The direction of the Stanford-USC rivalry forever changed with the hire of Jim Harbaugh in 2007. Prior to Harbaugh’s arrival on the Farm, Southern California dominated the Cardinal and the Pac-10 conference, winning two AP national titles and multiple BCS bowls.
However, in his first season on the Farm, Harbaugh and the Card stunned the No.1 ranked Trojans in the Coliseum in the “Biggest Upset Ever,” which helped begin Stanford football’s renaissance. Later, in a 2009 matchup at the Coliseum now known as “What’s your Deal?”, the Cardinal clobbered the Men of Troy by a score of 55-21; late in a fourth quarter that saw the Card outscore USC by a 27-0 margin, Harbaugh went for two, much to the anger and dismay of Trojan fans and then USC head coach Pete Carroll.
The 2009 season was another huge turning point in the direction of both teams; while Stanford has ascended to extraordinary heights by making four consecutive BCS bowls, and winning two consecutive Pac-12 titles, USC has largely suffered under the weight of heavy NCAA sanctions, failing to win a Pac-12 title or participate in a BCS bowl since the 2008 season.
Nevertheless, in spite of the Cardinal’s emergence as a top team in the Pac-12 conference, the Stanford-USC rivalry has been extremely competitive in the last three years, with each game being decided by eight points or less.
In 2011, in a memorable back-and-forth duel at the Coliseum, Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley kept exchanging scores in a wild second half that featured three lead changes. Luck, who passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns in the contest, seemingly gifted USC a touchdown when he threw a very poor pick-six to Nickell Robey with 3:08 remaining in regulation. The Robey interception gave USC a 34-27 lead.
However, Luck would help lead the Cardinal response, as he cooly drove the Card down the field for the game-tying score. Stepfan Taylor would score from two yards out to help bring Stanford level heading into overtime.
In the extra session, USC and Stanford continued to exchange scores until the third overtime, when Terrence Stephens forced a fumble on a Curtis McNeal run during USC’s possession. A.J. Tarpley recovered the fumble in the end zone to seal a 56-48 victory. The 2011 win over USC at the Coliseum helped preserve the Cardinal’s then undefeated season, and will go down as one of the most memorable victories in program history.
In 2012, USC came to the Farm with a No. 2 ranking and hopes for the first time in three years of winning a national championship. However, No. 21 Stanford had other plans. Despite the Cardinal losing Andrew Luck to the NFL Draft after the 2011 season, Stanford still believed it could knock off the high-powered Trojans.
While Matt Barkley and USC torched the Cardinal defense in 2011, the Card’s defense gave Barkley problems in 2012 all night long. Stanford sacked Barkley four times, while also landing three additional hits on the Trojans star quarterback. USC also struggled mightily to convert on third down in the contest, failing to convert a single first down (0-for-12).
In turn, Stanford managed 417 total yards, including 202 yards on the ground. Stepfan Taylor’s outstanding night (153 rushing yards and a touchdown) and Josh Nunes’s steady second-half play helped the Card overcome a bad night for kicker Jordan Williamson; Williamson went 0-for-3 on his field goal attempts, missing from 23 and 47 yards, while also having a 51-yard kick blocked.
In the end, Nunes’s 37-yard strike to Zach Ertz with 10:20 remaining in the game broke a 14-all tie, while Stanford’s defense pitched a second half shutout to give the Cardinal its fourth consecutive victory over its southern California rivals.
In 2013, after losing to Stanford for four consecutive years, USC was striving for revenge against the Cardinal. In the midst of a tumultuous season that saw Lane Kiffin pulled off the team bus at LAX and unceremoniously fired by Trojans athletic director Pat Haden, USC was desperately seeking a positive spark. The Trojans, under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, took advantage of their opportunity against No.5 Stanford in front of a sellout crowd on Homecoming Night.
The Cardinal, who had re-established their hopes of winning a national title after knocking off No. 3 Oregon at home, came out very nervous in front of a hostile Coliseum crowd, as Stanford had to burn two first-half timeouts on the opening drive alone. In contrast, USC came out sharp, scoring on two one-yard toucdowns to take a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Stanford was able to steady itself after the opening drive, tying the score at 17 on a 18-yard touchdown run by Tyler Gaffney with 8:22 left in the third quarter. However, the Cardinal wasted two valuable opportunities to take the lead later in the game, as Conrad Ukropina had a 30-yard field goal attempt blocked, and Kevin Hogan had a disastrous red zone turnover on third-and-goal from the 10-yard line.
Ultimately, Hogan’s second interception at the USC 44-yard line with 3:02 remaining in the game helped doom the Cardinal to a shocking upset. Andre Heidari’s 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds left gave the Trojans a 20-17 win, prompting the USC fans to storm the field in celebration.
Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.