Pac-12: Cardinal-Trojans 111409

Stanford announces its arrival with dominant win over USC

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- The question put to Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was fairly simple. Did Stanford's 55-21 victory over USC on Saturday feel different than the shocking 24-23 win in 2007, when the Cardinal entered as 41-point underdogs?

Harbaugh, who just moments before was bouncing off the walls in a jubilant locker room, scratched the side of his head and maintained a neutral expression.

"It feels different," he said.

It should.

2007 was a wonderful bit of a theater, but it was a fluke and everyone knew it.

[+] EnlargeToby Gerhart
AP Photo/Matt SaylesStanford's Toby Gerhart rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns Saturday.
What Harbaugh and his bruising bunch had delivered in the Coliseum this time? This was no fluke. This was an announcement.

The Cardinal have arrived. No other way to put it after they beat top-10 programs on consecutive weekends.

And if the chips fall the right way in the Pac-10 race, Stanford could end up in its first Rose Bowl since the 1999 season.

For Stanford's veteran players, who suffered through a 1-11 season in 2006, the reversal of fortune is dramatic.

"I'm trying to wrap my mind around it, but I'm having a difficult time," said senior cornerback Richard Sherman, whose pick-six in the fourth quarter gave the Cardinal a 42-21 lead and sent many Trojans fans stomping out to the tangle of LA highways.

"I'm trying to enjoy this because we've been through some dark times."

The Cardinal dominated the Trojans in USC's house -- where they'd won 47 of 48 games -- from gun-to-gun. Stanford never trailed. Every time USC made a move and closed the gap, Stanford answered.

Stanford outgained the Trojans 469 to 334, and was so enjoying its domination it even took a moment to rub USC's face in it.

After going up 48-21 on a 6-yard touchdown run by Toby Gerhart, who rushed for three scores and 178 yards, Harbaugh opted to go for a 2-point conversion. It was about the only time all afternoon the Stanford plan didn't work.

"I didn't know what they were thinking with that, but in that situation they get to do whatever they want," USC coach Pete Carroll said.

Explained Harbaugh: "I felt like it was an opportunity the way the offensive line was playing."

Read: An opportunity to tweak the no-longer-so-mighty Trojans.

Forgive Harbaugh and his team for perhaps being a little graceless in victory. It was hard for them not to be intoxicated by the nature and totality of the triumph. Harbaugh said he thought his team could win, but he admitted he didn't entertain the notion of a blowout.

Who did?

"I think we surprised them a little bit," Gerhart said. "They're USC and they have been the premier Pac-10 team and the elite team in college football. We've been an underdog program, a program on the rise. To come out and make a statement today says great things about this program."

Stanford improved to 7-3 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-10. It concludes its conference schedule at home next weekend in the Big Game against California. The season finale vs. Notre Dame, also at home, will have no bearing on the Pac-10 race.

Stanford has beaten Oregon and lost to Arizona and Oregon State. It, therefore, favors any tiebreaker with the Ducks.

It would hard to insist any conference team is playing better than the Cardinal right now, though.

Gerhart only increased the legitimacy of his Heisman Trophy candidacy, while quarterback Andrew Luck turned in another poised, efficient day. Luck completed 12 of 22 passes for 144 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 61 yards.

The offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. It didn't allow a sack and led the way for 325 yards rushing.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal defense, which has suffered in comparison to the impressive offense most of the season, held its own against the Trojans, recording two sacks and eight tackles for a loss while forcing four turnovers.

"We got some stops and some sacks," Harbaugh said. "We also did a really good job on the perimeter against the screen game. And our defensive line did an excellent job of pushing the pocket back and constricting [passing] lanes to see [through]."

In the week leading up to the game, Harbaugh didn't play the "one-game-at-a-time" card. He called it "put-up-or-shut-up time for Stanford football."

He returned to that phrase after the game.

His team "put up."

"Our guys came out focused and loose and did what we had to do to win," he said.

There's that understatement again.

Stanford didn't just do enough to win. It dominated.

It also did enough to announce itself as a Pac-10 contender. This season and likely going forward.

USC finds itself out of the conversation

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Taylor Mays sat before the media in full pads. USC's All-American safety answered questions in a measured tone and didn't react to the cheering and banging on the opposite wall that grew progressively louder. He didn't raise his voice so he could be heard over the Stanford celebration.

Stanford, a week after scoring 51 in a win over No. 8 Oregon, had just handed Mays' ninth-ranked Trojans a 55-21 whipping.
[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Matt Sayles Stanford's Matt Masifilo, right, and Will Powers sack Matt Barkley and USC's Pac-10 title hopes.

The Cardinal remain in the hunt for the Pac-10 title. And, for the first time since 2001, USC does not.

The cinder block wall didn't prevent Mays from hearing how happy that made Stanford, which probably raised a few eyebrows when it attempted a 2-point conversion when it led 48-21 with 6:47 left.

"They deserve that," Mays said of the celebration. "They deserve to have that feeling. They beat us. To get beat like that is disappointing."

