Kaden Smith

Getty Images

No. 10 USC fights off No. 12 Stanford to capture first Pac-12 title since 2008

2 Comments

If this is how championship week is going to start, we could be in for a doozy of a finish on Saturday to close out 2017.

No. 10 USC used a fourth quarter goal line stand and a few key plays from their star quarterback to hold off a pesky No. 12 Stanford squad for the second time this year and capture the conference title 31-28 in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game on Friday night.

The Trojans looked as though they were going to give away another game in the second half but showed why they were a near consensus pick in the preseason to win the league by showing a bit of championship level grit when it mattered most. On their heels following a shanked punt midway through the fourth quarter, the USC defense came up big with a fourth and goal stop from the one yard line when speedy linebacker Uchenna Nwosu tackled Cardinal back Cameron Scarlett just inches outside the goal line to prevent the go-ahead score from the North Division representatives.

That crucial stop then turned into a massive 14 point swing as golden boy Sam Darnold game up big on the ensuing possession, leading a 99-yard touchdown drive that all but locked up the title. The quarterback may not have had the 2017 many predicted he would have after that historic run last year (and the thrilling Rose Bowl victory back in January) but his 325 yards and two touchdowns were the result of one of his best games all year. Most of that yardage and a huge number of the big plays USC had at Levi’s Stadium came courtesy of the signal-caller hooking up with wideout Michael Pittman (146 yards, one touchdown) who was running free in the secondary on nearly every other play.

Not to be left out, Ronald Jones proved why he is one of the best running backs in the country and likely to return to the stadium on Sunday’s by rushing for 132 yards and a pair of scores against one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units.

That all helped spoil the previously perfect 3-0 record that the Cardinal had in the Pac-12 Championship Game coming into the night. Running back Bryce Love ran for 125 yards and a touchdown but was clearly still bothered by his banged up ankle injury, limping off late in the game and simply not having that extra gear we’re used to seeing. Even so, the likely Heisman finalist still put up another 52 yard run and really helped the offense get going starting in the second quarter.

With Love hobbled, QB K.J. Costello stepped up with his arm and finished with 192 yards and a pair of incredible on-the-money touchdown throws to Kaden Smith.

It wasn’t enough in the end however as the Trojans finished the season as many expected them to: as Pac-12 champions. That marked the first time the powerhouse team had won the league since 2008, when the trophy said Pac-10 on it and Pete Carroll was the head coach doing the heavy lifting on the sideline.

Whether all that will ultimately be enough for USC to sneak into the College Football Playoff with a historic move into the top four on Sunday remains to be seen but, on Friday night at least, all the postseason talk didn’t mean much for a program that has been through a lot and can once again lay claim to being the best in the West.

No. 21 Stanford beats No. 8 Notre Dame, advances to Pac-12 Championship

Associated Press
4 Comments

A trio of fourth quarter touchdowns turned an already good night into a great one for Stanford, as the No. 21 Cardinal blew past No. 8 Notre Dame 38-20 to claim Stanford’s third straight win and seventh in the last nine meetings of private school powers.

Meanwhile in Seattle, No. 17 Washington’s blowout of No. 13 Washington State handed Stanford its fourth Pac-12 North championship and sent the Cardinal into a Pac-12 Championship rematch with No. 11 USC on Friday in Santa Clara.

Stanford entered the fourth quarter trailing 20-17, but a 19-yard pass from K.J. Costello to Kaden Smith handed the Cardinal the lead with 13:46 to play. Curtis Robinson intercepted Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush inside Irish territory on the first play of the ensuing possession, and Costello’s fourth touchdown pass, this one a 12-yarder to Dalton Schultz gave Stanford control of the game with 12:21 remaining.

Disaster struck Notre Dame again after C.J. Sanders fumbled the ensuing kickoff at his own 18-yard line, and Jordan Scarlett put the game away for Stanford with a 3-yard touchdown plunge with 10:10 remaining.

A Wimbush interception inside the Stanford end zone ended any hopes of a last-gasp comeback.

Notre Dame opened the scoring with an 83-yard snatch-and-dash connection from Wimbush to Kevin Stepherson, handing the Irish a 7-0 lead at the 3:40 mark of the first quarter. Stanford pulled even on the next drive, knifing 72 yards in five plays, the last 29 on a Trenton Irwin pass from Costello.

