It's for Real: Stanford Stuns USC
LOS ANGELES -- Before the season, Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh called USC the best team in the history of college football. That's clearly not the case, but Stanford's 24-23 stunner over USC tonight serves as a landmark win in Cardinal lore and one of the biggest upsests in recent college football memory.
It's also the first home loss in six years for USC, who last lost in the Coliseum to the 2001 version of the Cardinal.
Fueled by an opportunistic defense and big plays from backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard, the Cardinal kept the game close for its entirety and capped it off with an improbable drive that needed two fourth-and-long conversions, including the game-winning touchdown.
And in the most unlikely twist of them all, Pritchard, filling in for regular starter T.C. Ostrander (who suffered a seizure last week), said he didn't even know if he was calling the correct play on the pivotal fourth-and-20 conversion that set up the winning touchdown.
"Coach called a play and I couldn't really hear him," Pritchard said. "It was loud. I think I heard him, but I just kind of called my own play that was similar to the one I think I heard."
Harbaugh said that it was in fact the correct play, but it was news to him that Pritchard wasn't sure about it. Something tells me he's not going to be too upset.
The play in question came as a result of John David Booty's third interception of the night with USC leading 23-17 and 2:50 remaining in the game. Until that point, Stanford had hung tough, but there was a sense that the Trojans would hold their ground. They always do.
But once Wopamo Osaisai hauled in the errant Booty pass, there was a feeling that the Cardinal may actually pull it off. They started their final drive on the USC 45 and quickly moved the ball to the 19. There Stanford stalled.
Pritchard threw an incomplete pass on first down. A holding call on second and 10 moved the Cardinal back 10 yards. Two more incomplete passes, and Stanford faced fourth and 20. Again, there was a sense that USC would snuff the upset bid. But Pritchard had other ideas.
With the L.A. Coliseum the loudest it's been all year, Pritchard stepped to the huddle, called what he thought was his own play and proceeded to deliver a 20-yard strike to Richard Sherman that went 20 yards and not a foot more. Replay confirmed the first down and Stanford again had new life at the nine-yard line.
Pritchard picked up four more yards on a first-down bootleg, but incomplete passes on second and third down forced another fourth down. A penalty for too many men on the field forced them back five more yards. Faced with another do-or-die situation, Pritchard threw a perfect lob pass to the back corner of the end zone where Mark Bradford pulled it in for the winning touchdown with :49 showing on the clock.
USC's last gasp effort ended with a seemingly appropriate Booty interception and the Cardinal were left to rush the field and leave a stunned Coliseum crowd in a chorus of silence and a spoiled spattering of boos.
"I don't know if there's ever been a game where a team was a 40-point underdog and playing with a quarterback
making their first start," Harbaugh said. "(Pritchard) had a gleam in his eye. From Sunday on, he was ready to
play and took it on his head and played great. He was into it from the first snap."
It didn't look like he was into it from the first snap as the Trojans kept Stanford off the scoreboard for the entire first half. USC couldn't get much going on offense with dropped passes, shortcomings on fourth-and-goal and a blocked extra point that really came back to hurt them. But the USC defense played spectacular, holding the Cardinal to just 74 yards of total offense.
But when Austin Yancey hauled in the first of four Booty interceptions for a touchdown early in the third quarter, it seemed to spark new life into the Cardinal. The offense eventually came alive and Pritchard suddenly became a hero in Palo Alto.
For USC, it marks a new beginning. Head Coach Pete Carroll, who as always was cordial and classy in the
post-game press conference, was clearly stunned. He eventually let his frustrations show when he stood up and slammed the final stat book that someone had just handed him on the table after the conference was over.
"Things feel different, look different," Carroll said of losing at home for the first time since 2001 -- his first year at USC. "I've been around the block and I've had my wins and losses, but I just don't accept losing. I don't know where to put it. I have no place for it.
"This is a new beginning for us. We have to start over and get back to executing. We have to go right back to work with our guys and figure out how to do it better. We only know how to use that mindset."
The first thing USC will have to figure out is what's going on with Booty. Carroll said he cracked the tip of the
middle finger of his throwing hand and played with it throughout the game. Whether he'll be able to play next week is up in the air. It certainly looked like it hurt his performance tonight.
Booty finished completing 24-of-40 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns, but his four interceptions
were the difference in the game. It didn't help that he got a paltry 2.5 yards out of his normally potent rushing attack. The Cardinal defense gave up some big plays throughout the game, but as a whole made enough big plays of their own and kept the USC offense in check.
Pritchard's stat line was worse than Booty's. He completed 11-of-30 passes with one interception and one huge touchdown. And the Stanford rushing attack was bad, gaining 110 yards on just 2.2 yards per carry. USC almost doubled Stanford's offensive output, 459-235 yards. But what it boiled down to was that when it came time to make big plays, Stanford converted. And USC just came up short too many times.
The Trojans are left with setting their sites on the Rose Bowl instead of the BCS Championship game in the Superdome.
For the first time in years, USC is clearly out of the running early in the season. In the mean time, there's a
party in Palo Alto.
USC has to regroup and focus on winning the Pac-10 with a 2-3 Arizona team coming to town next week. The
Wildcats are coming off a 48-20 win over Washington State, but are running into a buzzsaw. Don't expect
USC to lose two in a row at home.
Stanford meanwhile, returns home to face a tough TCU squad. The Cardinal had lost their previous
three Pac-10 games by an average of 30 points before tonight, so it's a guess as to which team will show up
next week. Something tells me Stanford's not too worried about that - at least for tonight.
Player of the Game
I'll make a guarantee here. A player with a stat line as bad as Pritchard's will not receive player of the game honors for the rest of the season. But how can you deny a backup quarterback who walks into the L.A. Coliseum for the first start of his career and pulls of an upset over the mighty second-ranked Trojans? I sure can't.
Play of the Game
Fourth and 20. No doubt about it. Stanford made a lot of big plays on both sides of the ball tonight, but situations just don't get more pressure packed than fourth and 20 with a game of this magnitude on the line. When Pritchard hit Sherman to convert for first down, this game was over.
The fourth-and-10 touchdown pass from Pritchard to Bradford was pretty clutch too.
Honorable Mention No. 2
Without Pannel Egboh's block of David Buehler's extra point attempt in the second quarter, none of this would have