Trojans come back from a two-touchdown deficit to stomp Stanford, 45-20

September 9, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 9, 2019

USC scored five unanswered touchdowns in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to humiliate Stanford in the Pac-12 conference debut for both teams Saturday night.

The Cardinal (1-1, 0-1) took a 17-3 lead on the first play of the second quarter before suffering an epic collapse. Stanford’s backup signal caller, junior Davis Mills, turned in an adequate performance with 237 yards, a score and a pick while competing 22 of 36 throws. His favorite targets were a pair of juniors, tight end Colby Parkinson (seven catches, 89 yards) and wideout Conor Wedington (five catches for 67 yards). Redshirt senior Cameron Scarlett gained 82 yards on 17 rushes.

But USC’s freshman quarterback was the undisputed star of the game. Kedon Slovis was magnificent in his first collegiate start, racking up 377 yards, three touchdowns and no picks on 28 of 33 passing. Vavae Malepeai led the way for the Trojans on the ground with 42 yards and two scores, while Stephen Carr had 33 yards and a touchdown.

The Trojans (2-0, 1-0) got off to a mediocre start, marching 72 yards on 12 plays before the Cardinal mounted a stout goal-line defense. After sophomore end Thomas Booker and senior outside linebacker Jordan Fox dropped Malepaei for a three-yard loss on first and goal, Slovis fired incomplete on consecutive plays. Sophomore kicker Chase McGrath then booted a 23-yarder to give USC a 3-0 lead.

But the next 10 minutes of game time went the way of the white-clad visitors. Wedington returned the kickoff 60 yards, to the home 35, at which point Scarlett became the Cardinal’s focus. He caught an 11-yard pass and ran five times for 19 yards, including an 11-yard rush. Mills’s toss to Wedington went for a 15-yard TD with 5:39 left in the first quarter and put Stanford on top, 7-3.

USC had to punt after a short possession, which was followed by Stanford’s best offensive series of the night. Mills completed three of four passes, respectively connecting with junior receiver Osiris St. Brown for nine yards and Parkinson for 13 and 21 yards. Wedington ran a reverse for 17 and Scarlett had two touches: a one-yard carry that was extended 15 yards by a USC personal foul and a three-yard scoring dash just six seconds into the second quarter that put head coach David Shaw’s squad on top, 14-3.

Velus Jones Jr. fielded the kickoff but lost the ball after being jarred by junior outside linebacker Thunder Keck. Sophomore OLB Tobe Umerah recovered the pigskin at the home 21-yard line, and the Cardinal was seemingly set up to take a commanding lead.

Mills’s third-and-three throw to Parkinson fell incomplete, however, forcing Shaw to send in Toner, who converted a 32-yard attempt.

On the ensuing series, Slovis and company found an impressive rhythm in a six-play, 75-yard possession that was highlighted by Amon-Ra St. Brown’s 39-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. McGrath’s extra point cut the Cardinal cushion to 17-10.

The first play of Stanford’s answering drive was a 44-yard run by Scarlett that moved the Cardinal to the home 32. After a pass to senior running back Dorian Maddox resulted in a two-yard loss, USC was flagged for a personal foul and pass interference on consecutive plays. That set up goal to go from the 8 for the Cardinal.

Then senior lineman Devery Hamilton was called for holding, which stymied the drive. Toner was summoned for a successful 37-yard kick, which moved the Cardinal lead back to 10 points. Amazingly, that would be Stanford’s final score of the night.

USC pulled to within a field goal on a 25-yard scoring run by Carr with 4:54 remaining in the half on a drive that saw Tyler Vaughns haul in a 29-yard reception. The Trojans then held the visiting offense to a five-play, 17-yard possession.

Slovis led another efficient scoring drive featuring another long Vaughns catch, this time for 31 yards on first and 20 following a holding penalty. The capper was a seven-yard Slovis-to-St. Brown connection that put USC back on top, 24-20, with 31 seconds left in the half.

That was a discouraging finish to the quarter, but it was hardly dispositive, especially since Stanford was getting the ball to start the second half. But after a four-yard sack of Mills on first down at the home 18, the Cardinal offense was stifled. Worse yet, Toner fired wide left on a 39-yard field-goal attempt.

Defensive coordinator Lance Anderson has a well-deserved reputation for making halftime adjustments and for harassing inexperienced quarterbacks, and Stanford’s initial defensive sequence of the third quarter suggested that both qualities were in full effect. On third and five, redshirt senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill dragged Slovis to the turf at the USC 22, and the Trojans punted. Peril had been averted, at least for the time being.

Yet the Cardinal offense continued to flounder. On a seven-play, 29-yard drive, the bulk of the advance came on a single play — a 25-yard completion to Wedington. And when Toner was asked to make a 47-yard kick with 3:31 remaining in the third quarter, his effort fell short.

This was the beginning of the end. After Malepeai scored on a four-yard run, the Cardinal offense was only able to gain 18 yards before redshirt sophomore cornerback Greg Johnson intercepted a throw from Mills early in the final period. Soon afterward, Malepaei ran the ball in from the 6 to put USC on top, 38-20, with 10:19 to play.

With the Cardinal facing a do-or-die situation on fourth and one at their own 34, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Tavita Pritchard dialed up a baffling play. Mills handed off to Scarlett out of the shotgun for a rush that went absolutely nowhere. The decision suggested deep confusion on the part of the offensive coaching staff about both the nature of the system they’ve installed and the ability of an offensive line that is missing perhaps its strongest player in an injured Walker Little.

Four plays later, Slovis threw a 16-yard touchdown to Vaughns to cap scoring at 45-20. The Cardinal offense attempted to cut into the Trojans margin, but they were thwarted once Mills was sacked for an eight-yard loss. Stanford attempted another fourth-down conversion, this time needing eight yards from the home 37, but Mills’s pass fell incomplete.

Trojans head coach Clay Helton sent in his backups to run out the remaining 2:25, which they did without incident. Stanford now must find a way to regroup with a daunting road game at the University of Central Florida looming next weekend.

Helpful links

Stanford-USC team statistics — ESPN
Stanford-USC box score
Stanford-USC play-by-play
Stanford-USC interactive box score —
Stanford-USC statistics (PDF) —
Stanford 2019–20 football roster
USC 2019–20 football roster

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