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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

USC vs. Stanford Post Game Press Conference

Third-down defense dooms the Trojans as USC falls to Stanford.

By: Dan Lovi

The Stanford Cardinal started Pac-12 play with a bang Saturday night, defeating the sixth-ranked USC Trojans, 41-31 at the Coliseum.

The Trojans’ offense kept USC in the game, but the defense struggled to stop Stanford on third-downs.

Stanford was nine of 30 on third-down conversions in its first two games, but finished eight of 12 against USC, including five consecutive third-down conversions in the second half.

“We just didn’t execute,” USC linebacker Su’a Cravens said. “We got them into third-downs, but just couldn’t get off the field. With an offense like that, they keep converting third-downs, it turns into long drives and it’s hard to stop them.”

Stanford’s rushing attack was nearly unstoppable, with Christian McCaffrey pacing the Cardinal with 120 yards on the ground. Remound Wright added 41 yards and three touchdowns.

If trying to stop the running backs wasn’t hard enough, USC struggled to contain Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who rushed for 45 yards to go along with 279 passing yards and two touchdowns. 

“We knew the containment of the quarterback would be big,” USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said, “We lost containment too many times and Kevin was able to get out and use his legs to convert a few first downs.”

Despite its woes on defense, USC kept the game close thanks in large part to quarterback Cody Kessler and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Kessler finished 25 of 32 with 272 yards and three touchdowns. Smith-Schuster had eight receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. also chipped in, finishing with three catches, two of them for touchdowns.

Kessler refused to put the loss on the defense, saying the offense could have done more.

“We didn’t capitalize when we did get possessions,” Kessler said. “There was a couple of drives we were down in the red zone, we finished with a field goal. We had momentum but penalties killed us.”

USC had eight penalties for a total of 87 yards, including a holding penalty that brought back an Adoree’ Jackson touchdown on a kickoff return in the first half.

Penalties in critical moments made it hard for the Trojans to maintain momentum. 

“We took a penalty in the drive in the fourth quarter where we had to settle for the field goal,” Sarkisian said. “I thought we had some momentum, ultimately we had to settle for the field goal, which we made, but we would have loved to have gotten seven there and maybe change the complexity of the game.”

The Trojans’ running game got off to a hot start with running back Tre Madden scoring on a five-yard touchdown in the team’s opening drive. However, the run game was almost nonexistent in the second half. The Trojans had only eight rushing attempts in the second half, compared to 20 in the first. Madden finished with 64 yards, all of them coming in the first half.

USC (2-1) will look to rebound next week against Arizona State (2-1) in its first road game of the season.

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