The Cardinal forced a three-and-out on Notre Dame’s next possession, then took the lead with a 6-play, 55-yard march, mostly on Costello’s arm. He hit J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to give Stanford a 14-7 lead with 11:29 left in the first half.

Notre Dame cut into the deficit with a 38-yard Justin Yoon field goal with 2:36 left in the half. The Irish grabbed their second lead of the night with another long throw, this one a 75-yard toss from Wimbush to Equanimeous St. Brown. After Stanford tied the game with a 24-yard Jet Toner field goal, Yoon nudged Notre Dame back in front for its final lead of the night with a 38-yard boot at the 1:23 mark of the third quarter.

Wimbush finished the night hitting hitting 11-of-27 passes for 249 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, with two throws accounting for 158 yards and the other 25 going for 91.

Though his numbers did not pop off the page, Bryce Love was perhaps Stanford’s MVP with a game-high 20 carries for 125 yards. Playing on a high ankle sprain, Love’s 20 totes were sprinkled in between hobbles to and from the Stanford sideline; Love would carry the ball, wait for the pain to subside and then run back on the field to carry the ball again and again and again.

While Stanford (9-3) will prepare for its rematch with the Trojans — USC won the first meeting, 42-24 Sept. 9 in Los Angeles — Notre Dame (9-3) will look to hold on its New Year’s Six bowl positioning.

Bryce Love (mostly) quiet as No. 22 Stanford retains control of the Axe

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Baker Mayfield‘s antics in Lawrence provided Stanford’s Bryce Love a sliver of an opportunity to climb back inside the minds of Heisman voters.

Unfortunately for him, Love’s injured ankle didn’t allow him to take advantage of that opportunity.

Love struggled for much of the night, posting a quiet (by his standards) night of 14 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown, as No. 22 Stanford topped California 17-14 in Palo Alto. His final carry of the night came with 14:16 left in the fourth quarter.

That’s not to say Love was totally quiet, though. Love broke free for a 57-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, giving Stanford a 17-6 lead at the time.

With Love hobbled, Stanford handed the keys of the offense over to quarterback K.J. Costello and backup running back Cameron Scarlett. Costello hit 17-of-26 passes for 185 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His touchdown, a 17-yarder to Kaden Smith, broke a 3-3 tie with 8:17 left in the first half and put Stanford up for good.

Scarlett carried 14 times for 61 yards, which doesn’t seem like much until you realize he toted the ball on 11 consecutive plays, which allowed the Cardinal to expire all of Cal’s timeouts and kill the final 7:25 remaining in a 3-point game.

Cal had chances to win the game, though. Matt Anderson had a 47-yard field goal doink off the upright in the second quarter, and Ross Bowers drove Cal into Stanford territory at the midway point of the fourth quarter before he was intercepted by Stanford’s Ben Edwards. Bowers finished the night hitting 20-of-29 passes for 182 yards, and Patrick Laird led all runners with 20 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown.

The win gives Stanford eight straight wins in The Big Game, the longest winning streak by either side in a rivalry that dates back to 1892.

The win means Stanford (8-3, 7-2 Pac-12) can clinch the Pac-12 North if No. 14 Washington State beats No. 18 Washington in the Apple Cup on Saturday on Saturday. (Stanford completed Pac-12 play early in order to host No. 8 Notre Dame.) Cal (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) must win at UCLA on Friday to reach a bowl game in head coach Justin Wilcox‘s first season.

Love quiet as Stanford leads Cal at the half

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Stanford is halfway to keeping its namesake Axe. The Cardinal leads Cal 10-6 at the break in Palo Alto.

Stanford broke a 3-3 tie by moving 70 yards in 10 plays, the last 17 on a K.J. Costello pass to Kaden Smith. Costello hit 11-of-20 passes for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception on the final play of the half.

Cal moved inside the Stanford red zone with a chance to tie, but the drive stalled at the 9-yard line and Matt Anderson booted a 26-yard field goal to pull the Bears within 10-6 with 2:43 left in the half.

On a night when he could win some points back in the Heisman race, Bryce Love has carried just six times for 17 yards.

Cal will receive to open the second half.