Stanford defeats USC, 41-22, for Pac-12 championship
USC’s Cody Kessler scrambles with the ball against Stanford during the second quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster catches a pass over Stanford’s Alameen Murphy during the second quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster stiff arms Stanford’s Ronnie Harris during the second quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
USC’s Ronald Jones II celebrates with teammates after he scored a touchdown against Stanford during the third quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 5.(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
USC’s Ronald Jones II scores a touchdown, dragging Stanford’s Dallas Lloyd (29) into the endzone during the third quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
USC’s Adoree’ Jackson breaks up the pass to Stanford’s Michael Rector during the first quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey stiff arms USC cornerback Iman Marshall on a kick return during the first quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Jason O. Watson / Getty Images)
Stanford’s Remound Wright (22) dives over the top for a first down against USC during the first quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
USC quarterback Cody Kessler passes against Stanford during the first quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Jason O. Watson / Getty Images)
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan scores a touchdown past USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson during the second quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Jason O. Watson / Getty Images)
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey rushes up field against USC during the first quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.(Jason O. Watson / Getty Images)
Stanford appears to be headed to the Rose Bowl.
Trojans fans can make their reservations in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl, El Paso for the Sun Bowl, San Jose for the Foster Farms Bowl, or possibly Las Vegas, for the bowl there.
USC will not be going to Pasadena on Jan. 1. The last time the Trojans made that trip was 2008.
Stanford won the Pac-12 Conference championship Saturday night by defeating USC, 41-22, before a crowd of 58,476 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Dominated by the Cardinal in the first half, the Trojans rallied in the third quarter to take the lead before a Stanford touchdown was followed by a key USC turnover that turned the tide.
Shortly after Stanford had retaken the lead, 20-16, USC quarterback Cody Kessler was stripped of the ball by the blitzing Blake Martinez and Solomon Thomas scooped it up and rambled 34 yards for a touchdown on the next-to-last play of the third quarter.
It was only the fifth fumble Stanford had forced this season.
Other than that, credit Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey, whose performance surely secured a spot in New York next weekend as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
McCaffrey finished with 461 all-purpose yards – 207 rushing, 105 receiving, 120 on kickoff returns and 29 on punt returns. He also threw an 11-yard scoring pass.
During the trophy presentation after the game, Stanford players up on the podium chanted, “Heisman! Heisman! Heisman!”
In two games against USC this season, McCaffrey had 711 all-purpose yards. He has 3,496 all-purpose yards this season, an NCAA single-season record. He passed Barry Sanders, who had 3,250 yards for Oklahoma State in 1988.
At halftime, Stanford had a 209-80 advantage in total offense, had an edge in time of possession of 21 minutes 8 seconds to 8:52, and McCaffrey had a Pac-12 title game record for a half with 155 yards rushing.
But the Cardinal lead was just 13-3.
Which disappeared fast in the third quarter.
USC put together scoring drives of 65 yards in seven plays and 75 yards in seven plays on their first two possessions of the second half.
Kessler finished having completed 22 of 37 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan completed nine of 12 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown.
McCaffrey carries 32 times for his 207 yards rushing. Justin Davis led USC’s rushing attack with 99 yards in 17 carries.
Stanford, which was ranked No. 7 in the next-to-last College Football Playoff ranking, and USC, which was No. 20, will learn their bowl assignments on Sunday.
Stanford 41, USC 22 (1:38 left in the fourth quarter)
On fourth-and-three, Kevin Hogan hits Devon Cajuste with a pass for an 18-yard game to the USC 12.
One play later, Christian McCaffrey scores on a 10-yard run, slipping two would-have-been tackles and using a straight arm at the three.
McCaffrey now has 461 all-purpose yards in the game.
USC, needing two touchdowns, still can’t seem to find a receiver down the field.
Cody Kessler is a high-percentage quarterback for several reasons -- but one of them is that he rarely throws deep, or even mid range.
Finally, with USC stuck at third-and-17, he did, and Steven Mitchell was wide open on a post pattern.
And the pass was five yards long.
Stanford takes over at its own 43 with 4:24 left in the game.
Stanford 34, USC 22 (6:33 left in fourth quarter)
As much as USC’s defense surely is focused on Christian McCaffrey, the Trojans can’t contain him.
This time the scat back got a big assist from quarterback Kevin Hogan, who did a nice job avoiding a rush on a third-and-two play, then dumped a short pass off to McCaffrey, who had slipped out of the backfield.
Twenty-eight yards later, he was in the end zone.
Stanford’s drive covered 75 yards in 10 plays.
McCaffrey has 442 yards in all-purpose yardage -- and he threw an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Stanford 27, USC 22 -- (12:29 left in fourth quarter)
USC showed it’s not ready to go away yet, but that missed point-after earlier in the game just became a big factor.