The Trojans have never in their storied football history given up as many as 55 points. The 111 points over their last three games is the worst three-game stretch in school history, eclipsing the 110 they had surrendered in the three games before playing Stanford.

"I'm not sure I have the right words to describe being humbled like this," Trojans coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't really know where to put it. We got our butt kicked on defense and they out-executed us. There were no surprises. It was a humbling day."

Stanford rushed for 325 yards. While not as much as the 391 Oregon piled up against the Trojans, it was gained without misdirection or artifice. The Cardinal didn't seem to care much if USC knew what was coming. They just lined up and ran over them.

"They blocked us, time after time," said Carroll, who suffered his first loss in 29 November games as the Trojans coach.

Let's quantify how much Stanford's offensive line blocked the Trojans.

Four Trojans finished with double-digit tackles. Three of them were defensive backs. Stanford only needed to pass 22 times, so those weren't tackles after passes.

Stanford was 8 of 11 on third-down and 1 for 1 on fourth down. USC didn't record a sack.

"It's almost sickening," Mays said. "To be a senior and leave a legacy like this, it's sickening."

It's one thing to watch USC look bad at Oregon. That 47-20 defeat was shocking. But not as shocking as watching the Trojans getting buried in the Coliseum, where they had previously won 47 of 48 games. And to get manhandled like that by Stanford, the most academically elite BCS conference university, which can't possibly match the athletes USC has collected through the years with its top-ranked recruiting classes, right?

"It sure looked like they had better athletes today," Carroll said.

It took 10 games to figure it out, but it's clear now: Yes, USC does sometimes need to rebuild. And, no, it can't just insert eight new defensive starters and a true freshman quarterback and expect to seamlessly become another juggernaut, particularly with a handful of starters regularly sitting out with injuries.

The Trojans now enter a bye week with in an unusual position: Out of the conversation. At 7-3 overall and 4-3 in the Pac-10, their potential bowl destination could be a variety of places -- Holiday, Sun, Las Vegas. But it won't include a BCS bowl. And the season won't end with USC ranked in the nation's top-four.

So an an era has ended. Mays shook his head over the possibilities.

"It's crazy," Mays said. "If you would have told me that before the season, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. We still get to play football. Some teams don't go to bowl games. I know that not our standard, but we'll get up for anything."

Mays also rejected the notion that the USC dynasty is over. The program will bounce back, he said.

"It's hard to bring it all the time. It's hard to be that successful, year-in and year-out. That's why so few programs do it," he said. "But, no, I don't think [the run is over]. We're still going to get recruits. We've still got Coach Carroll and that's all that matters."

For the first time in eight years, it might be reasonable to ask: Is it?

Video: USC postgame analysis

November, 14, 2009

Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller analyzes USC's 55-21 home loss to Stanford on Saturday at the Coliseum.

Final: Stanford 55, USC 21

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- The news coming into the game was the legitimacy of Stanford's hopes of winning.

Don't recall seeing anyone predicting a blowout.

At least one delivered by Stanford.

Say it now: USC will not win or share the Pac-10 title in 2009. That hasn't been said since 2001.

The Trojans run is over.

Also, this is:
  • The first Nov. loss under Pete Carroll (had been 28-0)
  • The first homecoming loss under Pete Carroll (had been 8-0)
  • The worst loss of the Pete Carroll Era -- two weeks after Oregon set the mark with a 47-20 win.

It also ends a 12-game home winning streak. USC has won 47 of 49 at home. But both losses came to Stanford.

As for the Cardinal, they conclude their Pac-10 schedule next week at home in the Big Game with California.

The Cardinal (7-3, 6-2) will be watching everyone else the final two weekends of the season. Why?

To find out if they're going to the Rose

Wow ... Stanford just went for 2 to rub it in!

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Jim Harbaugh is a piece of work.

Stanford just jumped ahead 48-21 with 6:47 left. The game is over.

But after the short Toby Gerhart TD run, Harbaugh opted to go for 2.

Evidently, he really wanted to score 50 on the Trojans.

The crowd, those who remain in USC colors, booed.

If the score stands, USC will lose by 27 points for the second time this season.

Before this season, the Trojans' worst loss under Pete Carroll was an 11-point decision vs. Notre Dame in 2001.

Luck-Gerhart; Gerhart-Luck

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Andrew Luck has passed for two touchdowns and ran for another when he faked to running back Toby Gerhart, who has two touchdowns.

Luck's numbers aren't super fancy -- he's 12-of-22 for 144 yards -- but he hasn't turned the ball over and he's managed the game.

He's got Stanford on the cusp of beating the nation's No. 8 and then-No. 11 teams on consecutive weekends.

He's a redshirt freshman, by the way.

It's amazing what a difference he's made to this offense, which was one-dimensional last year.

Can Stanford win the fourth quarter?

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- These two offenses are exchanging blows as the fourth quarter starts and Stanford's lead back down to seven points at 28-21.

This is when USC, typically, would assert its USC-ness.

