This was the crown jewel of all the games on the day in my opinion as Stanford won 58-48 in triple overtime to stay undefeated on a day when two top ten teams lost (#5 ranked Clemson and #8 ranked Kansas State), four teams in the top 15 lost (#11 Michigan State and #15 Wisconsin), and six teams in the top 25 overall lost (#16 Texas A&M and #20 Texas Tech). And while that might not seem that significant, consider that seven of the games involving top 25 teams were decided by one score or less. There were a lot of close games, but Stanford managed to hang on for the win. This game was chalk full of NFL Draft prospects and talent, so let’s get to it!
This was a special game because it was a rare opportunity to watch a 7-0 team play a 6-1 squad, but also because of the two quarterbacks that were starting in this game. Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are my top two QB’s in my current quarterback rankings and I haven’t seen nearly enough from the other quarterbacks to make me consider changing the order at the top. Luck was fantastic in this game and even though he made a poor throw that resulted in a pick six (and seemingly gave USC all of the momentum) it is extremely important to note how he responded to that. He completed four of his six passes on the drive for 32 yards and scrambled for an additional 16 on one run. Then Stepfan Taylor punched it in to even the score with 38 seconds left. A lot of quarterbacks would have fallen apart in that situation, but Luck put the interception out of his mind and led Stanford right down the field for the game-tying score.
It is also worthwhile to point out how well Barkley played. His numbers were impressive and I thought overall he placed the ball well in this game, but if Robert Woods had helped him out even a little bit this would have been an entirely different game. Now, I’m very high on Woods and a lot of people will read this and be very surprised since I’ve been talking about how good he is since early in his freshman season. However, he dropped a sure completion that would have had the Trojans inside the ten yard line if he didn’t make it into the end zone in the 1st quarter, and he arguably dropped another touchdown on a 50/50 ball on a fade that he couldn’t come down with (to be fair, he was clearly interfered with and it wasn’t called, but if he wants to be the best then he has to make that catch). Those are two game-changing plays, and I believe he had at least one or two other drops besides those. But that first potential touchdown drop eventually led that drive to stall when it could have tied the game early at 7 all. And before that Barkley was throwing strikes, but after it he seemed to have a little less confidence in his receivers and wasn’t as accurate the rest of the drive. He rebounded, but it’s clear that Woods’ is his favorite target and it definitely threw Barkley off a bit not being able to rely on him like usual. I was personally shocked to see Woods drop multiple passes like that because his hands are usually as reliable as they come. But as the game progressed he was body catching and didn’t seem to have the confidence in his hands that he usually does. It was one of the more surprising things about this game in my opinion.
Barkley was still effective even despite that completing 28 of his 45 passes for 284 yards, a completion percentage of 62.2 and three touchdowns with only one interception. Had Woods not dropped a couple of those passes it is fair to assume he would have had a completion percentage of 66, 300+ yards and at least four touchdowns. That’s a pretty significant impact.
And even though I have spoken highly of him before on my Twitter I don’t think I have ever formally thrown my support behind USC running back Curtis McNeal on this blog. I have been very impressed with him every time USC gives him carries, and he seems to have some potential as a receiver out of the backfield. In the first four games of the season he had a combined 17 carries for 129 yards (good for a 7.59 ypc average) and no TD’s. 79 of those yards came against Syracuse, but still he didn’t get consistent touches the next week. However, in the last four games when he has been getting some consistent touches he has 68 carries, 424 yards (6.24 ypc average), and 4 touchdowns. That’s quite the bump in production isn’t it? He had the best game of his entire career against Stanford, but unfortunately it will likely be overshadowed by his fumble in the third overtime that Stanford recovered to seal the victory. He had 146 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 carries in this game, a great game for any running back, and yet one unfortunate play will likely define it for him.
Regardless of how that game ended for McNeal, it’s clear he is very talented. If I’m not mistaken he was a five star recruit coming out of high school and due to USC’s insanely talented backfield this is the first time he’s gotten significant playing time. He isn’t a very big guy at only 5’7″, 180 pounds but he is fast, has great burst and has made the most of the opportunities he has been given so far this season as he has amassed 552 rushing yards and 4 TD’s so far despite only carrying the ball 17 times in the first four games. He’s definitely a player to keep an eye on, and if I was USC I would start him the rest of the season and move on from Marc Tyler. McNeal clearly has much more upside.
