Throwback Thursday: USC vs. Stanford, 2011

Normally for Throwback Thursday, we go back and time and recount one of USC’s finest victories and examine what went right for USC in that particular week. This time around though, we will rewind only one year and look at the heart-breaking–but spectacular–loss that the Trojans suffered at the hands of Andrew Luck and Stanford when they pulled out an incredible win in a triple-overtime Coliseum thriller. It might be masochistic, but it’s a game that needs to be considered going into Palo Alto this weekend.

So if you can stomach it, here goes:

In front of a sold-out crowd, recruits, Trojan parents and the thousands watching at home, USC and Stanford played one of the best games in the Coliseum in years. The atmosphere was absolutely electric, from the student section rolling out a brand new 40-foot banner that read “Fight On SC!”, to the crowd that stayed on its feet the entire game. That energy carried on from kickoff all the way to the end of this triple overtime thriller.

The day started when the ESPN College Game Day truck rolled up to the Coliseum, much to the delight of the Trojan family. Many people waited anxiously for the Game Day crew to make their picks, curious to see if any of the analysts believed that ‘SC had what it would take to knock off Stanford. Lee Corso, the most animated analyst of them all, is 15-0 when picking USC as the winner. The Trojan fans hoped that Corso would don Tommy Trojans helmet and body armor, while the Stanford fans wanted to see him come out dressed as that crazy tree of theirs. Well, Corso would disappoint the Trojans by picking Stanford to win, but this was expected—Vegas has ‘SC as nine-point underdogs, and the college football analysts were pretty split as to whether the Trojans could upset Stanford.

But based on how USC played, nobody told them that they weren’t supposed to hang with The Farm.
USC had to play perfectly on both sides of the ball to silence Stanford, and they did just that. Offensively, the Trojans had an extremely effective ground game in Curtis McNeal; he rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns. The first touchdown came off a 61-yard run, which put the Trojans up 13-10 on the Cardinal and sent the crown into an absolute tizzy. The Trojans were the first team all season to take a lead on Stanford, and this was a huge momentum swing for ‘SC. McNeal scored his second TD off another big play later in the game, which kept the Trojans on top.

Matt Barkley, who did look shaky at times, also threw some of his best passes in this game. He passed for a total of 284 yards and three touchdowns, hitting Robert Woods, Marquis Lee, and Randall Telfer. Barkley showed much poise in this game, save for the one easy interception that he threw.

Defensively, the Trojans’ rush defense showed up on every single play, disallowing Stanford to have the dominant running presence that they have had all season. They held running back Stephan Taylor and friends to just 186 yards, the least amount of yards all season. Many times, the Wall of Troy got after Andrew Luck, and on three occasions they brought him down. All three sacks came at pivotal moments, one in particular by Devon Kennard, who completely rocked Luck and prevented the Cardinal from converting on a crucial third down late in the game.

But, as Stanford is one of the best teams in the country, they would not go down without a fight. Andrew Luck responded to all of ‘SC’s scoring drives with ones of his own, keeping the Cardinal in this game. Still though, USC wouldn’t give up either. Cornerback Nickell Robey made a very impressive one-armed tackle that prevented a third-down conversion, and he made another game-changing play late in the fourth quarter, when he picked off Luck and ran it back for SC’s go-ahead touchdown. It was now 34-27, USC, with less than 2 minutes to play.

This game was over.

Or at least it seemed that way, until the ball was back in Luck’s hand and he was methodically moving down the field. If they were to have a chance, they HAD to score a touchdown. Again, the USC defense rose to the occasion, and on 3rd and long, safety T.J. McDonald deliver the pain to a Stanford receiver, halting their drive, and ending the game. And the Trojan fans lost their minds.
But wait, there’s a flag on the play? REALLY? ‘SC had only committed one penalty the whole game—while Stanford committed what seemed like a million, which undoubtedly helped the Trojans out greatly—and this had to be the worst timing of all to get another. McDonald got flagged for unnecessary roughness, which was questionable according to the ESPN commentators.
So with that added 15 yards and a new set of downs, Stanford would score, tying the game at 34.

SC now had less than 40 seconds to do something to with this game.

They started the final drive near the 40-yard line, and quickly moved the ball toward field-goal range. Stanford had no time outs, USC had three. All they needed to was gain a few more yards, call a timeout, get Andre Heidari on the field and BOOM! USC upsets Stanford. Barkley passed to Robert Woods, who scrambled all the way across the field to get out of bounds with one second left on the clock. Now, on the replay board, it looked like he got out of bounds in time. The officials however, said he down in bounds, and time ran out. Coach Lane Kiffin was LIVID, as were the 90,000 Trojan fans that wanted to put this game away.

Instead, we were headed to overtime, something we had not seen in the Coliseum in four seasons.

Both teams successfully scored touchdowns and point-after touches in the first and second overtimes, but the third and final OT would decide the game. The two teams now had to go for two after a touchdown, something that USC had not successfully done all season.

Stanford got theirs done quickly, and now it was USC’s turn to fight back. Curtis McNeal—the workhorse who kept USC in much of this game, broke away on a 22-yard run, and knocked out of bounds shortly before scoring. All the Trojans had to do was punch it in three yards, and then go for two to keep their upset hopes alive. Barkley handled the ball off to McNeal…and the next thing we know, Stanford is celebrating, and the Trojans are stunned. The replay would reveal that McNeal fumbled, and Stanford recovered it.

And just like that, the game was just over. Stanford would remain perfect, and the Trojans would slip to 6-2.

But was it really a loss for ‘SC?

In the face of adversity, criticism, and countless doubters, USC showed that they were still USC. They showed that the words “give up” were not a part of their vocabulary. And most importantly, they showed that this team was not far away from regaining the clout and respect that it once demanded.

Lane Kiffin needed this game to be his signature win, but it seems even with the loss, outsiders stared to give him respect. Hewa no longer the bad boy whose daddy has all the talent—he was the coach that is doing more with this team than people thought he would.

Losses always hurt, and this one surely hurts more than any in recent memory because they were SO close to a victory, but the Trojans made a statement that night that the scoreboard was incapable of telling.

Curtis McNeal, in his post game interview said it best when he noted, “I am going to face worse things in life. I just have to push through this.” That quote was spot-on, and as we know, the Trojans finished the season strong, upset the Ducks in Autzen (winning in that Stadium for the first time since 2008), and eviscerating UCLA in the final game of the season, 50-0.

This time around, USC is returning an all-star cast, and Stanford is playing without Luck. They both come into the impending match on Saturday as ranked opponents but USC is the favorite this time. Even without K Andre Heidari and possibly C Khaled Holmes, the odds are stacked in USC’s favor. The Trojans are looking to regain a foothold in this series, one that has seen Stanford win
four out of five times. If they pull off the win, the Trojans will be able to breathe a litte easier after their first marquee match-up of the year.

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Tags: Stanford Cardinal USC Trojans

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