Alex Loukas, is about to be sacked, but wiggles out of the pressure and runs all the way inside the 15 yard line. Two plays later, the Toby Gerhart waltzes in untouched for six. Can somebody explain all the empty seats behind the goal post as the Cardinal extra point is knocked through? Can somebody explain that last drive? So much for no 70-plus yard TD drives allowed.
4:16 – C.J. Gable returns the kickoff from the four all the way to the Stanford 22! And the Trojan offense is in business! The Trojans haven’t trailed in a game since…since…week four against the Ducks?? The offense can only muster a short 2-yard screen to RoJo and two incompletions bring in Beuhler for a 37 yarder, but not before they have to call a timeout with the play clock winding down. Something tells me the team is little out of sync.
4:20 – More highlights from last year’s heartbreaker. Is VS trying to imply something? After the break, Beuhler converts to cut the lead to 7-3.
4:22 – VS internviews the Stanford receiver who made the game winning catch against the Trojans last year. Seriously. Stop. We get it. Move on.
4:27 – The Stanford drive dies at the 40 and they punt it away. Unfortunately, SC gives it right back, going three and out again. Stanford is one of those teams that puts stickers on its helmets, which reminds me a lot of what a pop warner team would do. Kinda tacky. It also basically says “our helmet isn’t cool enough, unless we adorn it with a lot of the same tiny image.”
4:33 – Toby Gerhart, meet Rey Maualuga. With the help of Taylor Mays, Rey lays a nasty hit on the RB. Too bad it wasn’t before he barely reached a first down. Another Stanford run is bounced to the outside, and they pick up a first down. Stanford’s almost tripled the number of rushing yards that the Trojans allowed last week, having gained more than 100 in the first quarter alone. I’m going to try to avoid references to the game-that-shall-not-be-named earlier this year, but the Cardinal’s running success has seemed eerily familiar.
4:38 – Finally a third down stop, and Stanford converts on a 38-yard field goal. The Trojans’ offense has looked stagnant thus far. A nice drive here would relax the crowd at the 9-0 a bit. Before I get too far ahead of myself, lets start with a first down. Baby steps. Gable is cut down before the 20 on the kickoff and the Trojans have a lot of field in front of them. A Sanchez pass bounces off Rhett Ellison’s chest and is nearly picked off. A collective heart attack among the crowd is narrowly avoided.
4:42 – The first quarter ends with Mark Sanchez getting sacked on a third and two. The Trojans have really struggled on third-and-shorts this year. Get well soon, Allen Bradford!
4:45 – Shot of the commentator’s booth. Someone tell Ron Thulin that his headset is falling off. Unless he just likes wearing it that way. A Brian Cushing sack on third down forces a punt. C’mon boys, lets make this look like the revenge game the media hyped it up to be!
4:51 – and with just over 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter, Gable runs for the first Trojans first down of the game! Pete Carroll has talked a lot about giving the ball to the hot hand. With Gable’s nice return earlier, it might be his time to shine. After a Sanchez rollout and 15-yard completion to Damian Williams, the Trojan offense seems to be hitting its stride. They’re marching the ball down the field and are down to the Stanford 30.
4:55 – Can someone explain to me how Mark Sanchez can throw so accurately without really getting his feet set? Not to mention, he gets plenty of zip on it.
4:57 – And on a straight dropback from the 5, Sanchez throws a perfect pass to Damian Williams on a short post route for a Touchdown and we’re tied at 10!! Sanchez is fired up as he greets his teammates on the sideline with shouts of “Let’s go!” Not only is Sanchez an NFL-type talent, but scouts gotta love this guy’s attitude.
5:04 – A huge run by the white Jaquizz Rodgers (Gerhart) sets up a first and goal from the 1, and the Cardinal punch it in on the next play. And the Stanford crowd could not be more… subdued. The camera cuts to a shot of four Stanford girls dancing like they’re more worried about a test they have to take Monday morning.