Another player on USC’s offense that I have become quite taken with is Marqise Lee. He’s only a freshman but he has really stepped up opposite Robert Woods and has made opposing defenses pay for leaving him one on one with a corner while doubling Robert Woods. Lee has had a very impressive start to his USC career with 34 catches, 534 yards and 5 TD’s so far this season. He isn’t as tall as he looks on TV as he stands at 6’0″ and only weighs 190 pounds, but he has the frame to get over 200 pounds easily once he becomes acclimated to USC’s vaunted workout program. But what Lee does have is vertical speed, impressive burst, very reliable hands and plenty of upside. Woods is one of the best receivers in the country right now, but Lee is quietly having a very impressive freshman season of his own.
An underrated performer who I think has a lot of potential for USC is their freshman TE Randall Telfer. He had five catches last night (the most of his career thus far) and on the season has 15 receptions, 172 yards and 3 TD’s. He has great size for such a young TE at 6’4″, 230 pounds and has plenty of room on his frame to add additional weight over the rest of his career as a Trojan. Additionally, he has already become something of a red-zone target due to his size, and he showed reliable hands last night in a huge game against Stanford. He may not be the starter and his stat sheet isn’t glowing, but Telfer has plenty of upside and I’m excited to watch him develop.
As is to be expected, USC has plenty of talent along their offensive and defensive lines too. The two players that everyone was watching yesterday were Matt Kalil and Nick Perry. Kalil is the consensus #1 draft-eligible offensive tackle in the country right now, and while plenty of fans want their bottom dwelling team to “Suck for Luck” I think there are a number of teams that could really stand to “Kneel for Kalil.” The Vikings definitely come to mind when thinking about teams that have awful records but won’t necessarily be looking for a quarterback early in the draft. I don’t think the Vikings will end up with the #1 overall pick, so Luck is likely out of the question (especially if Ponder finds a way to win a couple of games as a starter). I don’t see Barkley as a huge upgrade over Ponder, so while he might make sense I think the Vikings would be wise to surround Ponder with some talent. Left tackle is a serious issue for them, and Kalil is the best one available. Seems like a match made in heaven to me. Kalil isn’t a perfect tackle, but he is about as polished as any offensive tackle prospect I have seen in recent years and has tons of starting experience. Keep in mind it was Kalil’s ability as a left tackle that kept Tyron Smith, an absolute freakish athlete for an offensive lineman, at right tackle while he was at USC. He later went #9 overall to the Dallas Cowboys and seems to be their future at left tackle.
Nick Perry, on the other hand, isn’t impressing me nearly as much as Kalil. Perry is very athletic and has plenty of upside due to his size (6’3″, 250 pounds) but he just hasn’t put it all together yet. He can speed rush and bull rush, but he has struggled to disengage once he is blocked as a pass rusher and doesn’t seem to have very good hand usage or pass rush moves. This limits him significantly as a pass rusher as he either has to beat his man around the edge or he likely isn’t getting to the QB unless he is left unblocked. He can get off blocks, but usually it is more because of effort than actual technique. This means he is getting to the quarterback later than he could be, and means he is applying less pressure than he is potentially capable of. I think he has upside if he is drafted to a team that has a quality defensive line coach, but USC produces plenty of talented defensive linemen than use their hands better than Perry does, so it makes me wonder exactly why he hasn’t lived up to the hype yet. I thought he was ready to break out this year, and to a certain extent he has. He has 39 total tackles (21 solo), 6.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 pass deflections. However, he hasn’t been anything close to dominant and if he came out this season I would project him in the 3rd round as a player with plenty of upside but limited production. He’s worth the risk in that area of the draft, but he just hasn’t shown me enough to consider him as early as the 2nd round, much less the 1st round.
I know it may seem like I am obsessed with USC, but everyone knows they are always loaded with talent so it takes a while to get through their roster when I break their games down in this format. Three players that I really like on USC’s defense are DaJohn Harris, Dion Bailey and Nickell Robey. Harris is a 6’4″, 310 pound senior defensive tackle who has consistently impressed me when I have watched him. As will often happen with interior defensive linemen, their true impact can’t be gleaned from a stat sheet. Harris only has 17 total tackles (9 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks and an impressive 5 pass break-ups on the season, but he has consistently penetrated into the backfield (as evidenced by his 6 tackles for loss) and helped free up his linebackers to make plays. He absolutely has NFL size and ability, and he has definitely been helping his stock this season. I am very much looking forward to seeing him at a post-season all-star game this year, my guess would be the Senior Bowl.