The Trojans scored in seven plays, covering 65 yards as Cody Kessler ran the final 12 after faking a handoff to Justin Davis that froze the Stanford defense.
But then, trying to pull back within a field goal, USC went for two points -- and it was ugly.
Kessler pitched the ball to running backTre Madden, who looked like he wanted to throw it before he was swallowed up by Solomon Thomas.
Big plays on the scoring drive were a 27-yard run by Adoree’ Jackson and a 12-yard run by Justin Davis.
Stanford, scoring off a big turnover at the end fo the third quarter, leads USC, 27-16, with one period to play in the Pac-12 Conference championship game.
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey has been star of the show, his 366 all-purpose yards a Pac-12 title game record.
McCaffrey has 166 yards rushing in 23 carries and two catches for 71 yards.
Stanford 27, USC 16 (four seconds left in third quarter)
The first turnover between these teams in seven quarters this season has turned the tide back in Stanford’s favor.
On third-and-11 from USC’s 42, Cody Kessler was sacked by the blitzing Blake Martinez, who knocked the ball loose to be scooped by Solomon Thomas, who then rambled 34 yards for a touchdown.
USC benefitted from a similar play that was the turning point last week against UCLA.
USC Coach Clay Helton challenged the call on the fumble, costing the Trojans a timeout when the play was upheld and prompting this over Twitter from Fox Sports’ Mike Periera, former NFL official:
“Why would USC challenge that? It cost them a time-out and any further challenge. Replay would confirm it before the try anyway.”
Justin Davis caught the kickoff at the five yard-line, turned, collided with Adoree’ Jackson and fell to the ground.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play moved the ball back to the three.
But USC responded with a couple of third-down plays of its own -- the first on a catch by JuJu Smith-Schuster with a defender drapped all over him, and then another Cody Kessler pass -- this one to Steven Mitchell for a 22-yard gain.
Stanford 20, USC 16 (3:11 left in the third quarter)
Grind-it-out Stanford just became quick-strike Stanford, and USC’s first lead lasted barely two minutes.
Kevin Hogan scored on a seven-yard run after yet another huge gain by Christian McCaffrey.
Two McCaffrey runs netted just four yards, but on third-and-six, McCaffrey was sent on a pass pattern and found one-on-one coverage by USC with linebacker Olajuwon Tucker.
That’s called a mismatch.
The play went for 67 yards, and Hogan scored on the next play.
McCaffrey has already set a Pac-12 championship game record with 366 all-purpose yards.
USC 16, Stanford 13 -- (5:28 left in third quarter)
Just when you thought another penalty might kill USC’s momentum ... Coach Clay Helton decides to give the ball to Ronald Jones II.
Jones, a freshman, burst 27 yards on an electrifying touchdown run to give USC its first lead.
After being totally dominated in the first half, the Trojans have looked unstoppable on both secnd-half possessions.
Justin Davis had a couple of nice runs and Cody Kessler some sharp passes as the Trojans moved 70 yards.
The penalty was for a chop block that negated another strong Davis run and moved USC back 15 yards for first-and-15 at the 27.
That’s when Davis took the ball.
Operating from its own 24, Stanford got one first down -- on a short third-down run by Christian McCaffrey.
But McCaffrey was stuffed on the next third-and-short run, and Stanford punts to the USC 25.
Different sounds coming out of the USC coaches’ box now. Those expletives from the first half have been replaced by cheers.
There was a booming “Yeah!” and applause when McCaffrey was tackled in the backfield on third down.
Stanford 13, USC 9 -- (11:51 left in third quarter)
USC opened the second half at its own 35 -- and immediately looked like a different team.
Justin Davis gained four yards on a run, then busted loose for 25 yards.
Cody Kessleer connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster for 19 yards on a slant pass, then Davis gained nine more yards with another nifty run.
A five-yard run by Davis gained USC first down at the Stanford three, and a two-yard run by Tre Madden took it to the one.
Kessler then hit Jahleel Pinner with a swing pass for a touchdown, as Smith-Schuster made a nice block.
However, Alex Wood’s low kick on the point-after attempt was blocked.
That was Pinner’s second career touchdown. The first came on a similar play against Colorado.
Stanford should be sufficently inspired for the second half:
North Carolina leads No. 1 Clemson, 16-14.
Hard to believe that Stanford’s lead over USC in the Pac-12 Conference championship game is just 13-3 at halftime.
The Cardinal offense -- Christian McCaffrey in particular -- has dominated.
Stanford has a 209-80 advantage in total offense, and has an edge in time of possession of 21 minutes 8 seconds to 8:52.
McCaffrey has 155 yards rushing, a Pac-12 championship game record for most rushing yards in a half. The record was previously held by Oregon’s LaMichael James.
McCaffrey also has four yards as a receiver, 56 yards in two kickoff returns, 29 yards in two punt returns, and even passed for 11 yards -- and a touchdown.
