I’ve never been so happy to scream like a little girl. A very little girl.
After another upset for the ages against No. 2 USC, I can’t exactly talk. Which makes it even more important that I can type, because, my friends, we have a new nickname to coin.
“Biggest Upset Ever” made for great T-shirts in 2007. “What’s Your Deal” made for great ticket plans in 2009. And since we’ve been a bit lazy after the last two thrilling wins over the Trojans, such an iconic game deserves to be forever remembered by another iconic name.
I hereby submit: “The One that Almost Got Away.”
Cliché, I know, but there were just too many times on Saturday night where Stanford looked down and out, so many reasons the Cardinal shouldn’t have won—if this was any other game. It left way too many points on the field in the first half, it took costly penalties at the wrong time and it completed less than half its passes.
With all that, only tonight could Stanford still win.
The Cardinal had an outsider’s chance to pull this one off from the get-go. USC center Khaled Holmes was injured, which looked to be a huge hole for Stanford’s front seven to exploit. Just through the gates I ran into a friend and former high-school quarterback; he couldn’t emphasize enough the importance of chemistry at center, reminding me, “The quarterback’s rubbing up against the guy’s nuts 70 or 80 times.”
The USC offensive line still held strong in the first half and gave Matt Barkley time to throw —just what the Cardinal couldn’t afford. Barkley only had to complete one big pass to get USC into scoring position and, soon after, onto the board.
Stepfan Taylor single-handedly tied it with a skillful, 59-yard touchdown run, but the final 20 minutes of the first half were a head-scratcher. The Cardinal hit Barkley and started celebrating, not realizing that it had forced a fumble; the Trojans recovered, converted on fourth-and-19 and soon made it 14-7. In the second quarter, Stanford had a first-and-goal at the two and couldn’t punch it in, leaving a kick to Jordan Williamson. He had missed an early field goal—admittedly, hitting that 47-yarder off the post on a bad snap nothing to be blamed for—but Williamson went wide again on the 23-yard chip shot. When Barkley threw a pick late in the first half, Josh Nunes gave the ball back on the very next play; when Barkley threw another pick, Nunes again returned the favor (this time, seven plays later).
A 14-7 lead against the preseason No. 1 was respectable—maybe commendable—but if you thought at halftime that this was Stanford’s night, you weren’t watching the same game as me. Nunes was 6-for-17 through 30 minutes and the Cardinal still hadn’t recorded a sack; to make matters worse, USC running backs Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd both played out of the locker room after first-half injuries. And, of course, the third quarter had been Stanford’s worst period all season.
A Trojan three-and-out to start the half was encouraging, but all that set up was Williamson’s third missed field goal of the evening. Barkley now had a short field to work with and was ready to put the Cardinal away. He nearly did just that, marching into the red zone before setting up a fourth-and-2 at the Stanford 13.
Then came the turning point.
Barkley rolled right and lobbed one for one up to the corner of the endzone for freshman fullback Soma Vainuku, who hauled in a touchdown catch—and then dropped it, with a whole lot of help from sophomore Ronnie Harris.
The dagger deflected, Stanford put together a nine-play drive but stalled just across midfield. With a Josh Mauro sack prompting one more three-and-out, the Cardinal had the ball back. The Cardinal had life. The Cardinal had Stepfan Taylor, scoring on a 23-yard screen.
14-14, fourth quarter, another three-and-out and for the first time all night, the Cardinal had the driver’s seat. Nunes was quite the driver.
He channeled Andrew Luck, the man who had outdueled Barkley the three previous years. An 11-yard completion to Ty Montgomery escaped a third-and-5, and Nunes deked around defenders in the open field for 12 yards on third-and-10. Two plays later, he delivered the 37-yard slant strike to Ertz that put Stanford ahead once and for all.
Stanford Stadium was rocking. I only wish I could’ve contributed to that a little more; there wasn’t much left in my vocal gas tank.
USC had the ball back, but the vaunted Trojan offense seemed powerless. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it. Barkley was rattled, out-of-sync with his receivers and being flat-out shown up by Nunes. Barkley had the perfect spirals; Nunes had the clutch timing. I know which I prefer.
Williamson saved a touchdown by tripping up Marqise Lee on the ensuing kick return. Stanford’s front seven was in Barkley’s face, and its oft-maligned defensive backs were breaking up completions with crushing hits. Yet another Trojan three-and-out.
After a one-yard run, Nunes completed a 10-yarder to Zach Ertz; from there on out, it was Taylor Time. He had seven carries on the next nine plays. Just as the Cardinal coaching staff has been drawing it up since 2007: USC linemen with hands on hips as Stanford literally ran out the clock.
But this was “The One that Almost Got Away,” so of course, an untimely false start threw a wrench into the Cardinal’s perfect strategy, and Stanford stalled at the 33 with three minutes for the Trojans to work with.
Soon enough it was fourth-and-5. Barkley lobbed it to the left sideline for Lee, who hauled it in without much room to spare. The call: out of bounds. Still, on this night it just couldn’t be over yet; it wasn’t, as video review gave Barkley and Lee their game-saving completion.
A 20-yard catch put the Trojans just inside Stanford territory, but with the clock ticking down USC called a run play that went nowhere. A holding penalty and two straight sacks set up fourth-and-40; all Barkley could muster was a heave into double-coverage that was out of reach on the sideline. Fully futile for a No. 2 team, the epitome of a night when the Trojans rushed for 26 yards on 28 attempts, committed four turnovers and couldn’t hold back a rookie quarterback.
FOX stayed on air for two full minutes as Cardinal Nation conquered the field. The series was Stanford’s; Barkley would never, ever beat the Card.
On the way out of the parking lot, a pair of USC fans on foot took it upon themselves to stop in front of our car and block us for a while. “Go f*** yourself,” one of them shouted through the windshield.
I’ve never been so happy to hear those words directed at me. Fight on, buddy.
Joseph Beyda was about to confront the sore USC loser, but decided that getting out of the car wasn’t worth the effort. The USC fan should reveal how thankful he is to be “The One That Got Away” at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu.