Steve Sarkisian’s USC Trojans willed their way to a tough 13-10 win over the Stanford Cardinal Saturday afternoon, overcoming a bevy of mishaps and malfunctions to which might have cost them the game.
It was by no means pretty and when all is said and done, Stanford will look back at all the missed opportunities to finish off the Trojans with a shake of the head. However, USC displayed no small amount of heart and desire in a contest that seemed to have them outmatched.
Here’s an inside look at the box score and more proof that numbers only tell half the story:
It’s Raining Flags
Not for the first time in USC history, the referees played a major role in the game, hitting both teams with a total of 18 penalties for 155 yards.
That’s more yards than Stanford gained on the ground and USC gained through the air.
Surprisingly however, that’s not as uncharacteristic of David Shaw’s Cardinal as you might have thought. This was the third game in row (against FBS opponents) in which Stanford tallied eight penalties.
Running the Farm
For the first time since 2007, the Cardinal failed to rush for 150 or more yards against the Trojans.
On the flip side, it was the first time since 2008 that USC managed to gain more than 150 yards on the ground against Stanford.
In fact, the Cardinal were held to under 3.5 yards per rush, while the Trojans gained a respectable 4.2 yards per carry.
Turnovers Decide It Again
Former Trojan head coach Pete Carroll was a major believer in the importance of the turnover battle and few series exemplify that importance than USC-Stanford.
Just once in the past eight meetings — or since Stanford announced itself on the national stage — has the team that won the turnover battle lost the game.
That one time was not Saturday. USC forced two turnovers against the Cardinal. Though neither turnover resulted in points for the Trojans, they almost certainly denied Stanford the points which may have decided the game.
Both Stanford and USC went 7-of-14 on third-down conversions and failed the single fourth-down conversion they attempted.
They each had one short-yardage rushing touchdown, no passing touchdowns, two redzone scores and two sacks.
The big difference in those stats?
The Cardinal had five more first downs than the Trojans, 150 more passing yards, and three more trips into the redzone in which they failed to score.
Buck Steps Up
Javorius Allen, aka Buck, out-gained the entire Stanford team on the ground.
Allen finished with 154 net yards gained. The Cardinal, even removing Ty Montgomery’s losses on a botched snap and the sacks on Kevin Hogan, gained 148.
It’s Not How You Start…
Though Stanford proved the ability to move the ball in the middle third of the field against the Trojans, they had a bit of help in that regard.
The Cardinal had an average starting position at their own 38. USC, meanwhile, began their drives on average at their own 20.
…It’s How You Finish
Despite punting on four of the first five possessions, USC turned their luck around late in the game, finding points on two of their final three possessions.
It was the opposite for Stanford. The Cardinal scored ten points on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, but then blanked their final five chances, two of which made it down into the red zone.
The drives endings’ weren’t uniform as they were for USC either. Stanford managed to miss a field goal, lose the ball on downs at the goal line, fumble, punt and then fumble again to finish the game.
Double Digit Defense
USC had a player in every level of the defense get into double digits for tackles. Defensive end Leonard Williams and linebacker Anthony Sarao shared top honors at 11 tackles apiece while safety Gerald Bowman brought up the rear at ten.
Unfortunately the numbers shed light on the good and the bad for USC’s defense on the Farm.
Williams toughed his way through an ankle injury and considering the early doubts about his ability to even play, it’s a feat that deserves praise.
Bowman’s involvement is a concern. While the Trojans were able to keep Stanford’s receivers in front of them for most of the night — the longest pass of the outing was 26 yards — such a high number of tackles for a free safety reflects the success Stanford found in the passing game.