Trojans stomp Stanford football, 42-24

September 12, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 12, 2017

The sixth-ranked University of Southern California football team imposed its will against visiting Stanford on Saturday night, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions en route to a 42-24 victory.

The Trojans moved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the Pac-12 by rushing 48 times for 307 yards. Sam Darnold showed why he might join several earlier Trojans quarterbacks as Heisman Trophy winners: The sophomore completed his first 10 pass attempts and finished the evening 21 for 26 with 316 yards and four touchdowns.

The maroon and gold squad was forced to punt just once by the Stanford defense, which recorded only one tackle-for-loss, a single pass breakup and no quarterback hurries. The Trojans, by contrast, were credited with 10 breakups, five tackles behind the line of scrimmage (including two sacks) and a hurry.

Stanford quarterback Keller Chryst, playing by far the most challenging opponent of his college career, completed 15 of 28 throws for 172 yards and two scores. But while the Cardinal offense finished with a respectable average of 6.5 yards per rush, the team only ran the ball 26 times, and the Trojans were able to stifle most carries between the tackles.

The most telling numbers of all were the third-down conversion rates. No. 14 Stanford, now 1-1 overall and 0-1 in league, was successful six times in 12 tries, while the hosts missed twice in a dozen opportunities.

On Saturday, USC opened the scoring with a Steven Mitchell Jr. 4-yard touchdown reception. But Stanford answered immediately with a one-play drive as Bryce Love took a handoff and zipped past all three levels of the USC defense for a 75-yard touchdown run.

The Trojans responded with a 1-yard touchdown run by Ronald Jones II. The visitors evened the score at 14-14 with a 1-yard touchdown toss from Chryst to tight end Dalton Schultz shortly after the opening of the second quarter.

The start of the game reminded me of Stanford’s last visit to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, two years ago, when the hosts leaped out to a 21-10 first-half lead. And indeed, the Trojans took a 21-14 lead on Deontay Burnett’s 22-yard touchdown catch.

In that contest, Stanford got on an offensive roll prior to halftime, taking a 24-21 lead into the break. That was not to be repeated, however: When Cameron Scarlett lost three yards on third and 3, the Cardinal were forced to punt with nearly eight minutes remaining in the quarter.

The Trojans’ ensuing possession was quashed by a terrific Justin Reid interception at the Cardinal 40-yard line. Stanford was unable to even the game, settling instead a 36-yard Jet Toner field goal. Thereafter, USC needed just five plays to mount a 75-yard drive that ended in a 25-yard Burnett touchdown catch. That put the hosts up, 28-17, shortly before intermission.

The second half seemed to get off to an auspicious start for the Cardinal when, after the defense let the Trojans efficiently advance to the visitors’ 32-yard line, senior cornerback Alijah Holder picked off Darnold at the goal line and returned the ball to the original line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, the ensuing five-play drive featured but a single gain by Stanford, on a 2-yard Love rush, and the Cardinal was forced to punt for the third time in seven series.

An exchange of punts followed, letting USC take possession with 63 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Trojans then mounted arguably their most impressive series of the night. The 12-play, 90-yard drive consumed nearly six and a half minutes and culminated in an 11-yard scoring strike from Darnold to Mitchell. That gave the Trojans an 18-point lead, 35-17, with 9:42 left in the contest.

Hope was dwindling rapidly, but it wasn’t lost. Chryst and company kept the white-clad squad in the game with a seven-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown throw to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. That once again reduced the Cardinal deficit to 11 points, 35-24, with nearly seven minutes remaining.

Stanford could still win, but only if the defense stopped the Trojans. That would not come to pass; USC faced third down a single time on its next series, a third and 3 that they converted with a 23-yard Jones scoring run.

In theory, the Trojans’ 42-24 lead with 4:15 left was all but insurmountable. In practice, Chryst completed one pass in five attempts, and the team was flagged for both a false start and intentional grounding. The team’s last gasp came on an incomplete fourth-down pass with less than three minutes to go. USC took over on downs, converted on third and 2, and kneeled out the clock.

The Trojans dominated time of possession, 34:35 to 25:25, and wound up with an 18-point win. This could represent a marked shift in the series: Stanford had won seven of the previous nine contests, with USC’s two wins coming by a combined six points.

All in all, it was a discouraging night for Stanford, which — to say the least — isn’t used to being outrushed at all, let alone by 137 yards. The Cardinal will have to perform much better if it wants to challenge either of the Washington schools for the Pac-12 North division title.

~~~

Helpful links

Stanford-USC box score — ESPN
Stanford-USC team statistics
Stanford-USC play-by-play
Stanford-USC interactive box score — GoStanford.com
Stanford-USC static box score — GoStanford.com
Stanford 2017–18 football roster
USC 2017–18 football roster

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