THE FALL OF TROY
Gerhart and the Card dominate USC
By JACK SALISBURY, SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Sometimes, the sequel is just as good as the original.
Hardly anyone thought Stanford could top the performance it gave two years ago when it shocked Southern California at the Los Angeles Coliseum as a 41-point underdog, but the Cardinal just might have done that this Saturday with a 55-21 shellacking of the Trojans. USC filled its stadium with more than 90,000 fans, but by the end of the game, there was only Cardinal — no gold — to be found in the stands.
“To do that against a storied program, a perennial power — it’s the greatest feeling in the world,” said senior running back Toby Gerhart.
“It was put-up-or-shut-up time for Stanford football and our guys came out focused and loose and did what we had to do to win,” said Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
The win catapulted Stanford (7-3, 6-2 Pacific-10 Conference) in the national rankings, as it now stands at No. 14 in the Associated Press poll. USC (7-3, 4-3 Pac-10) was predictably demoted, falling all the way down to No. 22.
Like the win two years ago, Saturday’s victory was historic in a number of ways.
The Cardinal scored 55 points, the most a USC football team has given up — ever. It was the Trojans’ worst home loss since 1966, and also marked USC Head Coach Pete Carroll’s first loss in the month of November in his nine years at the school (Carroll came into the game with a November record of 28-0). It was only the fourth home loss for USC since 2001; sure enough, three of the four losses have come at the hands of the Cardinal.
“I’m not sure I have the right words to describe being humbled like that in the Coliseum after so many years and so many good things and playing well and all that,” Carroll said after the game. “I don’t really know where to put it.”
Though Stanford won by 34 — which was an even bigger upset in terms of point spread than the 2007 win — the game wasn’t over until the opening moments of the fourth quarter, when senior cornerback Richard Sherman stepped in front of a Matt Barkley pass and took it 42 yards to the end zone, untouched. The pick-six made the score 42-21, breaking the spirit of the Trojans and their crowd.
Turnovers set the tone from the beginning, as USC coughed up the ball on its first two drives of the game; both turnovers led to Stanford touchdowns. Stanford senior linebacker Will Powers forced a Barkley fumble when the Trojans were already deep into Cardinal territory, allowing Stanford to strike first after it subsequently drove the ball 71 yards down the field.
On USC’s next drive, Stanford sophomore defensive tackle Matt Masifilo tipped a Barkley pass to himself before making a diving interception. The play was reviewed, but the ruling on the field stood. Redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck methodically drove the Cardinal down the field once again, and before many of the 90,000 in attendance even had a chance to take their seats, Stanford had jumped out to a 14-0 lead it would never relinquish.
Luck did not have the biggest game of his career, but it is difficult for a freshman quarterback playing in a hostile environment like the Coliseum to put on a better performance. He threw for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-22 passing, but didn’t turn the ball over once and consistently frustrated the Trojans with his opportunistic running, finishing the game with 61 yards and numerous successful third-down conversions.
“He played a very heady game,” Harbaugh said of his quarterback.
But it was Gerhart who wore away at the Trojans with 178 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries. Gerhart seemed to gain at least five yards on every play, keeping the USC offense off the field which was crucial for the Cardinal in maintaining its lead.
Not to be outdone, Coach Harbaugh made news once again at the end of the game after going for a two-point conversion with the Cardinal already up 48-21. Freshman Stepfan Taylor was stopped short of the end zone, but that didn’t stop a reaction from fans and media alike. Many believe that it was a competitive — if that is the correct word — gesture directed at Carroll.
Harbaugh assured reporters that it was nothing personal, although it is hard to know how true his statement was. After all, going for two up 27 doesn’t seem to be a standard convention in the world of college football.
“I thought it was an opportunity, the way we were coming off the ball, the way our players were playing — that it was the right thing to do,” Harbaugh said.
Carroll was obviously not enthused at the play call, but did not gripe or take any shots at Harbaugh when he was asked about it.
“I don’t know what they were thinking with that, but in that situation, they get to do whatever they want,” Carroll said.
— Stanford now has an outside chance of qualifying for the Rose Bowl, where it would face Big-10 Champion Ohio State. Four things must happen for this to take place: this weekend, Stanford has to beat California and Arizona has to beat Oregon. On the last weekend of the season, Oregon State has to beat Oregon and USC has to beat Arizona.
— Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has reported that Stanford Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby is putting the final touches on a contract extension that would keep Harbaugh on the Farm through 2014. “I expect that we’ll have an announcement soon,” Bowslby said after Saturday’s win. The contract will reportedly pay Harbaugh $1.25 million a year, which would make him the highest-paid coach in school history.