Some games mean more than just a win, and USC beating Stanford 13-10 to show the Trojans should be taken seriously while the Cardinal might be heading into something of a down year compared to their very successful recent past, is a deceleration to the whole Pac-12 and maybe College Football in general that someone’s back.
This wasn’t a demolition win or a painful beat down. Stanford, even if they’re not as good as they were last year or when they won the Rose Bowl two seasons ago, are still a very tough team with a solid running game and a defense that’s very difficult to puncture. But USC came away not just thanks to the game winning field goal from Andre Heidari with 2:30 left in the game or Javorius Allen running for 154 yards. The defense had a lot to do with it as well, forcing two turnovers on Stanford and making some big stops.
Non were bigger than their red zone stand in the fourth quarter. Stanford had the ball on a 4th-and-1 with only three yards between them and the end zone, holding a 10-7 lead. USC came up big with the stop, as they did for most of the game on the big plays, holding Stanford to just 3.4 yards per carry and 128 rushing yards. They scored just one touchdown – the opener from Justin Davis, but they showed a defense that is just as good as Stanford’s if not better, and ended the 17-game home winning streak, which was the longest in the nation going into the game.
There was also the big sack on Kevin Hogan in the fourth quarter to end Stanford’s final drive, causing a fumble. Stanford made it into the USC 35 on all nine of their drives yet came up with just 10 points. The defense wasn’t dysfunctional, but Allen was allowed too much space, as he gained 154 yards, including one run for 50 yards to set up one of the field goals. He gained 113 of those yards inside the tackles, and it was the second best performance by a running back against Stanford since the beginning of the 2012 season.
Referees were an issue, as they usually are in the Pac-12. Steve Sarkisian was warned and penalized while a USC player was ejected for leading with the crown of his helmet. The USC AD, Pat Haden, who is also part of the committee that chooses the teams that go into the playoffs, went down and had an argument with the officials about their decisions and multiple penalty calls. Some might say there’s a conflict of interest there.
Cody Kessler didn’t look injured, but didn’t do much. USC kept things simple, finishing with just 291 yards on offense. However, they didn’t make any mistakes, didn’t take risks and maybe surprised Stanford with their game plan. Kessler completed 15-of-22 passes for 134 yards. Almost all of his throws went in the direction of Nelson Agholor, catching nine passes for 91 yards. Kevin Hogan threw for 295 yards, but couldn’t get things done in the red zone.
Stanford did miss two field goals, but overall their execution when it mattered was inferior to that of USC’s, which tells the whole story. It’s still a long season in a tough conference with both teams having hurdles and roadbumps until the end, but this was the kind of game that proves that these two programs are right now headed in different directions. USC might not be back, but they’re on the right path.