Though USC holds a 58-27-3 all-time mark against Stanford, recent years haven’t been too kind to the Trojans.
After Jim Harbaugh was hired as the Stanford program’s coach in 2007, the Cardinal has proven to be a thorn in USC’s side, winning three of the teams’ last four matchups.
Talk about a rivalry, however, has not ensued — at least according to USC coach Lane Kiffin.
“Every year is different,” Kiffin said. “We haven’t really talked about [a rivalry] with so many different players and a new staff over there.”
Harbaugh, who served as Stanford’s head man from 2007 to 2010, left in January to take over as the coach of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Yet, under new coach David Shaw, Stanford’s blue-collar, hard-hitting mentality hasn’t left for the north side of the Bay.
In its most recent game against Washington, which ranked third in the Pac-12 in rush defense, the Cardinal amassed a school-record 446 rushing yards in a 65-21 rout of the Huskies.
“They’re a real physical running team, and they do things right on every down,” senior wide receiver Brandon Carswell said. “This rivalry has grown a lot because we’re just two physical teams going at each other year after year, and we’re trying to be on top of the Pac-12.”
In 2007, Stanford, a 41-point underdog entering the game, authored one of the most improbable wins in college football history over then-No. 2 USC, scoring 17 fourth-quarter points en route to winning 24-23 on a day in which former USC quarterback John David Booty threw four interceptions.
“We had a really close one in my freshman year ,” Carswell said. “That’s the first time we lost to them at home in a long time, and that really started their run of dominating college football.”
In 2008, as the Trojans overcame an early deficit to top the Cardinal 45-23 in Palo Alto. During the convincing victory, it was clear 2007 was still on Cardinal fans’ minds, as many wore “Greatest Upset Ever” T-shirts and the video board showed painful highlights of the 2007 game.
But in the last two years, Stanford has flexed its muscles against the Trojans.
The infamous “What’s your deal?” game in 2009 announced Stanford’s arrival on a national level, as the Cardinal trounced then-No. 11 USC 55-21, handing the Trojans their worst loss at the Coliseum since Notre Dame beat them 51-0 in 1966. On USC’s homecoming weekend, the Stanford band mocked USC during a derisive halftime show, Harbaugh went for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter even with an insurmountable lead in hand and former Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns.
“They’re a great team, they have great players and are well coached,” junior left tackle Matt Kalil said, who was a freshman at the time. “They’re very disciplined, too.”
Last year’s meeting was a thrilling 37-35 loss on a 30-yard Stanford field goal by Nate Whitaker as time expired. After not catching a single pass in the previous week’s 32-31 loss against Washington, sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods — then a true freshman — finished with 12 receptions for 224 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite Woods’ exploits, USC’s pass defense struggled and was unable to make stops when it counted in the fourth quarter, as current senior linebacker Chris Galippo committed a personal foul on the first play of the final drive to set Stanford up at its 45-yard line.
“Last year was a learning experience for me,” Galippo said. “I need to play smart ball and be aware. This game is big for our program. Out of the next [five] teams we’re playing, we were beaten by [four] of them. It’s frustrating, but we have these next [five] weeks to show that we’ve grown from last year.”