Cardinal upends Trojans, 17-3, to open the conference season

September 14, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 14, 2018

The Stanford football team launched its Pac-12 conference season with a 17-3 victory over visiting USC Saturday evening.

The Cardinal offense scored on its first and last drives of the opening half and matched the Trojans’ only score, a third-quarter field goal. Meanwhile, the defense harassed USC quarterback J.T. Daniels and closed the door on the Trojans each time they entered the red zone.

Daniels, a freshman making his second collegiate start and first on the road, was attended to on the sidelines and briefly left the field during the first half. His replacement, redshirt sophomore Matt Fink, carried a single time for five yards and completed one of two passes for a mere three yards.

Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson and his unit only amped up the pressure after Daniels’s return. His second series back under center ended on fourth and 2 at the Stanford 40 when fifth-year senior outside linebacker Joey Alfieri sacked him for a loss of 11 yards and forced the ball out of his hands; inside linebacker Bobby Okereke, a fellow fifth-year senior, recovered the ball near midfield with 1:18 remaining in the opening half. The Cardinal would go on to sack Daniels three times after intermission.

Meanwhile, Okereke’s recovery near midfield predicated a five-play, 51-yard quick-strike series. The drive began with a 26-yard throw from junior slinger K.J. Costello to junior tight end Kaden Smith and ended with a touchdown reception by Colby Parkinson. That last play, a fade, was subjected to video review before being upheld; it put the hosts on top, 14-0, with 34 ticks left before break. Remarkably, Costello was able to connect with his sophomore tight end despite being roughed by Trojans senior safety Marvell Tell, a penalty that enabled Stanford to kick off from midfield.

USC had possession to start the second half and briskly moved into scoring position. Daniels delivered an impressive throw to Pittman, who got separation from fifth-year cornerback Alameen Murphy in order to make a catch. The 45-yard gain set up first down at the Cardinal 14-yard line.

But Stanford’s defense held stout from there. After a short rushing gain, an illegal shift penalty pushed the Trojans back, Daniels threw two incompletions and Chase McGrath kicked a 35-yard field goal that proved to be USC’s only points on the evening.

The Cardinal responded with what wound up being its only scoring drive after the break, a nine-play, 73-yard series that took more than five minutes off the clock. The possession featured moments that were both very impressive and anything but: Bryce Love, who ran four times and netted 67 yards in the series, had his longest run of the season, a 59-yard gain, but it was immediately followed by two consecutive delay-of-game penalties on the Cardinal. The team advanced on the strength of a throw to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for 25 yards on third down from Costello, who was 2 of 4 on the drive for 23 yards, but stalled at the 12. Jet Toner’s first successful field goal of the season, a 30-yarder, gave the hosts a 17-3 lead, which proved to be the final score.

Stanford opened the game staging a very familiar kind of drive to fans of its 2017 edition: One powered by a big dose of Love. He started the contest with rushes for minus-three and two yards before Costello (16 of 27, 183 yards and a touchdown) made consecutive completions of 22 and 14 yards to Smith and Arcega-Whiteside, respectively. Then Love (22 runs for 136 yards and a score) got another pair of carries, including a 28-yard gain showing the kind of shifty moves and breakout speed that the Cardinal came to love and depend upon last year. Costello threw to Arcega-Whiteside for 10 yards before Love ran in a 6-yard touchdown to put seven points on the scoreboard.

Outside of those four possessions, the game was something of a defensive struggle. Stanford handled this better than the visiting Trojans, never more so than when the clock ran down in the fourth quarter. Daniels’s final two throws were both intercepted by junior safety Malik Antoine — once at the goal line, on a play that started at Stanford’s 15, and again at the Stanford 39, after a Cardinal three-and-out, on a drive that began at the hosts’ 37-yard line.

Antoine returned his second pick 36 yards, at which point Stanford needed just one kneel to run down the final 26 seconds. Although it’s still early in the season, the 17-3 victory was an important statement not just by 2-0 Stanford (1-0 Pac-12) but by a Cardinal defense that had faced a lot of questions entering the fall.


Helpful links

USC-Stanford team statistics — ESPN
USC-Stanford box score
USC-Stanford play-by-play
USC-Stanford interactive box score —
Stanford 2018–19 football roster
USC 2018–19 football roster
Game (and some other) tweets — @memomoment
Highlight video — Fox Sports

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