Amid a chorus of boos, No. 14 USC sputters to 42-28 loss to Stanford
The sun went down, and USC’s worst nightmares came to life.
The defense that looked dominant last week was coming apart at the seams, shredded by a first-time starter at quarterback in Stanford’s Tanner McKee. The problematic penalties returned, the discipline diminished, the force field inside the red zone remained. Even the kicker was kicked out.
In its first taste of #Pac12AfterDark, USC fell asleep at the wheel in a 42-28 thrashing by Stanford.
USC tacks on late score during loss to Stanford
Darwin Barlow scored on a four-yard run and Kedon Slovis connected with Gary Bryant Jr. for a two-point conversion, but it was far too late to overcome Stanford’s commanding lead.
The Cardinal ran out the clock and handed the Trojans a 42-28 loss.
Stanford recovers onside kick attempt, misses field goal
USC attempted an onside kick that Stanford fielded, but the Trojans caught a rare break. The Cardinal’s Joshua Karty missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt and USC got the ball back in its own territory.
Drake London hauls in athletic touchdown catch
Receiver Drake London caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Kedon Slovis, but for once tonight, the Trojans didn’t cheer.
London elevated over a defensive back to make the catch and came down hard on his back, but still held on to the ball while he crashed to the ground. He was slow to get up, appearing to possibly get the wind knocked out of him on the play. Teammates helped him to his feet in the end zone as the Trojans now trail 42-20 with 5:54 remaining.
It was a subdued celebration for the Trojans, who have tried to make a show of every small play tonight. Receivers who made catches well short of the first down marker still got up and pointed to the end zone as they made conversions. Defensive backs celebrated incompletions that only got nullified through penalties. But the scoreboard overshadowed London’s catch.
Stanford backup QB scores to extend lead
Stanford brought in its backup quarterback and still scored a touchdown on USC.
Isaiah Sanders powered into the end zone for a two-yard score that put the Cardinal up 41-13 with 9:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The touchdown capped a 10-play, 67-yard drive that was Stanford’s longest of the game.
The Trojans have zero yards on their past two offensive drives.
USC fans boo as Trojans trail entering the fourth
Even a fourth-quarter torch-lighting tradition couldn’t keep these USC fans happy.
As the Trojans trail 35-13 entering the fourth, fans at the Coliseum booed loudly after a third quarter that featured a pick-six thrown by Kedon Slovis, two more defensive pass interference calls that helped fuel a Stanford touchdown drive and two USC punts.
Fans have been quick to boo tonight after voicing their displeasure when head coach Clay Helton appeared on the big screen before the game and during halftime during on-field interviews.
USC was held to 64 yards on four drives in the third, scoring only on a red zone field goal.
Slovis is 19-of-32 passing for 152 yards and one interception. Stanford’s Tanner McKee has completed 12 of his 17 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Another Stanford touchdown assisted by USC penalties
Stanford is already averaging almost double the number of yards per play than USC, but the Trojan defense insists on helping the Cardinal with penalties.
Two pass interference calls on the USC secondary in back-to-back plays helped Stanford continue a drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from quarterback Tanner McKee. The Cardinal now lead 35-13 with 25 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Greg Johnson and Chris Steele were flagged for pass interference on consecutive plays that helped Stanford get from the USC 34-yard line to the four without officially running a play. That was Steele’s second 15-yard penalty today after he was also called for unnecessary roughness in the first half.
USC’s eight penalties have cost the Trojans 93 yards.
Stanford scores on pick-six
A pass that zipped right through Drake London’s hands ended up in the hands of Stanford’s Kyu Blue Kelly and now the Trojans are down 28-13.
A 31-yard pick-six from Kelly was the first turnover of the game and the first interception for USC quarterback Kedon Slovis this year. The Trojans trail with about five minutes left of the third quarter.
USC settles for field goal. Again.
