Stanford's recent success against USC continued into 2011, as the Cardinal came, saw and conquered in the Trojans' Coliseum. Anthony Wilkerson scored all three of Stanford's touchdowns as the visiting Card ran for 220 yards in a 21-9 victory.
"Stepfan went down early with his [sprained] knee, and I knew it was on me to step up," Wilkerson said. "Andrew and the receivers kept moving the ball down the field, and when we got close to the end zone, I knew my number would come up."
Indeed, Wilkerson's touchdown runs were all short, coming from USC's four, six and five yard-lines, chronologically. The first score, nine seconds before halftime, gave the Cardinal a 7-3 lead. Stanford then received the second-half kickoff and embarked upon a 12-play, 85-yard drive that Wilkerson capped with his second score.
"Those drives really changed the complexion of the game," Coach David Shaw said. "We deferred when we won the toss, so we got to close the first half with a long touchdown drive, and then come out of the locker room, beat up their defense, and do the same thing again. Plus, those drives gave our defense a lot of rest too."
Both teams muddled in offensive ineptitude for the next 10 minutes, but USC eventually rallied with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to fullback Hunter Simmons, who had slipped unnoticed out of the backfield. Barkley had to throw away the two-point conversion attempt, but the Trojans had closed Stanford's lead to 14-9 with 3:43 to play.
The Trojans then elected to eschew an onside kick, instead sending the ensuing kickoff deep. They came to regret that decision, as Wilkerson, Luck and the Cardinal ran out the clock, and USC never saw the ball again. Luck kept the game-sealing drive alive with two third-and-seven passes, but the drive was otherwise entirely ground-based, with Wilkerson's rushes, a Luck scramble and a Chris Owusu reverse matriculating the ball downfield.
"The offense found a better pace this week," Shayne Skov joked postgame. "Eight-yard passes instead of 30-yarders and six-minute scoring drives instead of two-minute scoring drives – I'm sure the O is upset, but the D sure isn't complaining."
Wilkerson put an exclamation point on the win with his final touchdown, crossing the goal-line right as time expired.
"Maybe I could have gone down earlier like I did against ASU last year, but it's USC," Wilkerson said. "I'm tired of hearing that song 42 times, and I'm tired of growing up in their backyard and hearing how great they are all the time. So I guess I figured one last touchdown couldn't hurt."
Stanford became that much more likely to achieve its Pac-10 dreams by downing the Trojans, who have perplexed in recent years. On one hand, the team is troubled by scandal, scholarship limits and coaches who don't appear to always maximize the available talent; on the other, the squad has as much talent up and down the roster as any team west of the Mississippi. USC's speed in particular has given Stanford's defense problems in recent years, but not today.
Stanford has now won three straight off Figueroa, and four of their last five against the Trojans. Two of those wins came at the last minute. Forty-two point underdog Stanford squeaked out a 24-23 "greatest upset ever" in 2007, and, last year, Nate Whitaker hit a last-second field goal for a 37-35 victory that propelled Stanford into the Orange Bowl.
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