3Q: Card answer two USC TDs in kind (27-16)

This game has been a game of surges. Stanford won round one, taking a 13-3 halftime lead on the strength of a dominant ground game. USC won the second round, scoring consecutive touchdowns to open the third quarter. But the Cardinal have responded with consecutive touchdowns of their own and, thanks to a missed Trojan extra point, will lead by multiple scores as we head to the fourth quarter.

Stanford yanks the opening kickoff out of bounds, and then Damien Mama destroys a blitzing Quenton Meeks as Justin Davis runs for 26 yards. Then, Cody Kessler hits Juju Smith on a quick slant, and the Trojans are suddenly in the Cardinal red zone just a minute into the third quarter. Davis for eight yards, and that must have been one heck of a halftime speech Todd Helton gave, because this looks like a completely different game. Card would do well to rally here and force a turnover or field goal attempt.

Davis jumps out of a tackle for loss and advances to the three before Dallas Lloyd can tackle, first and goal Trojans. They have to burn a timeout which might help out down the stretch, but as action resumes, USC is suddenly within a field goal as they play-action to a fullback in the flat, who marches in for a one-yard touchdown nearly untouched. (On replay a minute later, we see that USC ran a pick play involving Juju Smith-Schuster to spring open that fullback on the right sideline.) Wait -- not so quick! Austin Hooper takes the extra point in the armpit, and a four-point lead instead of three might also make a big difference down the stretch.

Stanford 13, USC 9, 11:51 remaining, third quarter

Michael Rector skies for a nice six-yard catch after a three-yard McCaffrey run up the gut. Card are 0-of-2 on third and one per ESPN (though the Card did convert on one of two fourth downs). Make that 1-of-3 as McCaffrey converts one third down, but after two more runs, make that 1-of-4, as McCaffrey can't convert on a direct snap. I wonder if we need to start throwing a little more -- 37 runs to seven passes so far means that USC can load the box with impunity, as they did on that direct snap to McCaffrey. Trojans will start from their 25 with a chance to retake the lead, unthinkable a quarter ago.

Stanford had a chance to bury the Trojans in the first half, but couldn't quite get it done in the red zone. Now the Trojans have the chance to make the Card pay. Kessler scrambles for five, and then Justin Davis runs for 15 behind their stud lineman, Damien Mama. And Clemson scored just before the half to take a 21-16 lead over North Carolina, not good.

USC driving with tempo after a 11-yard completion to Darreus Rogers has the Trojans on the plus side of the field. Trojans twice throw for eight-yard gains or so on bubble screens to Juju Smith. The Stanford scheme is conceding those throws with the defensive backs several yards off the line, and USC will take them gladly.

Then, both teams get whistled for personal fouls on consecutive plays, Alijah Holder for a horse-collar tackle, and USC at the Cardinal 12 for a chop-block the next snap. But then Ronald Jones runs 27 yards to paydirt nearly untouched, as he stops in space to watch two Stanford defenders fly by. A gutsy call to handoff on first and 25, but that commitment to the run is paying off for the Trojans, as the blocking got Jones to the second level, and Jones' athleticism got him the rest of the way. Now, will Stanford open it up a little bit to counter, as the Trojans look to have kept a lid on the Cardinal rush attack the last few drives?

Total yards now 226-222 Card, so nearly even. Cardinal handoff twice to McCaffrey into loaded boxes -- ESPN is pointing out how SC is stuffing the box and daring the Cardinal to throw.

Stanford obliges on third down, as McCaffrey comes out of the backfield, draws single-coverage against a linebacker, and burns him badly, faking outside before cutting inside. Hogan hits him about 10 yards downfield, and then McCaffrey weaves through coverage, forcing USC's defensive backs to turn back and fro to try to bring him down. Eventually the cavalry catches up, but not after McCaffrey has a 67-yard gain to the USC seven. Next snap, it's a designed Hogan keeper to his right, and Hogan dives for the end zone and makes it!

Stanford 20, USC 16, 3:11 remaining, third quarter

Great answer from the Stanford offense, and then USC self-implodes, diving on the kickoff at their own five yard-line and then getting whistled for a late hit to back them up to their three. Two-yard run, incomplete bomb to Smith-Schuster that Terrence Alexander had both hands on but couldn't quite squeeze, and then Smith-Schuster comes through with a big play, catching in front of the right sideline on third and nine that is correctly ruled a catch after a review, after being initially called incomplete on the field.

Ronnie Harris done for the game, ESPN is reporting. Don't know if Cajuste is 100% since getting hurt early -- he has no catches on the day. USC with a second straight third-and-long conversion, this one on a wheel route to Steven Mitchell. Stanford again with good coverage, with Quenton Meeks trailing closely, but nothing you can do on a perfect throw.

Finally, the Stanford pressure pays off. On their third third-and-long, Blake Martinez beats USC's fourth-string center on a delayed blitz, and hits Cody Kessler. Solomon Thomas scoops and scores for a 34-yard touchdown! Kessler's hand is hurt on the throw. USC also burns a timeout and will have only one left after unsuccessfully challenging, arguing that the fumble should have been called a pass.

Stanford 27, USC 16, four seconds remaining, third quarter

Jake Bailey again pulls the kickoff out of bounds, so USC starts from its 35 and loses two yards on a Davis run to draw the quarter to a close.

This game has been a game of surges so far. Stanford won round one, taking a 13-3 halftime lead on the strength of a dominant ground game. USC won the second round, scoring consecutive touchdowns to open the third quarter. But the Cardinal have responded with consecutive touchdowns of their own and, thanks to a missed Trojan extra point, will lead by multiple scores as we head to the fourth quarter.

Stanford 27, USC 16, End third quarter


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