Quarter by quarter, USC: The close

Kabir Sawhney was at the L.A. Coliseum and blogging in real time on our BootBoardPlus. We take his notes, spiffy ‘em up, and present them here again for your reading pleasure. Don't be scared though. We guarantee a happy ending.

End of fourth quarter: Stanford 34, USC 34

All seemed lost for Stanford in the fourth quarter when USC went up 34-27 on a pick-six with three minutes remaining in the game. However, the Cardinal still had life and drive 76 yards in 10 plays to tie the game. USC then had one last shot with 38 seconds on the clock and two timeouts left, but star Trojan wide receiver Robert Woods made a critical mistake as time expired. Woods caught a short pass from Matt Barkley, but attempted to get to the outside as crucial seconds bled off the clock. As Woods ran laterally, the clock's remaining seconds ran out, and Woods was taken down without enough time left to pull off another play.

Play of the quarter: Stanford capped its comeback drive with two short, plowing runs from Stepfan Taylor: one for a first down and one for a touchdown. The plays weren't pretty, but they got the job done, and Eric Whitaker completed the comeback by nailing the extra point.

Stanford comes back, manages to hold: Luck led the offense on a dazzling 10-play, 76-yard drive with the clock winding down to tie the game, 34-34, and summon overtime. The drive featured its fair share of big moments, but the biggest might have been an unnecessary roughness call on Trojan safety T.J. McDonald, which came when he drilled a defenseless Chris Owusu. The penalty was called on third down, giving Stanford a 15-yard penalty and a new lease on life. The Cardinal proceeded to march on the field and pull to a tie on a two-yard touchdown run by Stepfan Taylor.

Questionable play call: One of the more puzzling play calls in this one came on a third and eight. Stanford had the ball on the USC 13-yard line, but instead of lining up in a regular formation, the Cardinal lined up in the Wildcat and direct-snapped the ball to Tyler Gaffney. Gaffney only managed two yards, setting up a fourth down and forcing the Cardinal to kick a field goal. We can only ask what might have been if Stanford's coaching staff had chosen to put the ball in the hands of college football's best quarterback, instead of running.

Defenses stand up: Both the Cardinal and Trojan defenses made crucial third-down stops in the fourth quarter, continuing a game-long theme of surprisingly strong defensive play. USC stopped Stanford twice on big third downs, once with a sack of Andrew Luck that knocked the Cardinal out of field goal range, and once by stuffing Tyler Gaffney at the line with the ball inside the USC 15. Stanford's defense also made a huge stop, forcing a three-and-out when the Card were trailing 27-24 and absolutely in need of a defensive stop. The defense also forced a couple of incompletions on a USC drive with four minutes left, forcing the Trojans into a punt with the game still tied, 27-27.

Griff Whalen comes up big: Stanford's second receiver, Griff Whalen, has played out of his mind all night long. Whalen leads all Cardinal receivers with five receptions for 96 yards, and has made a couple of catches to keep crucial drives alive. He has had a great night finding space underneath and small gaps in the Trojans' coverage, and Luck has drilled him with some fantastic throws.

Overtime

The Cardinal got the ball first, and used their trademark power running game to bulldoze through the Trojans. Stanford scored on a one-yard plunge by Jeremy Stewart, and the Eric Whitaker extra point put the Cardinal up, 41-34. USC came back and responded with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to Robert Woods. A good PAT tied the game again, 41-41. We're going to a second overtime period.

Double overtime

In the second overtime period, USC got the ball first and scored another touchdown, this time on a pass from Barkley to Randall Telfer. Telfer had the ball on about the four when he caught it, but fought through two Stanford tacklers to extend forward into the end zone for the score.

Then, with the Coliseum going nuts, Stanford got sent back to the 27-yard line on a holding penalty. However, Luck rallied, completing a solid pass to Ty Montgomery for a first down, and then finding Levine Toilolo in the corner of the end zone for an 11-yard strike. Eric Whitaker managed (barely) to get the extra point through the uprights. The score is tied, 48-48.

Stanford will start the third overtime period on offense. If any team scores a touchdown, it must attempt the two-point conversion from the three.

Stepfan Taylor runs through the line almost untouched from five yards out for a touchdown, after a late-hit penalty got the Cardinal a first down on the 5-yard line. Stanford converts the two-point attempt with a pass from Luck to a wide-open Coby Fleener near the back of the end zone. Stanford leads, 56-48, with a USC possession coming up.

USC then starts another march into the Stanford red zone and toward the end zone. Curtis McNeal, however, fumbles into the end zone from the four, and Stanford recovers to end the game.

Game over. Final score: Stanford 56, USC 48 (3OT)

In a wild finish, Stanford grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat and pulled out the victory over USC. It took three overtimes, but a Stepfan Taylor touchdown run, a Luck-to-Fleener two-point conversion and a huge play from the Stanford defense sealed this one for the Cardinal.

Play of the game: With USC inside the five-yard line, Stanford's defense came up huge, forcing a fumble and then recovering it in the end zone to end the game. Terrence Stephens forced the fumble and A.J. Tarpley recovered it, preserving Stanford's perfect 8-0 record and extending its winning streak to 16 games.


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