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Stanford continues dominance over USC with 21-14 win

This news story was published on September 16, 2012.
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By Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times –

PALO ALTO, Calif. — This time it had nothing to do with Luck.

Not a quarterback by that name or a series of unexplainable events.

As USC Coach Lane Kiffin and his second-ranked team dejectedly left the field at Stanford Stadium on Saturday night they could only blame themselves for a 21-14 upset loss to the Cardinal.

“Football 101,” Kiffin said after he emerged from the locker room and walked to the team bus. “If you don’t run the ball, turn the ball over and you get sacked when you’re on the road, you’re going to be in for a long day.”

With or without Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, No. 21 Stanford showed once again that it knows how to beat the Trojans.

Junior quarterback Josh Nunes, starting only his third game, showed Luck-like pluckiness during the fourth quarter and led Stanford to its fourth consecutive victory over USC, a Cardinal feat unprecedented in a series that dates to 1905.

USC, held scoreless in the second half, fell to 2-1 overall and 0-1 in the Pac-12 Conference.

“We kind of got basically humbled today,” linebacker Hayes Pullard said.

Just as they did in conference openers on the road in 2008 at Oregon State, 2009 at Washington and last season at Arizona State, the Trojans stumbled.

And the recipe was much the same.

The Trojans committed three turnovers, including interceptions on two consecutive passes by quarterback Matt Barkley, who looked nothing like the Heisman front-runner.

Barkley was sacked four times and was under pressure throughout the game. He completed only 20 of 41 passes for 254 yards and did not throw a touchdown pass.

Asked if this was his toughest loss, Barkley said, “Yeah, it hurts.”

Stanford’s veteran defense mostly neutralized receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods and limited the Trojans to 26 yards rushing.

Stanford Coach David Shaw said the game plan was to make the Trojans throw the ball.

“That sounds crazy,” he said, “to put it in the hands of that quarterback and those receivers, but we knew we could play smart, sound football and keep those receivers in front of us and rally to the ball and make tackles.”

Nunes, the former Upland High standout, completed 15 of 32 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions.

He was at his best when it counted most, engineering two fourth-quarter scoring drives for to improve Stanford to 3-0.

“It feels great,” Nunes said. “They’re a really great program. They have a lot of talented players. It makes it even sweeter.”

The Trojans led, 14-7, at halftime and had a chance to extend the lead when they drove to Stanford’s 13-yard line. But the absence of kicker Andre Heidari came back to haunt them.

On fourth down, Kiffin sent in kicker Alex Wood. The freshman walk-on, however, lined up in the backfield next to Barkley, who took a snap and threw a pass to fullback Soma Vainuku in the end zone. But nickel back Ronnie Harris broke up the play.

The teams traded possessions before Nunes hit tight end Zach Ertz for a 24-yard gain that set up the tying touchdown. On first and 15 at the Trojans’ 23, Taylor took a short pass in the right flat and slipped four tackles en route to the end zone with 10 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Trojans went three and out on the ensuing possession, setting the stage for Stanford’s upset.

Nunes took over at the Stanford 21 and moved the Cardinal downfield. On third and 10 at midfield, he scrambled for 12 yards to pick up a first down, looking much like the agile Luck did in his three victories over the Trojans.

On second down at the 37, he dropped back and hit Ertz with a 15-yard strike and Ertz broke two tackles before falling into the end zone for a 21-14 lead.

“We knew we had been trying to set up that route for awhile,” Nunes said, “and Zach just ran a great route with great protection.”

USC got the ball for a final time with 2:14 left and seemed to get a break when a pass initially ruled incomplete was overturned on review, giving the Trojans a first down and keeping their hopes alive.

But linebacker Trent Murphy sacked Barkley, and after a false- start penalty, linebacker John Flacco sacked Barkley again.

On fourth and 40 from the Trojans’ 24, Barkley lofted a long pass to Woods along the right sideline. But the ball fell incomplete and Stanford’s victory was secure.

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