Steve Sarkisian’s USC Trojans went into Palo Alto on Saturday afternoon and stole a win from the No. 13 team in the country, beating Stanford 13-10 on a 53-yard field goal by senior kicker Andre Heidari.
It was a heist that John Dillinger could only have dreamed of.
A win that Troy simply should have had no business associating themselves with.
The talk all week surrounded the contrasting offensive speeds of the two longtime rivals. Would USC’s new hurry-up no-huddle offense be too fast for the slow and traditional Cardinal?
Fans and pundits alike tuned in to see. And they got their answer.
Stanford controlled the game’s tempo throughout.
They methodically marched down the field over and over again, keeping the quick Trojan offense off the field and continuously exposing zonal mismatches in the USC defense.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
When Kevin Hogan wanted to connect with Ty Montgomery, he did.
When Hogan wanted to find Devon Cajuste down field, he did.
When Stanford wanted to muscle up on third and short to convert first downs, they did.
And with each yard gained and every second shed from the clock, Stanford looked more and more like the two-time defending Pac-12 Champions that they are, poised and untroubled against an up-tempo team.
And the USC defense looked how a team playing with their third defensive coordinator in three years should look, in the second week of year three.
Cautious. Lenient. Reactionary.
That is…when Stanford had the ball before crossing the Trojans’ 35-yard line, which the Cardinal did all nine times they had the ball.
Then, seemingly miraculously, whether it be shoddy play calling from David Shaw, uncharacteristic penalties from a traditionally disciplined yet inexperienced offensive line, a bend-but-don’t-break defensive scheme or a little bit of all of the above, everything changed once Stanford got deep into USC territory.
Gadget formations failed. Big gains were called back. Runs were snuffed out.
Points were not scored.
The machine-like offense that steam rolled down the middle of the field with ease was suddenly a tank with an offset track.
Stanford punted from inside the Trojans’ 35-yard line twice, missed two field goals and was stopped on a goal line stand at the 3-yard-line.
The latter of which provided USC all the momentum that they would need to fuel a come-from-behind thievery.
After being dominated in the second quarter to the tune of 141 yards against and 10 points surrendered, and immediately following two dismal three-and-outs on offense to start the third, the Trojans needed their defense to come through.
And it did, stopping Stanford running back Daniel Marx for no gain at the three-yard line on fourth down.
Momentum, which had been non-existent on the Trojans’ sideline since an early first quarter scoring drive, was back.
When Cody Kessler wanted to find Nelson Agholor on third and manageable, he did.
When the Trojans needed Buck Allen to rejuvenate the running game, he did.
When USC’s offense desperately needed to show up to reward a defense that somehow kept keeping Stanford off the scoreboard, they did.
The Trojans followed up the goal line stand with an 8-play, 90-yard drive capped off with the first of two field goals from Heidari.
The heist was on.
Even things that went wrong for USC, like losing team captain and star middle linebacker Hayes Pullard to an ejection, turned out right.
In a game when the Trojans had questionable play calling and interesting personnel decisions from the coaching staff, USC played mistake free football and capitalized on turnovers.
Against Stanford, that’s what wins games.