Apparently good things come in fours. After four years of losing to Stanford, USC football picked up its first ranked win against #4 Stanford— their first win against a ranked opponent since taking down fourth-ranked Oregon in Eugene in 2011.
Two teams went blow for blow, playing in an old school fashion like they have since 1905. Plays weren’t flashy, and yards weren’t easy. Much of the game was a stalemate, with a total of 11 punts and the teams were tied for 23 minutes— almost half the game.
The sold out Coliseum also cranked up the noise when Stanford had a third-and-6 on their own 26-yard line, forcing a timeout, a false start, and another timeout on their first drive.
Redemption took place, not just for the team, but for individuals. Soma Vainuku caught his first career touchdown, giving USC the first lead. Last season, he dropped what would have been a touchdown pass from Matt Barkley on fourth-and-2. They ended up losing that game 14-21. Other players would get their shot as well.
Andre Heidari missed the point after attempt, which allowed Stanford to take the lead. Trojan fans lamented that the lost point would come back to haunt them, but Marqise Lee had an amazing catch for the 2 point conversion to make up for it. Stanford’s only lead of the night lasted a mere four minutes and 12 seconds. Like family, the Trojans covered for each others’ mistakes.
Heidari would redeem himself a little on the next USC possession, hitting a 23-yard field goal and also helping the Trojans score on their first few drives.
All throughout the game, Lee made difficult catches in traffic, only dropping one pass that would have resulted in a loss of yardage anyway. These were the types of catches that he was criticized for not making before, including a clutch 13-yard reception on fourth-and-2 with 1:22 left in the game. That set the Trojans up in field goal range, allowing Heidari a chance to win the game for them.
The Trojans had not scored since early in the second quarter and the field goal distance was measured at 47 yards. Heidari had already missed five field goals from the 40-49 yard range this season on seven attempts, and missed a total of 10 in 17 attempts over his career. Fans in the Coliseum grew extremely nervous as he stepped up to make the kick. As the ball sailed through the uprights, the Coliseum erupted in cheers.
For that moment in time, nobody cared that he had missed the point after kick or seven kicks on season. The grind-it-out style and zero third quarter points were an afterthought. They got the points when everything was on the line and it counted. This was the redemption they sought, and it tasted good. Every player on the roster, with the exception of sixth year senior Abe Markowitz, had not yet been on the sidelines for a victory against Stanford. The Trojans were overdue for a win.
In all three phases of the game, they did what was necessary, when it was necessary, to make the win possible.
Although the first team defense gave up points in the second half for the first time since Coach O’s first game, it took the #4 team to do it. It mattered little because USC’s defense did not allow them to take a lead except for the short period of time the Cardinal were up 7-6. They also had key interceptions in the fourth quarter. Dion Bailey read a play and intercepted the ball when Stanford was on USC’s 6-yard line ready to get the go-ahead score. Later on, Su’a Cravens made an athletic grab off a tipped ball giving way for Kessler, Lee, and Heidari to finish off Stanford.
The defense had another impressive moment, coming in and forcing a three-and-out on Stanford after Kessler’s fumble deep in USC territory. Special teams, not to be outdone, blocked the field goal attempt. Kevin Hogan and his Cardinal started in the red zone and came away with nothing to show for it. Both the defense and special teams covered for the offense’s mistakes, effectively erasing the cost. Stanford was held to a season low in points. Even the then-ranked #25, 23, 9, and 3 teams did not hold them under 20 points.
The offense seemed stagnant at times, producing only 23 yards rushing. The combination of sacks and being tackled behind the line of scrimmage resulted in 35 yards of loss. Stanford had a top 10 rushing defense that coerced Kessler into throwing the ball. Given barely a couple of seconds on every play, he still managed to throw for 288 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. On USC’s second drive, Javorius Allen had two impressive runs resulting in a touchdown in his first career start.
Every individual sacrifice made by the players and coaches culminated in a tear-inducing victory. They were prepared and they believed. They played the top 5 team to a standstill— and then they were vindicated. Don’t call it an upset. The Trojans were always capable of this. All they had to do was prove it.
It was fitting that Matt Leinart led the Trojans out of the tunnel, as he was the last USC quarterback to defeat the Cardinal at home.
Let that sink in. USC had not beaten Stanford at home since 2005. Coach O has gone 2-0 in breaking nasty streaks against the Trojans, having also won in Corvallis for the first time since 2004 to kick off November. Doubters claiming their previous wins “just Arizona,” “just Utah,” and “just Cal” can no longer say the same about this victory. USC has just passed their most significant hurdle.
The quest for “No Loss November” continues.