"Stanford has a great defense and a great football team," Stafon Johnson said. "They played hard all game; we just came out with the victory."
In the first half, Stanford's offense, led by the play of their talented tailback, Toby Gerhart, consistently moved the ball against USC's vaunted defense.
"It was a really interesting night tonight," Pete Carroll said. "The first half I thought was really dominated by Stanford."
Gerhart gained 85 of his 101 rushing yards in the first half, while the Trojans had just 39 rushing yards total before the break.
While USC's offense struggled early, a couple of big plays on special teams allowed the Trojans to head into the locker room tied at 17-17.
Later, C.J. Gable raced past Stanford's coverage team for a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
"It was good blocking. I just hit it and took off after that," Gable said of his touchdown. "I was hoping not to get caught from behind."
In the second half, USC wore down the Cardinal with their stifling defense and the emergence of a physical running game.
Pete Carroll proved to make all the right halftime adjustments once again, holding Stanford's offense out of the end zone until the final drive of the game.
"They really tightened up their defense in the second half, and they did a nice job of bringing that extra guy in the box," said Stanford center Alex Fletcher.
On the offensive side of the ball, Steve Sarkisian committed to the run and was rewarded with four straight scoring drives to end the game.
"The guys upfront were tremendous tonight," Sarkisian said. "They did a great job, and I thought all three backs ran really well."
Stafon Johnson rushed for a game-high 115 yards, C.J. Gable added 85 yards and Joe McKnight finished with 72.
"We just went out there and ran it and ran it, which is awesome in my mind," Jeff Byers responded when asked about USC's second half success. "That's where we make names for ourselves, running guys into the ground.
"We were just moving the ball, loving it and having a great time. To their credit, they never gave up and they played hard until the end, but we just kept going down hill on them."
Stafon Johnson rushed for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns in USC's 45-23 win
(Getty Images/Jed Jacobsohn)