Now, Dion Bailey may only be a freshman but he is a very impressive player. He was initially a safety, but USC moved him into the box as a linebacker and he has taken off ever since. He has been incredibly productive for a freshman still adjusting to a new position as he has 67 total tackles (39 solo), 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 pass break-ups and 1 forced fumble. That would be a fantastic stat line for any freshman linebacker after an entire season, but that is what Bailey has managed in only 8 games! He may not be a huge player at only 6’0″, 200 pounds, but he has room to add weight to his frame and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him playing at around 220 pounds at the start of his sophomore season next year. Bailey has incredible potential because of his combination of reliable tackling, his pop as a hitter, his instincts and ability in coverage as well as his ball skills because of his experience as a safety. He’s an exciting player, and I can’t wait to see him develop into the top talent I expect him to be.
And finally, we have Nickell Robey. Most of you will recognize him as the corner who drove on the throw by Andrew Luck, picked it off and returned it for a touchdown last night. And even though I have never talked about him on my blog, he has been making plays all season long. Robey is only a 5’8, 165 pound sophomore but he has plenty of ability as evidenced not only by his pick-six on Andrew Luck, but by his stat line. He has produced 41 total tackles (23 solo), 0.5 TFL, 2 INT’s (including 1 TD) as well as a very impressive 6 pass break-ups. He may only be a sophomore and he doesn’t have impressive size by any means, but he has plenty of speed, burst and ball skills to be an impact corner for USC. Their defense is slowly becoming more and more talented, and Robey may be one of their key players next year as they look to take the next step as a defense.
Now, while I have talked about plenty of USC players already I feel it is necessary to discuss T.J. McDonald briefly. McDonald has tons of upside due to his fantastic combination of size and athletic ability and he has been productive this season. At 6’3″, 205 pounds he has produced 41 total tackles (24 solo), 1.5 TFL, 2 INT’s and one pass break-up. McDonald is solid in coverage, but he also loves to deliver the big hit. Unfortunately, even though he is a good tackler and has plenty of pop as a hitter, he has a tendency to draw personal foul penalties for his bone-crushing hits. They aren’t always good calls (such as the terrible personal foul call he drew for lighting up Chris Owusu of Stanford last night) but referees are looking for hits anywhere near the head and they are practically willing to call a wideout with the ball in his hands a defenseless receiver these days. He has to know that and make sure he doesn’t give the refs any reason to call a penalty on him, but game after game he draws these flags. He has plenty of upside, but his inconsistency is an issue for me. I’m not sold on his instincts and his ability in coverage either. So while he might look like a first round pick lining up for USC, I am not so sure.
Finally, I’m done with USC! Now on to Stanford, a very talented team in their own right. I think the most notable part of Stanford outside of their fantastic quarterback is their absurd amount of talent at tight end. I believe they have at least three NFL caliber tight ends on their rosters (all draft eligible actually, though I wouldn’t expect all three to leave) and I think they are hiding one or two more listing them as fullbacks! The best of the bunch is arguably Coby Fleener, a 6’6″, 244 pound TE who has great hands and is a very willing blocker. You practically have to be to get playing time in Stanford’s physical pro-style offense, and while I haven’t scouted Fleener specifically I have been impressed with him when I have seen him play. Their second TE is Zach Ertz, who actually has five more receptions than Fleener does on the season (though Fleener has 7 TD’s to Ertz’s 3). Ertz, a junior, stands at 6’6″, 249 pounds and gives Stanford almost an additional two offensive linemen when he and Fleener line up on the field at the same time. Their third TE is Levine Toilolo who is an absolutely massive 6’8″, 263 pound junior. Even as the #3 TE option he has 12 receptions, 210 yards and 4 TD’s on the year. When he was split out against a defensive back I just knew Andrew Luck was going to throw a fade to him and lo-and-behold that was the play-call, and Toilolo didn’t disappoint even though the ball was thrown slightly behind him and didn’t allow him to go up and high point it in the air. One of the guys Stanford is hiding as a fullback is a guy I think will stick at TE in the NFL. Ryan Hewitt, a 6’4″, 238 pound “fullback” is a quality pass catcher who has 19 receptions, 171 yards and 4 TD’s on the season. I see him as more of an H-Back in the NFL, though he does have 7 carries for 21 yards on the year. He would be awfully tall for a fullback, but I definitely think he has a future in the NFl as well.
