By the time the Stanford v. USC game kicked off on Saturday, Stanford was 9.5-point underdogs. And if you saw the way the Cardinal played against Northwestern two weeks ago, you might have thought that only losing by a couple of scores to #6 ranked USC would be the best case scenario. Well, let me remind you that there are no moral victories at the ‘Home of Intellectual Brutality,’ and Stanford – a team that has spent most of the past decade terrorizing USC – plays best when doubted, underestimated, and overlooked. In particular there were two people in search of redemption against the Trojans. One was quarterback Kevin Hogan and one was head coach David Shaw. Both put Stanford football back in the PAC 12 conversation.
Hogan, for all of his success in the past 2-½ seasons, has never beaten USC. Most people forget that it was actually his predecessor, Josh Nunes, who dethroned the #1 ranked USC team in 2012. The 2013 and 2014 contests were both close, but Hogan failed to pass or rush for a touchdown in either game. On Saturday, he threw two beautiful touchdowns in the first half, one of which with just 3 seconds remaining before the break. Particularly in the second half, it felt like late-2014 Hogan was back, and he played with the focus and confidence that were lacking in his last two tries against USC.
David Shaw’s coaching decisions have been called into question more than a handful of times since the departure of Andrew Luck. Some wondered if Shaw’s early success should be attributed to an average coach who was fortunate enough to have a truly special quarterback. These voices of doubt have gotten progressively louder in recent years as Stanford lost close games against Notre Dame, Utah, and especially USC. It’s true, I question Shaw’s ability to call plays in the red zone, and I wish he’d lose the page in the playbook titled ‘Wildcat’, but it’s games like this that make me realize that he is a great coach, and man can he pull off an upset. After losing to Steve Sarkisian two out of the past three years, it was a Shaw-Sark Redemption, indeed.
Let’s move onto some other highlights:
First, let’s talk about the running game. Remound Wright, Stanford’s leading rusher from 2014, hung three touchdowns on the Trojans. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey was doing Christian McCaffrey things, rushing for 115 yards, and catching passes like a boss. This duo will be heavily relied on in the upcoming game against the Oregon State Beavers on Friday night.
And then there’s the defense. If Stanford fans were nervous when USC marched down the field in the first three minutes to take a 7-0 lead, then they were beside themselves when USC seemingly scored at will for the first 20 minutes of the game. With 9:29 to go in the first half, the Trojans were up 21-10, and it looked like Stanford’s most reliable unit might buckle. They held strong, though, despite missing injured Harrison Phillips, and had key stops when it mattered.
Conrad Ukropina earned a scholarship last week, and showed everyone why on Saturday by hitting two more field goals. Tight end Austin Hooper caught four passes for 79 yards and touchdown. The offensive line also looked much improved from a week ago.
Now for the bad news: Hogan injured his ankle when he was sacked early on in the second half. Despite being listed atop the depth chart for Friday’s game, the words ‘walking boot’ and ‘ankle sprain’ have been bandied about. David Shaw has indicated that Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns will share reps in practice this week, however Chryst was the one warming up on the sideline on Saturday when Hogan was limping around. If I had to guess, Chryst would get the start over Burns if it came down to that. Additionally, linebacker Kevin Anderson has been ruled out for the Oregon State game due to an undisclosed injury.
Coming off of a major victory, in combination with injuries to key personnel, Friday’s game could be more interesting than previously thought.
And a bit of news about USC: TMZ reported an altercation between USC players following the loss to Stanford. USC denies the claim. It seems that the Steve Sarkisian to Lane Kiffin transformation is almost complete.