The Trojans had no answer for Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, who set a new mark for the most all-purpose yards by a Cardinal player in a single game during Saturday night’s Pac-12 title match. The sophomore Heisman Trophy hopeful racked up 461 total yards en route to breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose yards record and leading the No. 7-ranked Cardinal (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12) past No. 24 USC (8-5, 6-3), 41-22, on Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
“In my opinion, he should win the Heisman,” junior linebacker Su’a Cravens said.
McCaffrey was named the game’s most valuable player after he rushed for 208 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, threw a score to quarterback Kevin Hogan and returned the favor by connecting with the fifth-year senior for one in the air. Hogan completed nine of 12 passes for 144 yards — 105 of those to McCaffrey.
“He’s as special a player as we’ve played all season,” head coach Clay Helton said. “He’s just one of those kids that finds ways to make yards and obviously add the back field and the passing game, and he’s a mismatch nightmare.”
USC, who dropped its first game since Helton had his interim tag removed this past week, fell behind early, as Stanford commanded the time of possession battle and dominated in the trenches on its way to a 13-0 lead in the first half.
Despite the Trojans finishing the 1st quarter with only 17 yards of total offense and one first down, Stanford struggled to convert in the red zone, which allowed USC to stay in the game.
“Tonight we got beat by a good team,” redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler said.”It was tough, but I told our guys that we have to make the most of our drives when we do get them.”
The Men of Troy then rallied to score 16 unanswered points on three consecutive scoring drives to take a three-point lead early in the third quarter. The comeback began with a 40-yard Alex Wood field goal, which was followed by a one-yard Kessler touchdown pass to senior fullback Jaleel Pinner and culminated in a 27-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Ronald Jones II. Their lead would be short-lived, though, as Hogan responded right back with a seven-yard touchdown run to put Stanford up for good.
The dagger came on the next USC drive when Kessler was sacked and fumbled, which resulted in Stanford’s Solomon Thomas recovering the ball and running it back 34 yards for a touchdown.
“We started making our plays and doing things right so that was the biggest thing for the kids — came back, took the lead,” Helton said. “Thought we had a good chance there, and then we had a critical error in pass protection that ended up costing us.”
Kessler, who completed 22 0f 37 passes for 187 yards, ran one in on his own from 12 yards out to pull the Trojans within one possession early in the fourth quarter, but two seperate McCaffrey touchdowns eventually sealed the conference title for the Cardinal.
The bulk of USC’s offensive production came on the ground, posting 170 rushing yards against Stanford. Junior running back Justin Davis led the way with 99 yards on 17 carries. Sophomore wide out JuJu Smith-Schuster carried the load in the passing game with 11 catches for 87 yards.
While the Pac-12 South champion Trojans were hoping to return to their first Rose Bowl since the 2008-09 season, it appears that they are going to have to settle for a different bowl game during the holiday season. They will learn the destination for their final game of the season on Sunday, Dec. 6.