McCaffrey surpassed the 3,250 all-purpose yards Barry Sanders had in 1988 to establish a new NCAA record. McCaffrey ended the half with 3,275 yards this season.
Stanford has 193 yards rushing to USC’s 38.
And yet, the Cardinal’s lead is only 10 points -- and USC gets the ball to open the second half.
Stanford 13, USC 3 -- (10 seconds left in second quarter)
Alex Wood connected on a 40-yard field goal as USC’s offense finally was able to sustain a drive, moving from the Trojans’ six.
USC had a first down at the Stanford 30, but Kessler was unable to find a receiver open more than a couple of yards down field.
A pass to Justin Davis picked up three yards, and after an incompletion, Kessler connected to JuJu Smith-Schuster, but for only four yards.
The USC offense has been located.
Justin Davis more than doubles the Trojans’ total in offense with a 16-yard run.
A play later, Cody Kessler connects with Darreus Rogers for 11 yards and another first down.
And with a 13-yard burst by Ronald Jones II and a couple of short passes from Kessler to JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC breaks into Stanford territory.
As USC takes over at its own six, the Trojans have nine yards of offense and 45 yards in penalties.
That man again.
Christian McCaffrey fielded a short punt on a bounce near midfield and ran all the way to the USC 19.
Five players later, Stanford had third-down at the one.
But for the second time, USC’s defense turned the Cardinal away -- this time without a point.
Remound Wright was stuffed at the one on third down, and on fourth down linebacker Porter Gustin came flying in off the edge to sack Kevin Hogan for a five-yard loss.
USC’s third possession of the game results in a loss of 16 yards after a false start penalty and an 11-yard sack of Cody Kessler by Brennan Scarlett.
Time to punt.
Don’t be surprised when some sort of fight breaks out during this game -- it looks really chippy considering it’s only the second quarter.
A Cardinal defender appeared to “help” JuJu Smith-Schuster up after he was tackled earlier - and the two exchanged words - before Smith-Schuster was called for unsportsmanlike penalty.
Adoree’ Jackson was tackled on a kick return and players stayed down for a prolonged period. Later on the drive, Viane Talamaivao and a Stanford player were knotted up near USC’s sideline.
Stanford 13, USC 0 -- (8:32 left in second quarter)
A goal-line stand by USC has kept the Trojans in the game, at least temporarily.
Stanford, which has perhaps the nation’s top short-yardage offense, got turned away when linebacker Anthony Sarao stuffed Remound Wright just short of the goal-line on a third-down run.
The Cardinal ended up settling for a 23-yard field goal by Conrad Ukropina.
Stanford used another eight plays and more than five minutes on the drive.
The big play: a 50-yard run by Christian McCaffrey, who has already rushed for 151 yards in 15 carries.
McCaffrey also gained four yards on a pass reception, 31 yards on a kickoff return and 11 yards on a pass he threw for a touchdown.
USC coaches could be heard screaming loud expletives from the coaches box, which is next door to the press box, during Stanford’s drive.
USC, counting its latest three-and-out, has run 11 plays -- including punts -- on offense, and we’re a couple of minutes into the second quarter.
After a punt, Stanford takes over at its 35.
Stanford 10, USC 0 -- (14:54 left in second quarter)
Yeah, Christian McCaffrey can do a little bit of everything.
He runs from tailback. He returns punts and kickoffs. He catches passes out of the backfield. And he throws ...
Yes, he throws.
Most recently, an 11-yard strike to quarterback Kevin Hogan on a expertly designed and executed reverse pass.
Before that, McCaffrey had gained 46 yards in seven carries on the drive, including a six-yard run on third-and-three to keep the 13-play march going.
Stanford also converted on fourth-and-inches at the 13 when Remound Wright gained two yards.
As the second quarter begins, Stanford is on USC’s doorstep again, thanks to the running of Christian McCaffrey.
The first quarter just ended and USC held the ball all of 2 minutes and 25 seconds.
Halfway through the first quarter, a few fans are still trickling in, but Levi’s Stadium appears half full --or half empty, depending on your glass.
Bill Plaschke, Chris Dufresne, Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry make their Pac-12 Championship game predictions from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Stanford takes over at its own 22 with 6:43 left in the first quarter after a punt and USC’s Quinton Powell drops Christian McCaffrey for a two-yard loss on the return.
USC does not convert on its second third-down situation as JuJu Smith-Schuster drops a pass and then clocks the Stanford defensive back who offered to help him up.
Adoree’ Jackson has played a limited role on offense since the Utah game, including just two snaps against UCLA, but he checked in on USC’s first offensive series.
USC converts on its first third-down situation as quarterback Cody Kessler scrambles eight yards to the 43.
After a 32-yard return by Adoree’ Jackson, USC starts at its own 32.