5:09 – The Stanford lead is no more! It’s that man again – CJ Gable returns the kickoff 95 yards to the house! Gable had some nice blocking and made some nice moves to get into open space. By the time he reached the 50-yard line, there was nothing but green grass in front of him. Except for the white Stanford letters painted on the end zone. Lets see if the D can capitalize on the momentum.
5:15 – So far, all signs point to no, as Stanford has converted a couple first downs. Stanford’s 17 points this half is the most allowed by the USC defense since the game-which-shall-not-be-named. I know, I know, these things really shouldn’t be pointed out. Then again, SC has scored 17 more points in the first half of this game than they did in that other game.
5:20 – SC gets the ball back with 44 seconds on their own 11. It looks like they’ll just run the clock out on a couple handoffs, since the they’re getting the ball to start the second half.
5:25 – At halftime, the Cardinal have racked up 157 yards on the ground. There’s a chance Pete Carroll will address that statistic in the locker room. A halftime “Just For Men” commercial shows two young daughters presenting their grey-haired father with a Just For Men box with a plea for him to “pleeeeease” use it. Wow. Please tell me Sarah Palin wrote the script for this. That’s just wrong. The VS halftime crew makes about 250 references to the-game-that-shall-not-be-named, noting that USC’s defense has been uncharacteristically less-than-stout in both games, especially against the run. Thanks, guys.
5:36 – For all the female readers out there –is that Brett Favre “Wranglers” commercial the equivalent for guys watching Heidi Klum dance around in her skivvies a la Tom Cruise in “Risky Business” in the latest Guitar Hero commercial? I mean, it’s lots of guys playing muddy football with a few butt-shots thrown in. You think that’s hot right? So why are they selling the jeans to MEN? Something tells me they’re not reaching their main demographic. Are there too many pop culture references in that last question?
5:42 – Mmmmm. Hot wings at halftime (So what if it’s a blatant PR push for the 9-0. Everyone already knows this place kicks ass anyway).
5:44 – The second half begins a lot like the first half for the Trojans, as Ronald Johnson returns the kickoff to the Stanford 46, barely stepping out of bounds as he tiptoed the sideline. T-Mac (a.k.a. Todd McNair), SC’s special teams coach, has to be proud of his squad so far. They’ve really kept the Trojans in the game. Seriously. The Trojans have twice as many return yards, 181, as they do offensive yards, 90 at the start of the half.
5:48 – Again, like the first half, the offense stalls and is forced to punt. A nice run by Joe McKnight is brought back on a holding penalty and Sanchez is sacked on third down after he can’t find anyone down field. Unless the defense can prove that they can tighten up, this start doesn’t bode well for the Trojans.
5:54 – The Stanford QB misses an open receiver downfield on third and 14. Trojans ball, and on a third and two Stafon Johnson busts through for a six-yard gain. On a reverse to Damian Williams, a Stanford cornerback doesn’t realize that Williams has the ball until he’s standing right next to him. Too late. Williams picks up 14 and a first down.
6:01 – On a pass to Stanley Havili inside the 20, Havili fumbles and absolutely kills the drive and SC’s offensive groove. Very uncharacteristic of Havili, who’s one of the most reliable players on the team for receiving and blocking.
6:04 – The D forces a three and out and the Stanford punt bounces at the SC 40, ricochets back towards the punting team and is downed at the 49 – a nice break for the Trojans.
6:10 – Ronald Johnson almost makes a spectacular catch, coming back to a short throw on a go-route on third down. The Trojans are punting again. If SC loses this game, its offense will have a lot of fingers pointing their way. The D has noticeably tightened up in the second half, but the offense still can’t find its rhythm. Rey Maualuga makes the stop on a third and long QB draw (wait, what??) giving SC the ball back, again near midfield.
6:12 – Quick tangent – for all you gamers out there who picked up a copy of Gears of War 2, am I the only one who sees a resemblance between Rey Maualuga and Tai? No doubt if Rey had to save the world from an alien invasion, he could do it blindfolded and with one arm tied behind his back.
