If there was any position group that represented how this game went for the USC Trojans, it was the offensive line. The 21-14 loss to Stanford was a tough one for the team and that unit.
The line was missing its leader in senior center Khaled Holmes, who sat out the game because of an ankle injury. That’s a difficult situation to face, especially when the replacement is a redshirt freshman in Cyrus Hobbi who has only seen token reps in early-season games and the opponent is a physical group that likes to put a man directly over the center.
There was also a left tackle in Aundrey Walker who was facing his first major test of Pac-12 conditions. The inexperience of both players ended up showing in this game, but they weren’t alone as there were issues all up and down the line with the more veteran players as well.
The numbers don’t lie – quarterback Matt Barkley was sacked four times and the Trojans only ran the ball for 26 yards. One of those sacks – early in the second quarter – was a high/low hit on Barkley and it clearly seemed to have an impact. It’s been a while since Barkley was knocked around in a game like that. He was only sacked eight times all of last season, but by the end of the game on Saturday he was just absolutely under siege. As far as the lack of a running game, it didn’t help the Trojans that both tailbacks – Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd – left the game in the first half with injuries, but both later returned.
This loss to Stanford is a reminder of just how important the center and left tackle can be. It remains to be seen when Holmes might return from his injury, so Hobbi could very well be starting for a while.
Longtime USC fans might want to look back on the 1978 season, when the Trojans' only loss came early in the season on the road against Arizona State. Most observers point to the USC struggles at center that day as a key reason for the loss, as the Trojans were down to their fourth-string center and had several ball-control issues. USC overcame that loss, went undefeated the rest of the way and eventually shared the national championship with Alabama.