September 15, 2012; Stanford, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin walks off the field as Stanford Cardinal fans rush the field after the game at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal defeated the Trojans 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
No. 2 USC fell to No. 21 Stanford 21-14 on Saturday afternoon In Palo Alto. It was the Cardinal's fourth straight win over the Trojans.
Of interesting note, it was also the Trojans' fourth loss to open conference play in the last five years on the road.
Here are some key takeaways from USC's first loss of the season.
1. Khaled Holmes is more important to this offense than people give credit.
Holmes and Matt Barkley have played together since high school, dating back to their Mater Dei High days. You don't think the senior signal caller missed that familiar face in the lineup? Cyrus Hobbi looked uncomfortable all night long and Barkley did, too. It's not easy going on the road against one of --- if not --- the most physical defensive front seven's in the conference. But give credit to Stanford coach David Shaw, who mixed up defensive schemes and blitz packages to fluster USC's young offensive line. Barkley was sacked five times in this game alone. Last year? He was sacked a total of eight times. Not only was Barkley out of sync all game, but the Trojans were pretty much forced to throw the ball on almost every possession. Yes, both of their touchdowns came via the ground, but 26 carries for 28 yards really isn't getting anything done. Combine the lack of a running game and the constant pressure Barkley had to deal with under center and there's a reason the offense just couldn't get into any sort of rhythm. Stanford's physical defensive front was a problem all night long and there really wasn't anything USC could do to combat that.
2. As bad as USC's offense looked, the defense was the lone bright spot.
If you have to pinpoint a positive in this loss, it's the Trojans' defense. If you would have told me USC would be winning a game with just 14 points late in the third quarter, you would think I'm crazy. But the Trojans bottled up Stanford's offense for much of the night (aside from Stepfan Taylor for a couple runs) and intercepted Josh Nunes twice. By the game's end, though, it looked as if they were gassed. As noted before, USC's offense really couldn't sustain any drives (1-of-13 on third-down conversions) and the Trojans' defensive front just wore down by game's end thanks to Taylor. But the defense kept them in the game all night long and gave them a chance to at least send the game into overtime at the end.
3. Contrary to what people think, the season isn't over yet.
Yes, a shot at a national championship berth is in serious jeopardy. But the Trojans still have a date with Oregon at home and considering how the conference is shaping up, USC still has a crack at nationally ranked teams at the moment, including Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame. In the BCS format, it's a lot better to lose early than to lose later in the season. Plus Alabama and LSU will be going at it in conference play and one of them is guaranteed to lose at least once since they have a showdown on November 3). Now the Trojans have a chance to try and make up for this one blunder on their record with nine games left in the regular season, plus the Pac-12 championship game (should they get there).