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Stanford too tough for second-ranked USC

By Jon Wilner, San Jose Mercury News –

STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford didn’t need any luck to upset second-ranked USC on Saturday. It had tailback Stepfan Taylor, quarterback Josh Nunes and a dominating defense.

Taylor scored two touchdowns, Nunes made big plays when it mattered, and the defense smothered USC in a 21-14 victory at Stanford Stadium.

The win was Stanford’s fourth in a row over the Trojans, its longest winning streak in a series that dates to 1905. And it came in unexpected fashion, with Nunes outplaying USC’s Matt Barkley, the Heisman Trophy favorite, in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t go into the game with something to prove,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “That would be a distraction. We can’t play out of our element because it’s USC.”

The No. 21 Cardinal (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) took the lead with 10 minutes remaining on a 37-yard pass from Nunes to tight end Zach Ertz, then turned to a defense that flummoxed the Trojans throughout the game.

The Trojans (2-1, 0-1) crossed midfield on their final drive, but Barkley was sacked twice to end the game and Stanford fans stormed the field.

“We came out to play and had the belief we could do this,” linebacker Shayne Skov said. “Everybody made plays when they needed to. It was a collective effort. That’s what’s special about this team.”

The sizzling offense and brilliant individual performances that defined the past two matchups were largely absent — Taylor being the major exception — and replaced by a sloppy defensive struggle.

The Trojans’ vaunted passing attack sputtered, with Barkley unable to solve Stanford’s array of blitzes and coverages.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal struggled to move the ball for long stretches against a USC defense that gave up 29 points to Syracuse a week earlier.

And both teams had non-existent kicking games. USC opted against field goals altogether because of an injury to Andre Heidari; Stanford gave Jordan Williamson three chances; he missed all of them.

The first big play came on the first play. Stanford’s Ty Montgomery returned the opening kickoff 64 yards, giving the Cardinal ideal field position. But a delay-of-game penalty on first down put Stanford in a hole it couldn’t escape, and Williamson’s 47-yard field goal hit the upright.

The Trojans struck first. After Barkley connected with receiver Nelson Agholor for a 48-yard catch-and-run, tailback Silas Redd barreled into the end zone.

Stanford wasted no time responding, thanks to Taylor. On second down, he headed over the right side, cut to his left and outran the Trojans defense for a 59-yard touchdown.

The teams exchanged scoreless possessions, but USC got the better of the field position and took over at its 42 with three minutes left in the first quarter. A series of 8-yard gains and a pass interference penalty on Stanford moved the Trojans into the red zone. The drive appeared doomed on fourth-and-19, but Barkley connected with Robert Woods for a 24-yard gain.

Two plays later, Redd scored his second touchdown for a 14-7 lead.

The Trojans stuffed Stanford on three plays and were on the move again when Redd committed the game’s first turnover, a fumble at the 42.

Nunes’ long completion to tight end Levine Toilolo and a pass interference on USC in the end zone gave the Cardinal first-and-goal from the 2. But Stanford got cute. A first down pass to tackle Kyle Murphy — he was an eligible receiver on the play — went incomplete. Taylor was stopped on second down, and a false start penalty forced a short field goal. But Williamson missed from 23 yards, and Stanford walked off with no points.

The final minutes of the half were a turnover festival, with Barkley and Nunes each throwing two interceptions. (At one point, they combined to throw interceptions on three consecutive plays.)

The only scoring in the third quarter came with 10 second left: Nunes tossed a screen pass to Taylor, who slipped several would-be tacklers and dashed 25 yards for the game-tying touchdown.

Stanford held the Trojans without a first down and took over at its 21. With the pressure on, Nunes responded: He ran for a first down on third-and-10, then connected with tight end Zach Ertz on a 37-yard touchdown strike that gave the Cardinal a 21-14 lead.

— Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the conference is not close to a deal with DirecTV to carry the Pac-12 Networks.

“The ball is in their court,” said Scott, who added that he would be “shocked” and “really disappointed” if DirecTV didn’t come to terms with the Pac-12 in time for the USC-Cal game next week.

— Representatives from the Fiesta Bowl and nine NFL teams, including 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, attended the game

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