But do the Trojans still have a reservoir of that?

Both offenses are moving the ball. Will either D step up?

Stanford is driving into USC territory, having twice converted on third down.

The Cardinal can smell a second-consecutive big win. But can they close the deal?

Stanford answers

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Lots of almosts for USC.

USC almost forced another Stanford fumble. USC almost stopped Toby Gerhart on a fourth-and-1.

But the Trojans aren't making the plays they used to.

After USC closed the gap to seven points, Stanford drove 68 yards in 11 plays, with Gerhart doing most of the heavy lifting. He rushed for 27 yards on the drive, including converting on a fourth-and-1 carry.

Cardinal went up on a spread-option keeper from quarterback Andrew Luck -- a new wrinkle?

Gerhart has 109 yards on 21 carries with two TDs.

USC pounces on first Stanford mistake

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Not to repeat myself but mistakes will kill you.

Stanford's first of the game -- a Toby Gerhart fumble forced by USC linebacker Chris Galippo -- set up 36-yard TD pass from Matt Barkley to Brice Butler and now the score is 21-14.

USC is within range.

The Cardinal's nose has now been bloodied. Will they respond?

The screws are tightening.

Halftime report: Stanford 21, USC 7

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Is Pete Carroll about to suffer the first November defeat of his career?

Is Stanford about to end USC's run atop the Pac-10?

So far, it looks that way. Two USC turnovers and another strong performance from the Stanford -- on both sides of the ball -- have the Cardinal cruising.

Turning point: After forcing Stanford to go three-and-out on the game's opening possession, USC drove to the Cardinal 17. But quarterback Matt Barkley fumbled on a sack, and the Cardinal scored on its next three possessions.

Stat of the half: 2-0. USC has two turnovers. Both were followed by Stanford TDs. Stanford has no turnovers.

Best player in the half: Toby Gerhart has 73 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns. Guess here is he's going to perk up a bit in the Heisman Trophy race.

What USC needs to do, What Stanford needs to do: USC needs to show some fight on both sides of the ball. Stanford has rushed to the line of scrimmage multiple times and USC hasn't been set. That's the sign of a team that's not focused. The Trojans had some success running the ball. That might be where a comeback starts. Stanford needs to give the Trojans a steady dose of Gerhart and work the clock. The hardest thing for a rising team to do is close the deal. USC will make a run. Can Stanford finish? And thereby become a legitimate Rose Bowl contender.

Stanford in control 21-7

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Can Stanford be this much better than USC?

Stanford has TD drives of 71, 79 and 35 yards to lead 21-7.

Know who's feeling pretty good right now?

Teams that have already played Stanford.

McKnight gives USC a boost

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Toby Gerhart isn't the only good running back on the field.

Joe McKnight's 51-yard run sparked a USC scoring drive and narrowed the Stanford lead to 14-7.

Gerhart has eight carries for 43 yards and a TD. McKnight has four for 71 yards.

Another USC TO; another Stanford TD

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- This is probably not the statement USC wanted to make.

Two Trojans turnovers. Two Stanford TD drives.

You know that whole "Stanford is sooooo balanced!" thing you've been reading about?

Cardinal have 60 yards rushing, 46 passing.

Keep playing to second Stanford scoring drive: Toby Gerhart goes for 17 yards up the middle on third and 9.

That didn't use to happen to the Trojans.

USC makes mistake, Stanford makes points

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- USC's offense churned on its first drive. At least until Matt Barkley fumbled while being sacked.

Mistakes will kill you.

Stanford, after going three-and-out on its first possession, then reverted to its "Oregon form," and mixed pass and run to drive 71 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Barkley was 3-for-3 for 40 yards before fumbling.

Luck missed his first three, but was 3-for-3 for 46 yards and a touchdown pass on the scoring drive.

Both quarterbacks are in sync.

But Stanford's D made a stop and USC's didn't.

USC's Stafon Johnson: 'God has a plan'

November, 14, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- It was a rasp that the audience strained to hear, but it sure sounded good.

Said USC running back Stafon Johnson: "God has a plan. Run Stafon, run."

Johnson, who suffered a severe throat and neck injury in a weight room accident on Sept. 28, speaking publicly for the first time, used the last words his grandfather spoke to him to reassure Trojans fans that his recovery is going well.

Really well, in fact.

"We wouldn't expect him to be at this point, this early," said Jason Hamilton, one of Johnson's doctors.

Johnson has regained some speech, though it's limited. He can swallow and eat solid foods.

He's still physically limited. He can't run or work out and playing football again is not front-and-center at this point.

But there's hope that he may fully recover. Asked when Johnson's activity might not be limited, Dr. Ryan Osborne said, "[in] the very near future."

While being away from his team and teammates -- and not being able to talk to his son -- have been a struggle for Johnson, he hasn't lost his sense of humor.

When asked if he'd watched the Trojans' 47-20 loss to Oregon, he shook his head and buried his face in his hands.

Everyone in the room laughed.