PALO ALTO, Calif. — Senior quarterback Matt Barkley has amassed 29 wins during his Trojan tenure. Much to his dismay, none of those have come against Stanford.
In a night plagued by turnovers and inconsistency, No. 13 USC fell to the Cardinal at Stanford Stadium, 21-14. It was the fourth straight time the Trojans have lost to Stanford, making it the only conference foe Barkley has failed to beat in his career.
“They played better football than us,” Barkley said. “We were prepared. They outplayed us.”
Barkley threw for 254 yards, but also gave up a pair of interceptions and was sacked a season-high four times Saturday. As a team, the Trojans only gained 280 yards in total offense, due in large part to Stanford’s defensive front.
“That’s a great front seven,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “They’re even better than last year, giving a lot of people a lot of problems.”
The Trojans turned the ball over three times during the game and were unable to sack Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes. Though Kiffin gave credit to the Cardinal, he was emphatic in saying a lot of the damage was self-inflicted.
“If you turn the ball over like we did … we were fortunate to be ahead seven at the half,” Kiffin said.“We didn’t play with a lot of discipline today.”
Things didn’t bode well from the opening kickoff for the Trojans, as Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery ran it back 64 yards. The Trojan defense held, however, and forced the Cardinal into a 47-yard field-goal attempt that was missed by Jordan Williamson.
With about 11 minutes left in the first quarter, Barkley connected with freshman receiver Nelson Agholor on a 49-yard pass as pressure mounted. Junior tailback Silas Redd then drove it into the end zone for the game’s first points.
As was the theme Saturday, Stanford had an answer. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor broke away for a 59-yard touchdown run later in the quarter and finished the night with 153 rushing yards. The defense was solid for the majority of the night but was unable to finish the deal.
“It’s disappointing,” senior safety T.J. McDonald said. “You never want to lose. I feel like we put everything we had into it [and] we just came up short.”
With a minute left in the first quarter, the Trojans went for it on fourth-and-three and converted on a pass to sophomore tight end Randall Telfer. Redd later took it in for his second score of the day on a two-yard toss play with 11 minutes in the half.
After Stanford missed another field goal, Barkley was intercepted with a little over a minute remaining in the half. Sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey returned the favor on the very next play, though, intercepting Nunes. It was his third interception of the season.
Barkley gave the Cardinal defense another gift, however, and was intercepted on the next play on what looked like an overthrow to Lee. USC’s offense never looked in sync, even later in the game.
“I thought we’d come up in the second half, up by seven … I thought we’d come out and start rolling,” Kiffin said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
The strong second half Kiffin was hoping for never came, as a personal foul led to a fourth-and-17 punt. Taylor took a screen pass to the end zone at the end of the third quarter to knot the game at 14 heading into the final quarter. The Cardinal then took a 21-14 lead on a 37-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz.
“I thought [Nunes] played great today,” Kiffin said. “He settled down and really made some big throws and [had] the two big runs … he looked like a veteran out there.”
Saturday’s loss is a major blow to the Trojans, who have their eyes set on a BCS title run.
But Kiffin insisted otherwise.
“It isn’t the end of the world,” he said. “We’ll get back on the plane, go back to work and get better and get ready for a home conference game next week.”
Barkley, a three-year team captain, agreed with the sentiment.
“Drop [the loss],” Barkley said. “You stick together and you go back to playing Trojan football. You have to just not put the blame on anybody and learn from your mistakes and make sure that you bounce back next week.”
The Trojans face California on Saturday at 3 p.m. The game will be available on the Pac-12 Network.