The USC Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) handed Stanford football (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12) its first loss of the season, as the Trojans took advantage of Stanford mistakes en route to a dominating road victory.
It could not have gotten off to much worse of a start for the Cardinal. On the third play from scrimmage, junior quarterback Tanner McKee overthrew junior tight end Benjamin Yurosek and the ball tipped into the hands of USC cornerback Max Williams. The Trojans capitalized off the miscue with a short touchdown drive capped off by a Caleb Williams touchdown pass to tight end Lake McRee.
The Cardinal’s next drive looked promising. Stanford was able to establish a strong running game, with junior running back EJ Smith gaining 62 yards from scrimmage. The 14-play drive stalled inside the five, and USC came up with another interception in the end zone.
Off the turnover, the Trojans used a variety of running and quick passing plays to once again drive the ball down field. Williams was eventually able to hit junior wide receiver Jordan Addison on a screen pass for a touchdown to put USC up by two scores.
But the Stanford offense continued to move the ball against the Trojan defense. A 50-yard run on an end around by Yurosek set up the Cardinal inside the ten once again, and this time they got the ball in the endzone. McKee found Smith in the flat for a walk-in touchdown.
“I feel like that’s my job as a quarterback, is to get the ball in the playmaker’s hands,” said McKee after the game. “So whether it’s a reverse, a handoff, a shovel pass, a seam ball, a go in any way possible.”
The momentum would disappear immediately. On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Caleb Williams once again hit Addison on a deep post route for a 75-yard touchdown to make it 21-7.
The Cardinal once again had a promising possession, driving the ball within USC’s five-yard line. However, Smith fumbled the ball and gave it back to USC. Despite numerous chances, Stanford’s defense wasn’t able to step up and support the offense. The Trojans kept accumulating yards, and the drive was wrapped up by a Mario Williams touchdown catch.
“Bottom line is you can’t turn the ball over and beat good football teams. That’s a really good football team,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said. “Lot of really good players, we gave them opportunities and they took advantage of them.”
But the Cardinal responded with a long drive once again, and we’re able to cash in. EJ Smith finished off an eight-play, 67-yard drive with a five yard touchdown run. The Cardinal were back to within 14 points.
On the next possession, the Trojans relied on a balanced rushing and passing attack. But instead of marching down field methodically, star running back Travis Dye was able to punch it in from 27 yards out.
With the Trojans now leading 35-14, the Stanford offense was finally forced to punt. A USC offensive penalty prevented them from extending the lead any further into halftime. The Cardinal defense forced only one third down the entire first half.
When asked about the defensive struggles in the first half, senior safety Jonathan McGill talked about the difficulties the Cardinal had in getting aligned in a timely manner.
“You kind of saw it, guys were running to spots, not really looking, understanding the call we were supposed to.” said McGill. “I felt as a defense we didn’t execute as high as we should have in the first half.”
The Stanford defense was finally able to get some stops in the third quarter, holding the Trojans to field goal attempts on three drives, two of which USC was able to cash in on. However, the Stanford offense slowed down as well, and was unable to score again until the fourth quarter, when Casey Filkins pushed his way into the endzone for a two-yard touchdown run on fourth down. The Cardinal offense continued to go to work, as McKee would finish off a seven-play, 70-yard drive with a quarterback sneak. But the Cardinal could not recover an onside kick, and the USC lead remained at 41-28.
After a timely sack by freshman EDGE David Bailey on third down, the Cardinal found themselves with a puncher’s chance down two scores with 2:35 left. But Stanford came up empty, as the USC defensive line was able to sack McKee twice and turn the ball over on downs. From there the Trojans were able to run out the clock and secure their first win in Pac-12 play.
While this performance may cause fans to panic, Shaw remains confident in his team. “We could’ve gone to halftime with a lead if we didn’t turn the ball over,” said Shaw.
“We’ve got a bunch of seniors that we feel really good about, and we might be able to get on a roll here and have some fun.”
Stanford now heads into a bye week after only playing two games, a unique challenge for the group.
“Usually in the course of a schedule, bye weeks are around week six, week seven, around that time. But I felt like as a team this is a timely bye week for us,” stated McGill. “Self-evaluation is huge, especially after a loss.”
After this upcoming week, the Cardinal will play games ten straight Saturdays, starting with a road date in Seattle against the Washington Huskies (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12) at a time TBD.