Despite a promising first drive to open the second half, USC settled for yet another field goal after a third-down incomplete pass from Kedon Slovis intended for Gary Bryant Jr.
Alex Stadthaus knocked in his second field goal of the day, this one a 33-yard score as the Trojans now trail 21-13 with 9:14 remaining in the third quarter.
USC moved from its 25-yard line to the Stanford 17 with ease in eight plays, but it ran into trouble with a fumbled snap on first-and-10. Kedon Slovis threw the ball away, but the Trojans gained only one more yard once they reached the red zone.
Big plays define first-half struggles for USC defense
USC’s defense was a bright spot during the team’s win against San Jose State last week, but big plays from the Stanford offense have dulled some of the Trojan shine.
Stanford broke off passes of 38, 25 and 49 yards and scored on a huge 87-yard run during the first half. The Cardinal are outgaining the Trojans 248-183 despite having run 11 fewer plays.
Peat’s single 87-yard touchdown is still more rushing yards than USC has a team after the first half. The Trojans have just 86 rushing yards in the first half.
Penalties are another sore spot for the Trojans, who have been flagged five times for a loss of 53 yards. Three of those came on one drive that ended in a Stanford touchdown.
Stanford strikes back before halftime
Stanford started its drive with 1:49 remaining before halftime and didn’t even need the whole time to find the end zone.
The Cardinal extended their lead to 21-10 at halftime after scoring on a six-yard touchdown pass from Tanner McKee to Brycen Tremayne with nine seconds remaining.
A 49-yard pass from McKee to Austin Jones on second down set up the quick drive.
McKee is nine-of-11 passing for 151 yards and two touchdowns while Stanford’s Nathaniel Peat leads the team with 93 rushing yards on two carries. His 87-yard touchdown run opened the scoring in the first quarter.
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis was 11-for-17 passing in the first quarter with 97 passing yards. Vavae Malepeai leads USC with 48 rushing yards on nine carries.
As USC players ran off the field after the first half, there were a smattering of boos from the crowd.
Trojans settle for field goal
USC’s red zone troubles have returned as the Trojans settled for a 24-yard field goal by Alex Stadthaus after a 15-play, 68-yard drive.
USC, which trailed 14-10 in the final minutes of the second quarter, was held to just one touchdown in four red zone attempts in its season-opening win against San Jose State and have struggled again inside the 20-yard line tonight.
The Trojans needed a fourth-down conversion to keep their drive alive, putting Kedon Slovis under center for a rare quarterback sneak, but were then held to just five yards on the next three plays. Keaontay Ingram rushed for five yards on first down, but Slovis threw incomplete on second and third down.
USC penalties help Stanford into end zone
After holding Stanford to a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the seven-yard line, an offsides penalty gave the Cardinal new life on the three-yard line. Stanford made USC pay with a touchdown pass from Tanner McKee to Elijah Higgins to take a 14-7 lead with 8:34 to go in the second quarter.
The offsides flag was one of three critical mistakes from the Trojans, who gifted Stanford two first downs on 15-yard penalties. Cornerback Chris Steele was called for unnecessary roughness, which negated a good pass breakup on first down, and Isaac Taylor-Stewart was flagged for pass interference, putting the Cardinal at the USC 10-yard line.
The Trojans have five penalties for 53 yards compared to two flags for eight yards on Stanford.
USC ties it up with two-yard touchdown run
USC capped a 15-play, 95-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run from Keaontay Ingram to tie the game at 7-7 with 13:28 to go in the second quarter.
Backup kicker Alex Stadthaus converted the extra point for the first points of his USC career after coming in for the ejected Parker Lewis.
Ingram has six yards on four carries with the touchdown while Vavae Malepeai has 24 rushing yards on five carries that helped keep the long drive moving. Drake London leads the Trojans with 48 receiving yards, but freshman Jack Manjack IV got his first college receptions with two catches for 14 yards. He was a primary target in the red zone for Kedon Slovis, who has completed nine of his 13 passes for 89 yards.
