Not Another Stanford Stunner
Nov. 16, 2008
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -C.J. Gable made sure there wouldn't be a second Stanford stunner.
Gable returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown and ran for another score to help sixth-ranked Southern California overcome an early deficit and avenge last year's shocking loss to the Cardinal with a 45-23 victory Saturday.
Mark Sanchez added two touchdown passes and Stafon Johnson ran for two scores for the Trojans (9-1, 7-1 Pac-10), who had their season ruined a year ago when they lost as a 41-point home favorite, 24-23 to the Cardinal (5-6, 4-4).
The loss still stung 13 months later and there were plenty of reminders in the first sellout in three seasons at the remodeled Stanford Stadium. From the highlights of the game played on the video board during warmups, to the 'Greatest Upset Ever' T-shirts worn by many fans in the crowd to the Stanford band spelling out the score of last year's game at halftime, the Cardinal did their best to extend the memory.
Their play on the field early in the game did even more to upset the Trojans. Stanford dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball early in the game before Gable's long kickoff return late in the second quarter tied the game at 17.
The Trojans controlled the game the rest of the way, giving up few more big runs to Toby Gerhart the rest of the way and getting a consistent running attack from Gable, Johnson and Joe McKnight.
There was a bit of gamesmanship in the closing seconds, as Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh sent on Aaron Zagory for a field goal in the closing seconds. USC coach Pete Carroll called a timeout to ice the kicker, so the Cardinal went for it and scored on an 18-yard pass from Alex Loukas to Austin Gunder.
The win helped USC keep pace with Oregon State (7-3, 6-1) in the Pac-10 race and stay in the hunt for a berth in the BCS title game. The Beavers own the tiebreaker in the conference based on a head-to-head win and the Trojans trail five teams in the BCS standings, meaning they still need some help to reach their goals this season.
Stanford has one more chance to achieve its goal of reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2001, needing a win in the Big Game next week at California to become eligible.
Until the second half, it seemed as if the Cardinal had a chance to do that this week. But the Trojans dominated the trenches and the game after halftime. USC ran for 243 yards in the second half, while holding Stanford to just 46. The Trojans have outscored their opponents 171-19 in the second half this season.
Johnson finished with 115 yards rushing, scoring on the go-ahead 7-yard TD run late in the third quarter. Gable's 3-yard run early in the fourth extended the lead and the Trojans put the game away on Sanchez's 50-yard touchdown pass to fullback Stanley Havili. That gave coach Carroll the win in his 100th game at USC.
Sanchez, who watched as an injured John David Booty threw four second-half interceptions last year against the Cardinal, went 11-for-17 for 136 yards and the two scores.
Gerhart finished with 101 yards and a touchdown, giving him 1,033 for the season. He is the first Stanford back to top the 1,000 mark since Tommy Vardell ran for a school-record 1,084 yards in 1991.
Tavita Pritchard engineered the comeback to beat the Trojans last year in his first start. But he couldn't do the same this season, going 9-for-22 for 111 yards and an interception.
Stanford started out fast, getting a 16-yard pass from Pritchard to Delano Howell on the second play. Pritchard then ran 40 yards on a scramble for the longest run of the season against USC. Gerhart capped the 80-yard drive with a 4-yard run, completing the longest touchdown drive of the season against the Trojans.
USC didn't even manage to record a first down until early in the second quarter as Sanchez was sacked twice early. He hit Damian Williams on a 5-yard TD pass to tie the game midway through the second quarter, but Stanford answered with another long drive.
Gerhart broke tackles and stumbled his way for 40 yards down to the 1 to set up Anthony Kimble's 1-yard score, but the Trojans tied it at 17 on Gable's kickoff return. The Trojans had three kickoff returns of at least 50 yards in the game, also getting two from Ronald Johnson.