Stanford 3, USC 0 (9:08 left in first quarter)
A 30-yard field goal by Conrad Ukropina has put Stanford on top after its first possession of the game.
Disappointing for the Cardinal.
Stanford had first-and-goal from the four and had to settle for a field goal.
Su’a Cravens sacked Kevin Hogan for a seven-yard loss on first down, then a holding call negated an 11-yard scoring pass from Hogan to Christian McCaffrey.
As the penalties turn:
Stanford loses a touchdown on a holding call that negates an 11-yard scoring pass from Kevin Hogan to Christian McCaffrey.
Stanford has averaged five penalties per game and already has two for 15 yards.
USC averages more than seven per game and has two for 20 yards.
Another USC penalty keeps Stanford’s opening drive going.
On third-and-11, Kevin Hogan passed to Devon Cajuste and Marvel Tell III was called for pass interference, an automatic first down.
Tell, a freshman, recently returned to action after being sidelined several games because of a collar-bone injury.
We have kickoff.
And a 31-yard return by Christian McCaffrey, which is about his average.
Stanford stats from its own 32, and immediately moves up five yards when USC’s Antwaun Woods is called for being offside.
USC published photos of former tailback Reggie Bush inside the Trojans’ locker room at Levi’s Stadium.
Bush will honored in a pregame ceremony as a member of the Pac-12 Networks All-Century team. (link: https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/uscnow/la-sp-usc-reggie-bush-pac-12-championship-game-20151205-story.html)
Several former Trojans players have already reacted to Bush’s presence on social media.
“This is #huge, I see u #president @ReggieBush #fighton, #juiSCe,” wrote former teammate LenDale White.
“Them boys so happy to see Reggie I’m glad he came back that was long overdue for real he’s the reason we all went there man that was special,” wrote former running back Marc Tyler.
Wrote former linebacker Hayes Pullard, “Come home big bro @ReggieBush!”
“So happy to see this did so much for USC... best college player EVER in my opinion,” wrote former linebacker Devon Kennard.
There’s even a player in today’s game who is wearing No. 5 because he idolized Bush growing up:
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, the nation’s leader in all-purpose yardage.
USC will have a fourth-string player in its starting lineup:
Nico Falah was announced as the Trojans’ starter at center.
Kahliel Rodgers, the third-stringer, had played well after Max Tuerk and Toa Lobendahn suffered season-ending injuries. But Rodgers suffered a high ankle sprain a week ago against UCLA.
Falah played for a long stretch against the Bruins, and the Trojans continued to move the ball.
Other notable developments in USC’s starting lineup:
On defense, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson was listed as a starting safety with Chris Hawkins.
Freshman Iman Marshall and senior Kevon Seymour will start at cornerback.
Sophomore Olajuwon Tucker will make his second start at inside linebacker in place of the injured Cameron Smith.
We have your official Los Angeles Times predictions for today’s game -- just so you know how NOT to bet in Las Vegas.
Columnist Bill Plaschke takes USC, 31-20. (And remember, he recently called Dave Roberts as Dodgers manager and Clay Helton to stick at USC.)
National college football columinist Chris Dufresne takes Stanford, 41-31. (The same score as the first time these teams met. But can he be trusted? His wife is a Stanford graduate, so he may just be keeping the peace.)
USC beat reporter Gary Klein takes USC, 35-30. (And anyone who knows Gary is just happy he made a choice.)
USC correspondent Lindsey Thiry takes Stanford, 34-31. (And what a shock she would pick opposite of Klein.)
Deputy sports editor Mike Hiserman takes Stanford, 40-34 in overtime. (He knows less than the others about these teams but is convinced it’s going overtime just to push early deadlines.)
USC and Stanford will kickoff in less than an hour at a cloudy Levi’s Stadium, where is is currently 55 degrees.
If the Trojans win, they are on their way to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2008 season. If they lose, there are several different bowl game scenarios -- from the Alamo in San Antonio to the Holiday in San Diego to the Foster Farms back here at Levi’s to the Las Vegas Bowl.
For Stanford, a victory ensures the Rose Bowl. And the Cardinal will be watching to see if North Carolina can upset top-ranked Clemson in Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Stanford defeated USC, 41-31, in September, and Coach David Shaw has the Cardinal playing for a Pac-12 title for the third time in four years -- having won in their two appearances.
Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan played well against the Trojans in the third game of the season, and he played well in last week’s victory over Notre Dame.
USC is coming off a 40-21 victory over rival UCLA in a game that once again showed the Trojans’ commitment to running the ball.
This will be Clay Helton’s first game as USC’s permanent head coach. He was promoted Monday after going 5-2 as interim coach this season.
Thiry is reporting from San Jose, Hiserman from Los Angeles.
Follow Lindsey Thiry on Twitter @LindseyThiry
Follow Mike Hiserman on Twitter @Mike Hiserman
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.