Trojans drive into the red zone as first quarter ends
After going three-and-out on its first two possessions, USC finally has some momentum on offense.
The Trojans will start the second quarter on the Stanford 12-yard line after beginning their drive at their own five. Running back Vavae Malepeai (24 yards, five carries) and receiver Drake London (48 receiving yards, two catches) are powering USC, which trails 7-0 after the first quarter.
USC’s Kedon Slovis is seven-of-nine passing for 73 yards.
Stanford got crushed by Kansas State last week, giving up 24 unanswered points before scoring a garbage time touchdown to make the final score 24-7.
Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee came off the bench in the game to throw the touchdown and did enough to unseat starter Jack West for Saturday’s game. Last week, West went eight-for-12 passing for 76 yards and two interceptions. McKee completed 15 of 18 throws for 118 yards and one touchdown.
Stanford strikes quickly on second drive
Stanford’s Nathaniel Peat took a handoff for 87 yards and scored on the first play of Stanford’s second possession to put the Cardinal up 7-0 with 9:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Peat broke through a hole on the left side of the offensive line and ran untouched up the sideline. for a 12-second, one-play drive.
The Trojans went three-and-out on their previous possession.
Targeting call on opening kickoff costs USC its starting kicker
USC won the coin toss and deferred until the second half, but lost its starting kicker on the opening kickoff.
Parker Lewis was called for targeting while tackling Stanford’s Nathaniel Peat and ejected, now forcing the Trojans to think of a Plan B for all of its placekicking needs for the rest of the game.
The Trojans have backup kicker Alex Stadthaus, who has taken kickoffs in his USC career, but hasn’t attempted an extra point or field goal.
USC’s offensive line looking for growth after shaky performance in opener
It was only a brief blip in an otherwise fine debut, but with USC driving early in the fourth quarter of its opener, up just six points over San Jose State, Jonah Monheim lunged forward on a first-down pass play and missed his man.
The young right tackle’s missed block reverberated from there. The pocket collapsed. Kedon Slovis was sacked. And soon, the drive stalled, leaving USC to settle for a field goal.
What might have been a critical mistake was ultimately rendered moot by a pick-six on the ensuing possession. But after an offseason of anxiety around the offensive line, the miss was a reminder of the growing pains USC might still face this season with two redshirt freshmen finding their footing up front.
“We have a lot of room for them to grow to get better,” said new offensive line coach Clay McGuire, “and if we can get them to play to their potential and their ability fundamentally, I think we have a chance to have two really good tackles. Obviously, they’re young. But the thing is there’s a high ceiling there.”
USC safety Calen Bullock answered call against San Jose State with dynamic debut
Just a few days earlier, the freshman had been thrust unexpectedly into a starting role after redshirt senior safety Isaiah Pola-Mao tested positive for the coronavirus. Bullock hadn’t played a football game in nearly two years after his senior season at Pasadena Muir High was canceled amid the pandemic. But with its two-time captain and defensive leader forced to quarantine for the season opener against San Jose State, the Trojans entrusted the true freshman to take his place.
Bullock, after hearing the news, reached out to Pola-Mao to assure he wouldn’t let him down.
“You’re made for this,” Pola-Mao assured the freshman. “It’s your turn.”
It didn’t take long during Saturday’s 30-7 victory for Bullock to prove him right. After the nerves subsided, Bullock burst onto the scene with a dynamite debut, flying to the ball and leading USC in tackles (eight). In a standout day for the defense, no one stood taller.
USC poised to make double tight end sets a hallmark of its offense
When Kelvin Smith first got wind of his new offensive coordinator at North Texas, he was worried. All Smith knew of Graham Harrell ahead of that 2016 season was that Harrell taught the Air Raid offense. And as he understood it then, the Air Raid, with its four-wide sets and sling-it-around mentality, was no place for a tight end like himself.