6:14 – A shoestring tackle on Joe McKnight saves a Touchdown for the Cardinal. Two plays later Stafon Johnson fights for a first down to the 15, getting it on a strong second effort after initial contact. For an encore, two plays later, Johnson runs it in for a score and the first Trojan lead of the night!! Patrick Turner, the freakishly beefy wide receiver, makes a key block allowing Johnson to walk in untouched. On a not-so-good note, Joe McKnight is walking on the sideline with a couple of the team’s trainers. It looks like his turf toe might be acting up.
6:21 – Watching these away games, it’s easy to see why SC’s marching band is the best in the nation. I haven’t heard a single Stanford tune all night – it’s been nothing but “Conquest” blaring in the stands.
6:23 – On second and 16, Loukas runs for a first down. Unbelievable. To add insult to injury, the running back who he faked the handoff to, also had a giant hole to run through, had he actually been given the ball. But the quarter ends on a positive note with a sack by Maualuga, giving the Cardinal a third and 18. He follows it up by leveling Gerhart on a short pass, coming up way short of a first down.
6:31 – CJ Gable busts out a big run down to the 23 and follows it up with another big one, as he hurdles a defender and is down to the 4. Two plays later, Number Two is at it again! Gable goes untouched into the end zone, opening up a 14-point lead with just over 11 minutes left. Give credit to the offensive line this game – There has been plenty of running room for the Trojan horses, and with the kind of talent SC has in the backfield, it’s been nothing but trouble for the Cardinal D in the second half.
6:36 – Wait, wait, wait. The Stanford drum major is dressed as Wolverine from the X-Men? I understand that the tree is a totally random mascot, and its randomness makes it seem cool, but this makes no sense at all. Halloween was two weeks ago. Aren’t these kids supposed to be, you know, smart?
6:40 – The SC defense tightens up right around midfield and forces another Stanford punt. You gotta hand it to the defense, they’re lights out when it counts. Too bad the first half of the-game-that-shall-not-be-named counts.
6:45 – The clock is working against the Cardinal now, and so is SC’s running attack. Stafon Johnson busts a huge 40-yard run to midfield on third and long. Sanchez catches the Cardinal D off-guard on the very next play with a play-action pass to Havili, who makes one tackler miss and practically waltzes in to the end zone. Havili reminds me a lot like Dallas Clark in his pass-catching and run-after-the-catch abilities. When he’s in the game, defenses really have to pay attention to him as a receiving threat.
6:51 – I know I’m not the first to make this observation, but I think once Mark Sanchez makes a name for himself in the NFL, he should make an appearance on Entourage with Adrian Grenier. Maybe they could write him in full time as the third Chase brother.
6:53 – Brian Cushing picks off a Stanford pass on a tipped ball and the game is all but over. With only five and a half minutes left, the Trojans just need to run out the clock. Joe McKnight returns, only to take two handoffs and limp off the field again, this time with the help of the trainers. Luckily, as the VS sideline reporter coincidentally points out, the Trojans have more than a few backs who know a thing or two about running the ball well.
6:57 – The offense is knocking on the door again, and Sanchez hasn’t thrown the ball since his Touchdown pass to Havili. It kind of makes you wonder why the running game wasn’t used as heavily in the first half. To just about nobody’s surprise, the drive is capped off by a four yard run by Stafon Johnson.
7:01 – Wolverine is clawing his eyes out. C’mon, did you really think it was gonna happen two years in a row?
7:04 – For whatever reason, Stanford is running the ball and then calling timeouts, as if they can’t decide whether they want to end their misery, or actually try and score again. Once again, aren’t these guys supposed to be the nation’s best and brightest? Then again, Jim Harbaugh isn’t an alum.
7:07 – The game ends with Stanford throwing a completely meaningless Touchdown and the camera cuts to a Cardinal fan dancing in the stands as though he was at last year’s Stanford-USC game. There’s gotta be something in that Palo Alto water.
7:08 – Well folks, that’s all and that’s it. SC emerges victorious, with the final score of 45-23. I’ll be back next week to do a running diary for the mens basketball game against Seton Hall in the Puerto Rico tournament. I’d like to say thanks again to the 901 for accommodating me. Until next time, Fight On!