Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh made national headlines last summer when he proclaimed that USC might be the greatest team in college football history.
This week, after USC barely squeaked past Washington, Harbaugh held firm in his hyperbolic belief.
On Saturday at the Coliseum, USC was not even the best team on the field.
In one of the greatest upsets in college football history, Harbaugh’s previously struggling Stanford team defeated the second-ranked Trojans, 24-23, ending USC’s 35-game home winning streak and possibly its bid for a national title.
“To give it up on a night like this when you play so miserably . . . it’s a crusher to have to give it up,” USC Coach Pete Carroll said of the winning streak.
A week after USC barely survived a penalty- and turnover-plagued performance at Seattle and fell from the top spot in the Associated Press media poll, the Trojans played even worse on offense against the Cardinal.
Quarterback John David Booty had four passes intercepted, one that was returned for a touchdown, one that set up the game-winning score and one that ended the Trojans’ hopes for a last-second victory.
Stanford won the game on quarterback Tavita Pritchard’s touchdown pass to Mark Bradford on fourth and goal from USC’s 10-yard line with 49 seconds left. Bradford beat cornerback Mozique McCurtis on the play, which silenced a crowd of 85,125, the first to witness a USC loss at home in six years.
Stanford, a 41-point underdog Saturday, also was the last team to defeat the Trojans at the Coliseum, 21-16 on Sept. 29, 2001.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been a game where a team was a 40-point underdog and playing with a quarterback making their first start” and won, said Harbaugh, whose team improved to 2-3 overall and 1-3 in the Pacific 10 Conference in his first season.
USC fans booed the team at halftime and also into the third quarter as the Trojans allowed the Cardinal to stay in the game with interceptions and a fumble. The Trojans sprinted off the field after the loss.
“It’s very, very surreal,” said senior nose tackle Sedrick Ellis, who had three sacks. “I’ve never had to do that before -- walk off our own field in defeat. It’s a very disgusting feeling.”
Stanford was coming off a 41-3 loss to Arizona State and was ranked last in the Pacific 10 in rushing defense and passing efficiency defense. But receiver Evan Moore, a senior from Brea, said he knew the Cardinal could beat USC when the Trojans went into halftime leading only 9-0.
“I didn’t think they brought it today and I knew we had it,” Moore said.
USC (4-1, 2-1 in the Pac-10) led, 9-0, at halftime after two mistake-filled quarters that featured dropped passes, penalties, a blocked extra-point attempt and a failure to score on fourth down from inside the Stanford one at the end of the second quarter, when Chauncey Washington was stopped for no gain.
Booty also suffered a fracture in the tip of the middle finger of his throwing hand, but played the rest of the game.
“There were some times when the balls were just bad, straight up. Just bad balls,” said Booty, who completed 24 of 40 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns. “At times there was some pressure and there were times when we were forcing things at the end.”
Safety Austin Yancy put the Cardinal on the path to an upset when he stepped in front of fullback Stanley Havili and picked off Booty’s pass at the USC 31-yard line early in the third quarter. Yancy sprinted into the end zone, and Derek Belch’s extra-point kick made the score 9-7.
Booty connected with tight end Fred Davis for a 16-yard gain on the next possession, but Davis fumbled. Stanford failed to capitalize, but the Trojans gave the Cardinal another shot when Booty overthrew David Ausberry and cornerback Nick Sanchez intercepted.
Once again USC stymied the Cardinal when Taylor Mays intercepted a long pass.
The Trojans went ahead, 16-7, on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Booty to Davis late in the third quarter, but the Cardinal answered immediately with a 75-yard, nine-play drive that running back Anthony Kimble capped with a one-yard touchdown to pull Stanford to within 16-14 with 14:54 left in the game.
Three minutes later, Booty connected with Ronald Johnson on a 47-yard touchdown pass play for a 23-14 lead.
Belch cut the lead to 23-17 with a 26-yard field goal with 5:43 remaining, and cornerback Wopamo Osaisai set up the game-winning drive when he intercepted Booty’s pass and returned it 18 yards to USC’s 45 with 2:50 left.
A pass interference call against safety Kevin Ellison moved the ball to the USC 30 and Pritchard calmly drove the Cardinal to the nine with a 20-yard pass to Richard Sherman on fourth-and-20 from the 29.