His apprehension felt warranted that spring, when Harrell stuck the redshirt freshman in the slot as an oversized — and largely ignored — receiver. Smith caught just seven passes that season as the only active tight end on the roster, but with each passing year, his role evolved along with Harrell’s version of the Air Raid.
It wasn’t until Harrell’s third year — the same point at which USC now finds itself with the hotshot young coordinator — that North Texas really took off. Smith, now a graduate assistant for the Mean Green, says it was the season Harrell finally opened up to 12 personnel and unlocked the tight end.
Receiver Gary Bryant Jr. expected to bolster USC offense against Stanford
Just two USC receivers managed to catch passes in the Trojans’ season-opening win over San Jose State, but the return of another option should help shift that unexpected imbalance somewhat ahead of next Saturday.
Gary Bryant Jr. is expected to play against Stanford, after sitting out most of the preseason because of a hamstring injury. Shortly after his hamstring healed, Bryant was then forced into COVID-19 health and safety protocols, leaving him unable to play against San Jose State.
“I know he’s fired up to have a chance to play in this game, that’s his mindset,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “As long as we don’t have a setback, he’ll be ready. It’s just how we go through the week, to be honest with you. I hope that he’s completely healthy, which we’ll use him for a lot of reps. He’s a weapon, and he provides extra speed on the field.”
USC was expected to use a cadre of receivers in its offensive rotation Saturday, but only Drake London (66 snaps) and Tahj Washington (69) saw meaningful playing time. Freshman Joseph Manjack was named a starter earlier in the week, but received just 15 snaps Saturday, all in the first half. KD Nixon, the Colorado transfer, received eight snaps. Both saw only one target each.
Three things to know about USC vs. Stanford
USC (1-0) vs. Stanford (0-1)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Ch. 11
Weather forecast: 87 degrees, sunny.
Latest line: USC favored by 17.5 points
About USC: There are still plenty of questions to answer on offense, from pass protection to receiver depth to red-zone play calling. But it’s been a while since USC’s defense made a statement like it did during last week’s 30-7 win over San Jose State. Can USC maintain that level of defensive dominance? It’s far too early to tell, but early returns are promising. USC may need its defense to be extraordinary in order to alleviate the pressure on quarterback Kedon Slovis and the offense this season. For this week, a healthy dose of the run game against a Stanford defense that was run over last week by Kansas State should do the trick.
Roundtable: Will UCLA win the Pac-12? Is USC better? Can either reach the playoffs?
Are USC and UCLA actually good enough to pack the Coliseum on Nov. 20 or come close to it?
Ben Bolch: Yes. UCLA’s resurgence will help fill the pockets of the stadium left empty by Trojans fans — and there could be some big holes to fill if USC wobbles this season. It could be one of the biggest crowds in the crosstown rivalry in recent memory. Just remember to bring — and wear — your mask.
J. Brady McCollough: This is the first time USC and UCLA have been in the top 25 together since Week 3 of 2017, and the Bruins had a very short stay that week and have not made it back. I moved to L.A. in the spring of 2018 and was surprised by how little buzz there was about the football rivalry, and the fervor has only decreased since then. The rivalry needed to become nationally relevant again to boost its hold over the imagination locally, too, and even with the Delta variant or whatever’s next with COVID, I’d expect we see an amazing atmosphere Nov. 20 that shows the country L.A. cares plenty about college football.
Ryan Kartje: Ben is right. If USC starts to slip down the stretch, don’t be surprised if the Coliseum winds up a sea of blue and gold. The combination of Helton’s status on the hot seat, coupled with mask mandates and other COVID-related changes, left the Coliseum particularly barren in Week 1. But considering the path both crosstown rivals appear to be on, I anticipate the stakes in this year’s rivalry matchup will be especially high. If USC is in place to contend for the Pac-12 again, fans will find a way to fill the stands against UCLA, no matter how they feel about the coach.