By Johnny Curren
USC started out fast in its Pac-12 opener, but unable to get to quarterback Kevin Hogan or slow the Stanford offense for much of the game, the Cardinal outlasted the Trojans in the Coliseum on Saturday night, 41-31.
Beginning the contest with a stellar nine-play, 76-yard scoring drive that was capped by a five-yard touchdown run by Tre Madden, the Trojans led 21-10 in the second quarter, and by all indications, it looked like they had a chance to run away with the game.
But with Hogan able to get into a rhythm, the Cardinal scored two touchdowns late in the quarter to take a 24-21 lead at halftime.
The Trojans responded in the second half, sacking Hogan twice on Stanford’s opening drive before quarterback Cody Kessler hit Steven Mitchell Jr. for a one-yard touchdown pass (his second of the game) to put USC ahead 28-24.
But with the Trojans defense unable to keep that level of play going, Hogan, who finished the night 18 of 23 passing for 279 yards and 2 touchdowns, directed another scoring drive that was capped by a one-yard Remound Wright touchdown run to put Stanford up 31-28, and the Cardinal never looked back.
In a losing effort, Kessler put up efficient numbers for the third consecutive game, completing 25 of 32 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns, with JuJu Smith-Schuster recording eight catches for 153 yards and one touchdown. Madden led the Trojans rushers with 64 yards and one touchdown on nine carries. On defense, meanwhile, Su’a Cravens paced USC with 13 tackles, one sack and one pass break-up.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffery, who USC head coach Steve Sarkisian pointed to as a key player in the week leading up to the contest, led the Cardinal with 115 yards on 26 carries, while linebacker Blake Martinez recorded a game-high 14 stops.
The Trojans drew 8 flags on the night, with many of the penalties coming at critical moments.
Stanford outgained USC in total yardage 474 to 427.
USC (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) will next face Arizona State (2-1) in Tempe (Ariz.) on Saturday (9/26).