Pritchard scrambled for four yards on first down. Next, Moore caught a pass beyond the end line, then was unable to haul in a pass on third down.
Stanford was then penalized for having too many players on the field, setting up the fourth-and-10 play.
Pritchard, a redshirt sophomore who was starting for the first time because T.C. Ostrander had suffered a seizure Sunday, completed 11 of 30 passes for 149 yards. Before the winning touchdown, he said he could not hear the play Harbaugh had called, so he called one of his own, and hit Bradford near the left corner of the end zone.
Bradford, a fifth-year senior who played at Los Angeles Fremont High, said he was ready for the moment when it came.
“I’ve been trained all my life for this and I knew the moment would come. I was ready for it,” Bradford said.
The Trojans were not. Safety Bo McNally intercepted Booty’s final pass with 13 seconds left and Stanford had made history.
“They did a heck of a job and we made a ton of mistakes,” Carroll said. “I never thought we would lose tonight, even after they scored. We thought we’d go down the field and kick a field goal.”
Begin text of infobox
Home isn’t safe
USC had won 35 games in a row at the Coliseum since losing to Stanford, 21-16, on Sept. 29, 2001. The streak:
Oct. 13: USC 48, Arizona State 17
Nov. 3: USC 16, Oregon State 13
Nov. 17: USC 27, UCLA 0
Sept. 2: USC 24, Auburn 17
Sept. 28: USC 22, Oregon State 0
Oct. 12: USC 30, California 28
Oct. 19: USC 41, Washington 21
Nov. 16: USC 34, Arizona State 13
Nov. 30: USC 44, Notre Dame 13
Sept. 6: USC 35, Brigham Young 18
Sept. 13: USC 61, Hawaii 32
Oct. 11: USC 44, Stanford 21
Nov. 1: USC 43, Washington State 16
Nov. 22: USC 47, UCLA 22
Dec. 6: USC 52, Oregon State 28
Sept. 11: USC 49, Colorado State 0
Oct. 9: USC 23, California 17
Oct. 16: USC 45, Arizona State 7
Oct. 23: USC 38, Washington 0
Nov. 13: USC 49, Arizona 9
Nov. 27: USC 41, Notre Dame 10
Sept 17: USC 70, Arkansas 17
Oct. 8: USC 42, Arizona 21
Oct. 29: USC 55, Washington State 13
Nov. 5: USC 51, Stanford 21
Nov. 19: USC 50, Fresno State 42
Dec. 3: USC 66, UCLA 19
Sept. 16: USC 28, Nebraska 10
Oct. 7: USC 26, Washington 20
Oct. 14: USC 28, Arizona State 21
Nov. 11: USC 35, Oregon 10
Nov. 18: USC 23, California 9
Nov. 25: USC 44, Notre Dame 24
Sept. 1: USC 38, Idaho 10
Sept. 22: USC 47, Washington State 14
KEYS TO THE GAME
Gary Klein’s keys to the game and how USC measured up:
1. Flagging enthusiasm. After being penalized 16 times for 161 yards against Washington, USC cleaned up its act just a little and was penalized eight times for 80 yards. Stanford was penalized seven times for 65 yards.
2. Quarterback confidence. USC quarterback John David Booty hurt the middle finger on his throwing hand in the first half. He finished 24 for 40 for 364 yards and two touchdowns but had four passes intercepted. Stanford’s Tavita Pritchard was 11 for 30 for 149 yards and one touchdown with one interception in his first start.
3. Stop the run. USC, which went into the game ranked ninth nationally against the run, gave up 86 yards rushing, about 11 more than its average. Stanford, which was giving up 191.5 yards a game, held USC to 95.
By the numbers
35 - USC’s home winning streak since a 21-16 loss to Stanford on Sept. 29, 2001
41 - Points USC was favored by in Saturday’s game.
17 - Points scored by Stanford in the fourth quarter
141 - Points given up by Stanford in first three Pac-10 games, all losses.
4 - Interceptions thrown by John David Booty, one returned for a touchdown.
20 1/2 - Yards gained by Stanford on a fourth-and-20 play late in game.
0 - Yards gained by USC on fourth-and-goal from the 1 at the end of the first half.
224 - Difference in total yards in the game (459 for USC to 235 for Stanford)
8, 80 - USC penalties and penalty yards, about half of last week’s 16 and 161.