Needless to say, Stanford is absolutely stacked at the TE position and I can’t wait to scout all of them in the future. They all have bright futures in the NFL in my opinion.
Before continuing on to other Stanford prospects, Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro need to be discussed. Martin is one of the top OT’s available in the 2012 NFL Draft and DeCastro may be the top offensive guard in the country right now. I am not 100% sold on Martin being a NFL left tackle, but he has the potential to stick at that position and if he doesn’t I would be surprised if he didn’t end up being a starter at right tackle in the NFL. He struggled at times with Nick Perry’s athleticism and speed rush, but overall I thought he had a good game before his injury. I haven’t scouted Martin or DeCastro specifically, but they are without a doubt the anchors of that offensive line and the big guys up front set the tone for this entire Stanford team with their physicality and their willingness to do the dirty work so Luck and the other position players get all the glory. Keep an eye on these two offensive linemen, they are both very good.
It’s hard to argue that anyone has benefited more from Andrew Luck’s presence than Stepfan Taylor, Stanford’s starting running back. Playing in such a physical offense, it’s only natural that you would want to stack the box against Stanford’s rushing attack. However, with Luck at QB it is nearly impossible to take away their running game because if you don’t respect Luck as a passer he will absolutely shred you (and sometimes he does this even when you are trying to take him away as a passer). This has helped the 5’11”, 208 pound junior tailback produce 796 yards on only 134 carries (a 5.94 ypc average) as well as 8 touchdowns. He has also shown soft hands out of the backfield, catching 16 passes for 106 yards and another score. It is unclear whether or not Taylor plans to come back for his senior season or not, but after Luck leaves he won’t have much to prove after potentially having consecutive 1,000+ yard rushing seasons as well as 10+ touchdowns (he had 1,137 yards and 15 TD’s as a sophomore). Plus, teams will be much more willing to stack the box, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Taylor left. I haven’t scouted him as much as I might like, but while he doesn’t have burning speed he does have the potential to be a feature back. I was always impressed with him when he relieved Gerhart as a freshman, and that hasn’t changed.
If Taylor does leave, that would likely leave the workload to current junior running back Tyler Gaffney. Gaffney has impressed me when giving Taylor a breather, but that’s not hard to do with such a great offensive line as well as so many tight ends that block effectively. Gaffney will be a senior next year and I’m sure he is hoping Taylor leaves so that he can get a shot at being the workhorse. Gaffney is bigger than Taylor is, standing at 6’1″, 216 pounds. This year he has 41 carries for 288 yards (a 6.86 ypc average) as well as 5 TD’s. His yardage and touchdown totals have already exceeded his numbers from his sophomore year (255 yards and 4 TD’s in 10 games) and he has done it in only 8 games with 19 fewer carries! Gaffney may not be the workhorse yet, but I hope he gets his chance to be as a senior next year.
And before I wrap this post up, it would be impossible not to talk about Stanford without talking about Chase Thomas, their all-everything outside linebacker. Thomas has quality linebacker size at 6’4″, 239 pounds and has had a fantastic career at Stanford. Since he got significant playing time as a sophomore he has been terrific. His sophomore year he had 36 total tackles (20 solo), 7.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and one blocked kick. Then as a junior he produced 69 total tackles (49 solo), 11.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble and three pass break-ups. He has been even more spectacular this year, notching 34 total tackles (22 solo), 11.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in Stanford’s first 8 games. He has a great chance at notching 60 total tackles (with 40 solos), 15+ TFL, 7.5+ sacks and four or more forced fumbles on the season. That would be an incredible stat line. He didn’t have a sack against Matt Kalil, but he did manage 1.5 TFL’s on the day against USC. I haven’t scouted him specifically yet, so I don’t know exactly what he is capable of, but having seen him play multiple times I do know that he is a very talented player with a great history of production.
So, at long last, I have completed my thoughts on the Stanford-USC game. It was more of a prospect round-up than actual thoughts on the game, but it was such a good game with so much talent that I just had to break down some of the prospects that you all need to keep an eye on. Hopefully you enjoyed it, and I apologize for the length of the post. It took about three hours of constant writing and research to look up stats for this article to complete it, so thanks for reading!