Andre Heidari kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds left to lead USC to a 20-17 victory over No. 5 Stanford at the Coliseum on Saturday night.
With the win, the Trojans improved to 8-3 overall and 5-2 in the Pac-12. The Cardinal dropped to 8-2 and 6-2.
It was an emotional effort by USC, which snapped a four-game losing streak to Stanford while winning for the fifth time in six games under interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler passed for 288 yards and a touchdown on 25 of 37 passing to pace a USC offense that made the plays that it had to make to win. Case in point, a 13-yard completion to Marqise Lee on fourth and two on USC’s last drive that gave the Trojans a first down at the Stanford 35-yard line. Six plays later, Heidari was the hero.
The key to the game was USC’s ability to score early. By doing so, Stanford was unable to grind out the clock with its run game (as it did against Oregon last week). As it was, running back Tyler Gaffney still gained 158 yards on 28 carries, with two scores, but quarterback Kevin Hogan struggled to hit targets down the field, completing just 14 of 25 passes for 127 yards while throwing two interceptions, including a back-breaker to safety Dion Bailey at the USC 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
There was no major breakdown by either defense. Stanford allowed 311 total yards, while USC gave up 387. The time of possession was about even and the Trojans gained just 23 net yards on the ground. But USC’s spirited effort on defense stymied the Cardinal, whose three turnovers might’ve been the difference.
The win by USC tonight could have some long-term ramifications in the Pac-12 and nationally. By beating Stanford, Oregon has now taken control of the race for the Pac-12 North. Stanford now has no place in the national title discussion, while the Ducks have an outside chance at sneaking back into it.
Meanwhile, the temptation might exist for USC athletic director Pat Haden to tab Orgeron as his permanent head coach. But USC has the potential to get an elite coach who has proven himself over the long term. Will Haden be far-sighted enough to think of that long term rather than take the easy, emotional route? His decision could ultimately decide the course of the conference for the next five years.
For now, though, USC can enjoy a great win over a top five team. It just goes to show that despite the scholarship restrictions, the Trojans can field a roster that can compete with any team in the country. Lane Kiffin obscured that fact for a while — now it’s self evident.