One look at Da'John Harris' face after USC lost to Stanford, 56-48, in triple-overtime Saturday captured the collective feeling of the 93,000-plus who stood in The Coliseum, mouths agape.
The Trojans' senior defensive tackle looked tired, understandably so after helping his team battle the Cardinal on the Coliseum grass for more than four hours.
...and forlorn, after losing to the No. 4 ranked opponent in a game the Trojans could (and, arguably, should) have won.
...and irritated, after the plethora of non-calls the Trojans felt they deserved--ones which could have shifted the outcome.
The typically bouncy Inglewood, Calif. native, nicknamed "Juicy" by his team, is known for cracking jokes, throwing verbal jabs and telling stories off the field. When the helmet is off, Harris is often seen with a sparkle in his eye or a smile plastered across his face.
Harris has now played 28 games in his collegiate career. He knows how it feels to be on both the winning and losing end.
Yet Harris said this loss was different. More than it being his first triple overtime game, the emotions afterward were also new. For the first time, Saturday's loss felt almost opportunistic.
Harris knew his program was back on the rise after his defensive line sacked touted Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck twice--the same amount of sacks he'd endured all season entering the game. Ends Devon Kennard and Wes Horton each brought down Luck, while Harris and others delivered near-constant pressure.
Harris knew the inexperience of the Trojans' entire defense was not reason enough to underrate it. That young defense, often shredded by critics as being "soft" or "poor tacklers," forced the Cardinal to punt five times in the game that never seemed to end. Stanford had only punted 16 times in its prior seven games.
And during one of those punts, when the cardinal and gold was leading the Cardinal, Harris tapped helmets with his quarterback Matt Barkley. You didn't need to hear the exchange to know it was filled with praise. Barkley was not sacked once against a Stanford team that, prior to Saturday, led the conference in sacks. The signal caller went toe-for-toe with that of his respected rival: Barkley had one less completion on five more attempts (28 of 45), the same amount of touchdowns (3) and interceptions (1) as Luck.
In his tenure as a Trojan, Harris had to grow accustomed to two coaching staffs that were miles-apart in philosophy. But on Saturday he found out that both Carroll and Kiffin could bring out the Trojan Swag and rough up quality opponents. And neither program would ever be satisfied with a "moral victory."
As Harris and his teammates watch film Sunday, they'll think about what could have been…
…if only Robert Woods or Marqise Lee had caught those touchdown passes…
…if that timeout during the final second of regulation could have just been called earlier…
…if we had had just one more completion...
....if we had just protected the ball a bit better...
....then everything might have gone differently.
And as time so often allows us, our former thoughts slowly fade to future beginnings. For the Trojans, it's a new game week. A fresh opponent. A test at Colorado in higher elevation and burrr-filled conditions.
But instead of the memory of that stinging loss lingering, Harris and his fellow men of Troy will know who they could have beaten and how good their team can play. And that knowledge is enough to help re-build a program back to its glorious past.
It's even enough to wipe away the saddest of faces from the toughest of linemen.