The USC Trojans certainly had their chances with several opportunities to take control before Stanford really seized things in the second half in a 21-14 victory.
USC benefitted early when Stanford missed scoring chances in the kicking game. A long return on the opening kickoff set the Cardinal up for a quick field-goal attempt, but it hit the upright and bounced away. The USC defense had a nice goal-line stand to force another field-goal attempt, which simply missed wide left. Finally there was the blocked field goal by T.J. McDonald.
There were a pair of key third-down swings. In the middle of the third quarter with the Trojans leading 14-7, Stanford was stopped on a third-and-long run play deep in their end, and a resulting punt would likely have given USC the ball near midfield. Instead there was a personal foul penalty against George Uko and the drive continued. On the final Stanford scoring drive, Josh Nunes – not known for his running ability – ran for 12 yards on a third-and-10 with the ball at midfield. A stop there would have given the Trojans the ball in a tie game. Instead, Stanford took the lead and never gave it up.
In the third quarter, USC was faced with a fourth-and-1 from the Stanford 13-yard line. There was no Andre Heidari to rely on, but you have to imagine a 30-yard attempt would have been in Alex Wood’s range. There was also the option to go for it, which the Trojans did, and Matt Barkley ended up lofting a pass in the direction of Soma Vainuku, who got his hands on the ball despite good coverage from the defender. As they came to the ground, however, the defender was able to dislodge the ball and the pass was ruled incomplete. The Trojans had a real chance right there to extend the 14-7 lead but they came away empty.