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Rule of Tree Rewind: Decompressing and Second-Guessing After Stanford-USC


I much prefer the overtime format in college football to the sudden death format used during the NFL's regular season, except perhaps for the prolonged period of stress it can cause. It's a good thing Terrence Stephens popped the ball loose from Curtis McNeal and AJ Tarpley pounced on it in the end zone when they did, because I'm not sure I could've stomached much more.

The most stressful moment of the game for me came after USC scored on its first possession in overtime to make the score 41-40. The Trojans had won the coin flip and, as most teams do, elected to play defense first. That way they knew exactly what they needed to do to either win the game or send it to a second overtime. Jeremy Stewart scored on a 1-yard touchdown run for Stanford and it didn't take long for USC to answer. Matt Barkley threw a 15-yard touchdown to Robert Woods and the Trojans were an extra point away from prolonging an instant classic. They were also a 2-point conversion away from pulling off the upset, dashing Stanford's BCS national championship hopes, and exacting revenge for the improbable events that unfolded on the same field four years earlier.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw USC's placekicker run onto the field to attempt the extra point. It would've been an extremely gutsy -- and some might argue stupid -- call to go for the 2-point conversion in that situation, but if anyone were going to make that call, it would be Lane Kiffin. 

On the one hand, Stanford's goal line defense has been pretty stingy this season and Kiffin would've been skewered if the decision backfired. On the other hand, this was USC's bowl game, but it also wasn't. It was a regular season game and a chance to play spoiler at home. The Trojans'  postseason hopes weren't in jeopardy Saturday because the NCAA had already told them they don't have any postseason hopes. What, really, did Kiffin and the Trojans have to lose by going for two? It's silly to second-guess the decision now, but was putting the ball back in Andrew Luck's hands a better option? The 110 Report wondered the same thing.

I have faith in our defense, but I can hardly imagine how stressful it would have been to watch USC keep its offense on the field for a 2-point conversion to win the game, knowing that there was absolutely nothing Luck and the Stanford offense could do to respond.

What was the most stressful moment of Saturday's win for you? If you were Lane Kiffin (there's a scary thought for Halloween) would you have considered going for two in the first overtime?