10-Year CFB Anniversary: Stanford Rallies Past No. 2 USC, 21-14

Photo courtesy of Stanford Photo

Replacing Pete Carroll at USC proved to be no small task. Following the 2009 season, Carroll left USC to become head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

Entering the 2012 season, however, the Trojans looked to have their best team of the post-Carroll era yet. Ranked preseason No. 1, big things were expected.

Those expectations came crashing down on this day 10 years ago. Stanford held USC scoreless in the second half and scored the final 14 points to upset the No. 2 Trojans in Palo Alto, 21-14.

Setting the Stage

As a program, Stanford was no stranger to knocking off highly-ranked USC teams. In 2007, the Cardinal had defeated No. 2 USC as a 41-point underdog, 24-23.

Since then, however, Stanford had grown tremendously as a program. The Cardinal were coming off back-to-back top-10 finishes and BCS bowl appearances as they arrived at Stanford Stadium on Sept. 15, 2012. Under second-year head coach David Shaw, Stanford was 2-0 and ranked 21st in the country.

USC was ineligible for postseason play and a conference championship in 2011, but finished 10-2, atop the Pac-12 South standings and ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll. Under third-year head coach Lane Kiffin, USC arrived ranked No. 2 after wins over Hawaii and Syracuse to open the year.

Stanford Dominates the Second Half

USC running back Silas Redd scored a pair of 1-yard touchdowns to give the Trojans a 14-7 halftime lead, but in the second half, Stanford rode a stellar defensive performance and the legs of Stepfan Taylor.

In the second half, USC’s offense had four 3-and-outs and two turnovers on downs. It wasn’t until the final seconds of the third quarter, however, that the Stanford offense was able to take advantage. Given a short field, the Cardinals went 48 yards and capped the drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Josh Nunes to Taylor to tie the game at 14.

After forcing another 3-and-out, Stanford completed a methodical 10-play, 79-yard drive with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Nunes to tight end Zach Ertz. Down 21-14, the ensuing USC drive reached the Stanford 46-yard-line but two sacks and three penalties pushed the Trojans back inside their own 25. Matt Barkley’s desperation heave on 4th-and-40 was incomplete and Stanford prevailed.

Recap and box score:

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Stanford held USC to 280 yards, including just 39 rushing, and forced three turnovers. Taylor finished with 153 yards rushing and a touchdown in the win as Stanford tallied 417 yards of offense. USC’s Marqise Lee led all receivers with eight catches for 100 yards.

In Hindsight

USC bounced back with four straight wins but dropped five of its final six games to finish just 7-6.

Stanford would fall to Washington and Notre Dame over the next three weeks, but closed the season with eight straight wins. That included victories over UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

Stanford finished 12-2 and No. 7 in the final AP Poll. The Cardinals would beat five ranked teams throughout the course of the season, including No. 1 Oregon in November. Its first such win from that memorable year came on this day a decade ago.

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.