They never thought it could happen.
Not at the Coliseum. Not in November.
And certainly not like that.
Two weeks after suffering the worst loss in Pete Carroll’s nine seasons as coach, 11th-ranked USC gave up more points than any Trojans team ever in a 55-21 loss to No. 25 Stanford before a stunned homecoming crowd of 90,071.
“I’m not of a clear mind right now,” Carroll said as he stood in an emptying locker room after the game. “I’m not really sure how to deal with this.”
Neither were his players.
“To be a senior and leave a legacy like this is sickening,” safety Taylor Mays said.
After watching Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart bull his way for 178 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and seeing quarterback Andrew Luck pass for two touchdowns and run for another, the Trojans searched for ways to describe the unthinkable.
This was not 2007, when a Stanford team that was a 41-point underdog beat the Trojans with a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute.
This was a beat down.
“This isn’t really what we’ve grown up watching SC football,” said freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, who lost a fumble and had three passes intercepted.
Oregon had administered similar punishment, but that 47-20 USC defeat was in famously raucous Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. And that was on the last day of October.
The Trojans won two national titles and seven consecutive Pacific 10 Conference championships in large part by going unbeaten in previous Novembers under Carroll.
The November win streak, which reached 28-0 with last week’s victory at Arizona State, began in 2001, when the Trojans finished fast and wound up in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Now, at 7-3 overall and 4-3 in the Pac-10, they are looking at the possibility of spending the holidays playing Keno back on the Strip, or playing in another second-tier bowl game in El Paso, San Francisco or San Diego.
Those were the possibilities even before Stanford (7-3, 6-2) defeated the Trojans at the Coliseum for the third time since 2001.
They became a stark reality when Gerhart and Luck helped convert Barkley’s turnovers into touchdowns. The Cardinal turned a seven-point game into a rout by outscoring the Trojans, 27-0, in the fourth quarter.
“Embarrassing,” Barkley said. “It makes you sick to see that scoreboard.”
USC, playing without top receiver Damian Williams, nearly overcame the fumble and Barkley’s first interception, pulling to within 28-21 at the end of the third quarter on Joe McKnight’s 28-yard touchdown run.
But when Luck connected with Coby Fleener for a 24-yard touchdown and defensive back Richard Sherman stepped in front of Trojans receiver Brice Butler and returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown, the rout was on.
Gerhart scored his third touchdown on a short run for a 48-21 lead. Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh then opted for a two-point conversion attempt, drawing boos from what was left of the crowd.
The two-point try failed, but Barkley’s third interception set up Tyler Gaffney’s one-yard run with just over two minutes left, leaving the Trojans in a daze.
“I wouldn’t have imagined that at all,” said USC safety Josh Pinkard, a sixth-year senior who played in the 2005 Bowl Championship Series title game. “Somehow it happened and we couldn’t stop the momentum because it just kept going and going.”
Harbaugh, whose team remains in contention for the Pac-10 title, looked as though he would have been happy to keep playing.
“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,” he said.
Gerhart carried 29 times and went over 100 yards for the seventh time this season.
The former Norco High star, who turned down a chance to play at USC because the Trojans wanted him as a fullback or linebacker, was surprised by the score.
“They’re USC and have been the premiere Pac-10 team,” Gerhart said. “We’ve been the underdogs. To come out today and make a statement says a lot about this program.”
What does it say about the Trojans?
“I didn’t think Oregon could happen and I didn’t think this could happen,” defensive tackle Armond Armstead said. “I never imagined in my whole life that this could happen.”
For the first time since 2001, USC will finish the season with at least three losses.
Washington knocked off the Trojans in their conference opener, and Oregon and Stanford humbled . . . no, humiliated them.
The losses could continue to mount if the Trojans fail to bounce back in two weeks against UCLA or in their season finale against Arizona.
Both games are at the Coliseum, which after Saturday no longer assures victory, close or otherwise.
“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. “I don’t really know where to put it.”