Football faces USC once again in Pac-12 Championship

Nov. 30, 2017, 1:00 a.m.

As the Pac-12 North winner for the fourth time in the last seven years, the most of any program, No. 12 Stanford (9-3, 8-2 Pac-12) is headed to the Pac-12 Championship game against No. 10 USC (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12), the Pac-12 South division winner. This game will be a rematch from their meeting in Sept. 9 and from the 2015 Pac-12 Championship game.

The game is this Friday, Dec. 1, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

The Cardinal are on a roll, having won three straight games. Their last matchup was a decisive 38-20 win against No. 9 Notre Dame. In contrast, USC lost to Notre Dame 49-14 earlier this season.

The Cardinal’s commanding performance saw contributions from all units.

Sophomore quarterback KJ Costello had a career-high four touchdown passes and 176 passing yards, and senior Harrison Phillips also contributed with three tackles for loss and two sacks. Junior Bryce Love ran for 125 yards despite a high ankle sprain, putting him second in the nation in rushing yards with 1,848. San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny is first with 2,027 rushing yards.

You can tell he’s not 100 percent but he’s giving it his all,” junior cornerback Quenton Meeks praised of Love. “He’s basically doing all this on one leg. As a competitor, an athlete, a teammate and a good friend, that motivates you.”

It was a week of wins for Stanford head coach David Shaw, who won the Dodd Trophy for coach of the week, while two Cardinal players also received awards for outstanding performance.

Phillips received the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week. He is tied in the nation with 16.5 tackles for loss which is also the most for any defensive tackle.

Junior punter Jake Bailey was named Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week for his accurate kicks. He punted seven times, with five of those going over 50 yards, which was a career high. He leads the Pac-12 and is ranked eighth in the nation with punting averages of 45.1 yards per punt.

But Stanford is not resting on ending its regular season play on such a high note. They know from experience that preparation is not only important but necessary.

“It’s always a physical game and [USC is] a very good team,” fifth-year senior linebacker Peter Kalambayi explained. “We’re just going to attack the best we can.”

On top of that physicality, USC has had a bye week, while Stanford has only had five days to get ready. Coach Shaw isn’t worried though, explaining, “Both are advantages, the fact that we don’t have to travel is huge.”

Although Stanford lost to USC 42-24 earlier this season, with Trojans running back Ronald Jones II rushing for two touchdowns, the Cardinal have evolved to become much more cohesive and competitive since then.

“I think we have a better handle of who we are and what we’re good at,” Shaw said.

Stanford has won seven of the last 10 meetings with one of its oldest rivals.

USC leads the nation in sacks and features junior quarterback Sam Darnold, who is ranked in the top-25 nationally in passing yards, completions, touchdowns and total offense. He is also listed as a top-three draft prospect this year.

USC will be the first team in over a decade to play in a conference championship game after having a bye in the previous week. This hasn’t happened since 2004, when Oklahoma faced Auburn.

Coach Shaw commended the Trojans on their stamina: “If anybody deserved it, it’s them. I mean, going 12 straight weeks without a bye, especially in this conference, playing 9 conference games and Notre Dame, it’s brutal,” Shaw said.

Catch the Pac-12 Championship game on ESPN this Friday, Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. as Stanford battles USC for a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl game.


Contact Matthew Bernstein at mbernste ‘at’

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