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October 7, 2007

Defense runs out of superiority

For nearly seven quarters, USC had played 11-on-11. The Trojans' offense, 11 players at a time, had climbed onto the defense's back and prayed for a safe landing.

When the fourth quarter of the USC's 24-23 loss to Stanford began, the Trojans had allowed a combined 31 points in two weeks, reaching back to the previous Saturday at Washington. Three of those points could be blamed on the defense.

Yet, 2:54 earlier, Stanford had taken over at its own 25-yard line. To score a touchdown from there would require the Cardinal to gain more yards in one drive than it had in the game's first 42 minutes.

But, Stanford's previously-inept backup quarterback, Tavita Pritchard - who played in place of T.C. Ostrander, after the starter suffered a seizure six days before - completed his final two passes of the third quarter to Mark Bradford, for a combined 52 yards.

"It really took some of that first half to get on the same page with those receivers," Pritchard said. "You saw me miss a couple of guys in the first half. I think we really started to get it those last couple of drives (of the game)."

As soon as the fourth quarter began, Stanford running back Anthony Kimble scored from one yard out, narrowing the margin to 16-14. USC answered with a touchdown of its own, before the Cardinal reeled off a 61-yard drive that resulted in a field goal. Later, Pritchard led Stanford on the game-winning 55-yard drive, which included completions on fourth and 20, as well as fourth and goal from the USC 10-yard line.

In a game where John David Booty threw four interceptions - one for a touchdown - and Fred Davis lost a fumble, the defense needed to do more.

"Our job is to give our offense the ball as many times as they need it," said defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who had three of the Trojans' four sacks. "Tonight, we didn't give them the ball as many times as they needed it. So we didn't do our job either."

USC entered the night ranked ninth in the Pac-10 with a minus-three turnover margin. That number has dropped to minus-seven, as Taylor Mays' third-quarter interception provided the Trojans' only takeaway.

Asked if the defense has felt pressure to carry the team, with the offense in a funk, Mays paused, then said, "Yeah, but we always feel that pressure. We always feel like we're the ones that initiate the vibe for the team, and we get everybody to feed off of us.

"It's hard because our offense has been struggling, but our defense struggles at times too. So we've got to pick each other up at times when we both struggle."

When the defense finally slipped, there was no offense to pick it up. On the game's final drive, Booty took a seven-yard sack on first down and had to spike the ball on second. Third down came, and Patrick Turner dropped yet another pass - about 30 yards downfield, in David Buehler's field-goal range. Bo McNally picked off USC's final try, when Booty had to force a ball to Vidal Hazelton in triple coverage.

"As a defense, if they score a point, that's our fault," senior defensive end Lawrence Jackson said. "We could have won this game as a defense. But there's no finger pointing.

"As a team, we just didn't get it done."


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