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USC Falls To Stanford In Pac-12 Championship

USC's roller-coaster of a game reflected their roller-coaster of a season. 

Santa Clara, CA – After a roller-coaster of a regular season, the USC Trojans valiantly marched their way into Levi’s Stadium, only to lose the PAC-12 title to Stanford in a roller-coaster of a game.

 Reading the box scores, one might infer that the game was a blow out. However, it was much more competitive than the 41-22 final score indicates. 

 USC came into the game with a ton of momentum on their side, but that quickly came to a halt when their offense couldn’t move the chains against Stanford in the first half. Then, the Trojans came racing back and even took the lead to start the second half, before Stanford and running-back Christian McCaffrey began to literally run away with the game.

 McCaffrey racked up 461 all-purpose yards in the game, an effort that even Trojan linebacker Su’a Cravens said was worthy of a Heisman Trophy.

 As for Troy, Saturday’s game was essentially a recap of their entire season.

 USC came into this game with all the momentum in the world. Exactly one week prior, they demolished cross-town rival UCLA and brought the Victory Bell back to South Central. On Monday, Clay Helton was stripped of his “interim” tag and permanently named head coach-- a move that greatly satisfied his Trojan players.

 As if that wasn’t enough, the Trojans also came into Saturday’s title game with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. The last time Troy played in the “Grandaddy of Them All” was back in 2009 under Pete Caroll, an era that seems like forever ago to the USC faithful.

 With all of that hype and momentum heading into the game, USC came out in the first quarter and laid an egg. 

 The Trojan offense had one possession in the first quarter and failed to score any points on the drive. Meanwhile the defense looked superb, holding Stanford to just a field goal after keeping them out of the end zone during a tough goal-line stand.

 In the second quarter, the USC defense had another impressive goal-line stand, which again resulted in three points instead of seven for Stanford.

USC defenders line up against Stanford's offense in the 2015 PAC-12 Championship game. (Scott Cook / Annenberg Media)
USC defenders line up against Stanford's offense in the 2015 PAC-12 Championship game. (Scott Cook / Annenberg Media)

 But, as good as USC’s defense looked, the offense looked equally as bad.

 Stanford’s offense possessed the ball for 21 minutes in the first half, while USC had possession for just 9 minutes. Miraculously though, the Trojans headed into halftime only down 13-3.

 Whatever Clay Helton said at halftime had his guys fired up.

USC came out of the half looking like a completely different team. First, Cody Kessler hit fullback Jahleel Pinner for a 1-yard touchdown. Following a defensive stop, running back Ronald Jones II scored again on a nifty 27-yard run to put the Trojans up 16-13.

 Then, just as the Trojans seemed to be hitting their stride, the wheels fell off.

 Stanford quickly marched down the field and scored again, thanks in large part to a 67-yard pass from QB Kevin Hogan to McCaffrey, which put Stanford back up 20-16.

 Then, Stanford’s Blake Martinez sacked Cody Kessler, causing Kessler to fumble the ball. Stanford’s Solomon Thomas scooped up the loose football and ran it back for 6 points. The third quarter ended with Stanford ahead, 27-16.

 USC scored on a Cody Kessler run to start the 4th quarter, making the score a manageable 27-22 following a failed 2-point conversion attempt. But two more McCaffrey touchdowns put the game out of reach for Troy.

 Following the game, Cody Kessler and Su’a Craven gave strong words of support for Coach Helton.

 “Stanford just beat us,” Cravens said. “This isn’t on Coach Helton at all.”

 Kessler added, “I’d play for this guy for the rest of my life if I could.”

QB Cody Kessler, Coach Clay Helton and LB Su'a Cravens address the media following loss to Stanford in PAC-12 Championship. (Scott Cook / Annenberg Media)
QB Cody Kessler, Coach Clay Helton and LB Su'a Cravens address the media following loss to Stanford in PAC-12 Championship. (Scott Cook / Annenberg Media)

 Despite the loss, the Trojans and Coach Helton should be satisfied with how the season turned out. They rebounded from a tumultuous situation with Steve Sarkisian and fought their way back into the PAC-12 title game when nobody gave them a chance.

 For a season that started with so much hype, nearly hit rock bottom, then rebounded to give CFB playoff-contender Stanford a run for their money in the PAC-12 Championship is impressive and speaks volumes about the legacy Clay Helton is already leaving at USC.

To view an interactive StoryMap about the history of the PAC-12 Championship Game, click here.

Folllow author Scott Cook on Twitter! 

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