After watching each of these two teams the first two weeks, I'm just hoping for a close, exciting game – for my money, this series has been the best in the country over the last eight years in terms of excitement. I'm also hoping that Stanford isn't steadily regressing under David Shaw, where we started by winning the Rose Bowl under Andrew Luck, and then every year, the results just dip little by little. Kind of the inverse of Jim Harbaugh, where every year we got better. Harbuagh has been better than Shaw at avoiding upsets (Utah, Utah, Northwestern…) but both have been nails in big games thus far. Hopefully that continues tonight.
Will Farrell leads the Trojans out. Coming back from commercial, we see some great highlights from over the years.
Small nit, but why do we start with the ball every time? If defenses tire quicker than offenses, wouldn't you want your defense on the bench to start the second half? USC won and elects to receive, so moot point, here goes…
SC starts at their 24, and right away, Tre Madden is falling forward for four yards despite being hit at the line. Could be a long day for our undermanned D line if that holds. Madden avoids a tackle in the backfield to convert on third and two, beating a diving Ronnie Harris. USC in hurry-up, shotgun early, and it's another 30 yards off tackle right, and then another 12. USC hasn't passed yet but they're in the red zone already, and always running to the right. A poor start for our defense, but a hold to a field goal would be a win.
First and goal at the seven for USC, and they haven't thrown downfield yet but for a single screen. Madden absolutely untouched into the end zone as Brendan Scarlett gets absolutely shoved out of the way, and just a nightmarish start for the Stanford D, which got carved up like Swiss cheese on that drive of nine plays, 76 yards, 2:48. That missed Ronnie Harris tackle was costly.
USC 7, Stanford 0, 12:01 remaining, first quarter
A sinking feeling that this is the beginning of the end here, both today and then for us as an elite program. The offense needs to respond with a forceful drive of their own here, give the D a chance to regroup and come up with some sort of Plan B.
Drive starts well, as Hogan has all day to pass and checks down to Dalton Schultz for nine. Send in Dave Bright and then McCaffrey comes behind those extra linemen to convert. Maybe we can win at the line too? McCaffrey off a flare screen to again move the chains and we're close to midfield. Okay, I'll take a shootout if we can hang.
Four senior offensive linemen and a senior quarterback… next year's going to be an adventure. If only… we recruited Su'a Cravens, but instead he sacks Hogan and pushes us into third and 10. Hogan then airmails Remound Wright and instead of a first down, it's a punt instead. Can't afford too many of those today.
Our defense is normally great at adjusting after the first drive, but here, the piles are all falling forward as SC runs for six to start their new drive. Peter Kalambayi with a great stick to bring third and three. Could really use a stop here. We rush five, and there's no one within 20 yards of Kessler's throw, so bullet dodged, three and out for the D.
"Fun" fact: Kevin Hogan has yet to throw a touchdown pass against USC in two starts. Drive No. 2 starts from the 34 and Bryce Love loses a yard, Su'a Cravens again in the backfield. Garnett with the key block as McCaffrey runs for 11 on second and 11. Wildcat is back, fools no one, gains only two yards. Hogan converts on third down, with Trent Irwin finding the hole in the USC zone at the Trojan 37. Beautiful fake handoff and then screen to Bryce Love advances all the way to 15. Hard to find someone more explosive than Christian McCaffrey, but we just might have.
Cajuste flat drops a touchdown on our first red zone trip. But no matter as Austin Hooper comes over the middle again for a touchdown. Maybe the coaches were saving something for USC.
Stanford 7, USC 7, 2:49 remaining, first quarter
Coverage bust as no one picks up Juju Smith, and the Trojans are to midfield easily. As ABC points out, we're missing tackles, and an 11-yard out moves the chains again. Screen to the Cardinal four, and then a quick bubble screen for a touchdown, 14-7 USC. We haven't seen the defense struggle like this in a while, and I think the tempo is part of it.
USC 14, Stanford 7, 53 seconds remaining, first quarter
Okay, it's shootout time. Can the offense keep up? Barry Sanders comes out as we go heavy and dives forward for five. Last play of the first quarter sees Sanders run for six to move the chains again.
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