Stanford shreds USC gameplan . . . and USC

Sixth-ranked Trojans get kicked around 41-31 at the Coliseum by a double-digit dog from The Farm in a lesson on exactly how to play the game and stay true to your game.

Jake Olson tried his best. Tried to fire his Trojans up in the first game he suited up for USC Saturday at the Coliseum.

"He did a great job," Adoree' Jackson said of the sightless long-snapper who came on board this week. "He told us he'd heard the Stanford players talking and they were saying they were definitely going to win this game," Adoree' said. "It fired us up."

Unfortunately for USC, Jake, and the Stanford players were on the money. They were going to win despite being double-digit underdogs to the sixth-ranked Trojans and did so going away, 41-31.

How bad is that? Well, it took Stanford three seasons against three different USC coaches -- Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian -- to score more than the 41 points the Cardinal put up on USC in both teams' Pac-12 opener.

It took Andrew Luck two tries -- and three overtimes -- to finally accomplish that feat.

Kevin Hogan, who left the Coliseum in a boot and on a cart for an ankle/foot injury, did it in his final try after barely reaching double digits the last two games -- both losses -- against USC.

And he made it look easy against a Trojan team that failed on every single one of its gameplan goals.

At least it's not the lone loss by a highly ranked team at home this weekend. Kiffin's new team -- Alabama -- joined his old team there. But so much for the good news.

This was a USC team that wanted to win first down, get Stanford into third and long, contain Hogan, get him as uncomfortable as USC could make it for him, defend the pass, rush the quarterback, not miss tackles and make Stanford play catchup football.

The only problem with that scenario: Stanford did play catchup football. Down 21-10 with less than 4:00 to play in the first half, Stanford went flying by a USC team that looked like it had hit the wall to lead the Trojans, 24-21, at intermission. So much for platooning.

For those who recalled USC's end-game defensive issues a year ago, this was end-half haplessness. Stanford ran nine plays for 78 yards in 1:23. All the Trojans could, or would, do was watch. And wonder how this had all gotten away from them.

Sure, USC scored on its first drive after intermission to take a 28-24 lead, but at no time did the Trojans look like they had the upper hand. Not that there's any way to do that when the team you're playing takes the ball away from you and won't give it back.

Needing desperately to get back in the game, USC managed a mere 8:40 of possession in the second half (4:15 in the third quarter, 4:25 in the fourth). Hard to get back in it when the other team won't let you.

For the game, Stanford nearly doubled USC's time of possession, 39:29 to 20:31 which allowed it to run 73 plays to USC's 60. And gain 474 yards to USC's 427. And punt just twice.

For those who can't wait for Adoree's next kick return, it's probably going to have to happen on a kickoff. He'll be getting a lot of those the way this team is playing defense.

"I'll get one," Adoree' said after losing one to a hold to start the second quarter from 97 yards out and then seeing his buddy, Juju Smith-Schuster getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for celebrating the non-score with him. It was that kind of night.

Indeed. USC went back to its bad old Pac-12 form with eight penalties for 84 yards, many of them drive-stopping for the Trojans or drive-lengthening for the Cardinal, who commited just five for 40.

Not that USC didn't have its chances. Or performances to talk about. Cody Kessler, despite being hit time and again, completed 25 of 32 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns and allowed himself to be sacked just once.

But what was amazing is how much pressure Stanford could get with a three-man rush while USC, even when it blitzed and came with five, could get Hogan just three times as hard as they tried. And that wasn't much, as it turned out.

"I knew the dude could run," Adoree' said, "but not like that."

Not in the previous three years, he hadn't. And those were USC teams without enough personnel to go after him. And yet, they beat him -- and his No. 4 Stanford team -- with 12 guys on defense here two years ago.

But that USC team played with a full heart. And with courage. And didn't hang its head. And played up to its full potential.

This one did not. "It's going to be a long season," Kessler said after coming back for one last shot at making it a triumphant one. Of course, he was saying that this season will be long enough for USC to overcome this loss.

"We haven't lost in the South," Su'a Cravens said in what was clearly the positive spin of the night to get these Trojans through this one. And they haven't. Win those five games starting with the visit to Arizona State Saturday and that is absolutely correct.

But when you can't stop the quarterback from scrambling every time the secondary covered his receivers up, or you can't even get someone close to Christian McCaffrey, who handled the ball 29 times (26 rushes for 115 yards and three passes for another 37) and every time the Cardinal needed big yards, you're kidding yourself if you think this can be easily corrected.

"Our guys are used to playing in big games," Stanford coach David Shaw said of the half of his team who have played in Pac-12 championship games. "Our guys are used to playing in big games. We need to act like it and play like it."

And in this one, after two straight losses to USC, Shaw coached like the guy who had been in big games. "We're five out of seven in the last seven games against USC," Shaw said, "no discredit to them.

Well, actually a good bit of discredit to them. Maybe it is the fact that this USC team and this USC coaching staff hadn't been in any big games, games that really mattered, maybe ever.

Now they know what it feels like. It feels awful, as one long-faced USC player after another made clear, including D-lineman Delvon Simmons who said he just didn't want to talk about it.

Maybe it's good that this turned out to be a big game, at least for Stanford. Now USC will know what it must do on the road in Tempe next week for what will be as big a game as these players and staff have found themselves in.

"This one hurts obviously," Kessler said as the USC offense sat on the sidelines and hoped they'd get the ball back. "You put work into something and it doesn't work out and it hurts.

"We have a tough road game next week against ASU. This is the turning point in a season that can define us. It depends how the team can respond to adversity," Kessler said. "We must move on completely to ASU. I believe there's a lot left for us out there this season."

Just as there was a lot out there Saturday night. And in many ways, it has defined this team -- as not tough enough, not smart enough, not disciplined enough, not prepared enough and if the way the two teams looked as they came off the field, not conditioned enough.

"We've got to be more physical," freshman Cameron Smith said. "That's got to be our main focus in practice."

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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