The end of Saturday’s game at Stanford brought a familiar feeling to the USC locker room — one the Trojans do not like.
“It feels sick. It feels sick to lose,” sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley said. “I think we all hate this feeling. It’s very disappointing.”
For the second week in a row, USC (4-2, 1-2) lost on a last-second field goal and watched the opposing team dance around the field. This weekend, Stanford (5-1, 2-1) was the antagonist.
Stanford kicker Nate Whitaker kicked the 30-yard game-winning field goal to give the Cardinal a 37-35 victory and send the Trojans home with back-to-back losses for the first time since 2001.
“This was the second week in a row we had a chance to finish someone off, a very good team, and we didn’t do it,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “If you have an opportunity to close it out, you gotta close it out.”
Just one minute before Whitaker’s kick, it looked as if USC had the win in its pocket.
After redshirt freshman cornerback Torin Harris recovered a fumble forced by redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo on the 50-yard line with 4:17 left, Barkley took over.
He converted a fourth down en route to driving the team down for a three-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Allen Bradford with 1:08 remaining to put USC up 35-34, after Whitaker missed the extra point on Stanford’s previous touchdown.
The Cardinal was able to march down the field almost at will, however — five plays in a row went for a first down — before kicking the game-winning field goal. In a game where it seemed like the team that had the ball last would win, that’s how it played out.
“For us and our team, it’s the highest of high we’ve been all year and then it shoots down to the lowest of lows,” Barkley said.
The Cardinal was helped by a late hit penalty on Galippo on the second play of the series.
“There was no whistle,” Galippo said. “All I was trying to do was get him to the ground. I saw that Shane wrapped him up, and I saw that he was still standing, and I knew the game was on the line, and that every yard counted, so I just tried to drive him back like anyone else would.”
That play marred a solid performance by Galippo, the starter-turned-backup, who saw the most playing time of his season relieving sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard. The best performance of the day, however, went to freshman receiver Robert Woods.
Woods caught 12 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns — all of which are career highs. The freshman tied the game at 14, 21 and 28, as the Trojans kept coming from behind to match the Stanford offense.
“He was doing really well,” Barkley said. “He was getting open, making guys miss. I can only do so much when I give him a five-yard pass, he takes it 40 yards or whatever, so he played really well. I said this all along: I’m really proud of him and how he’s going.”
Those yards after the catch helped Barkley, who went 28-for-45 with 390 yards and three touchdowns — all to Woods. Barkley kept the Trojans in the game with his arm — and his feet — when USC couldn’t establish a running attack. Barkley was the team’s leading rusher with 39 yards on five carries.
That reminded Kiffin of a certain player that beat the Trojans one week ago.
“I thought Matt really played like [Washington quarterback] Jake [Locker] did last week,” Kiffin said. “He made so many big critical plays and threw a lot of really, really good balls. That’s good for a true sophomore to be where he’s at.”
Unfortunately for the Trojans, they have left too much time on the clock late in the last two games. Their defense — which did improve this week, forcing three fumbles — couldn’t come up with a stop when it needed it most.
“We’re giving them big chunks of plays and you can’t do that,” linebackers coach Joe Barry said. “Whether it be the penalty, through the air, missing a tackle or giving up a big run. The same thing happened last week, on [fourth-and-11]. If you want to win consistently, in two-minute defense you have to make teams earn every blade of grass, and right now we’re not doing that.”