Boos louder than the Trojan Marching Band’s music filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as No. 14 USC dropped its Pac-12 opener 42-28 to Stanford Saturday night.
As the first in-person Pac-12 game since 2019 neared at the Coliseum, the electricity was palpable.
USC made its run onto the field in a pitch-black arena, welcomed by rowdy fans shouting through their hands and fire shooting up in the air. The Trojan sideline was jumpy and the crowd was fiery as kickoff approached.
A memorable entrance turned out to be the lone memorable moment of the night. By the time the game concluded, fans covered their eyes in horror as the Trojans walked off the field demoralized.
“They came in extremely well prepared. I thought they executed their game plan tremendously well,” said head coach Clay Helton in a press conference following the game. “When you look at it across the board, they beat us in every phase.”
After only one penalty against San José State last weekend, the Trojans were unable to settle into Saturday’s game, with five penalties for 55 yards in the first half. USC finished the game with nine penalties for 111 yards.
Some of the Trojans’ mistakes were more crucial than others, with the most costly errors coming on the defensive end. Two touchdowns for Stanford were set up by two pass interference calls on USC’s defense.
“I thought we got behind on the penalties early,” Helton said. “We didn’t get the turnovers, we didn’t get the field position and that’s credit to them. I thought they played great special teams … They didn’t make the critical error in turning the ball over. They outplayed us tonight, that’s just reality.”
USC’s mistakes on defense weighed heavily on the Trojans’ inconsistent play on offense.
It took USC until 13:28 left in the second quarter to score a touchdown, unbeknownst to fans that there would not be another until late in the fourth quarter. The Trojans were down 21-10 at the half.
Junior quarterback Kedon Slovis completed only 64% of his passes for 223 yards and one touchdown — most of which came when the game was already decided. After a career game last week, junior wide receiver Drake London had a quieter one with four catches, 68 receiving yards and one touchdown. London and sophomore wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. also dropped easy touchdown passes that led to field goals.
After going scoreless in the third quarter, the Trojans have now failed to score a touchdown in the third quarter in seven of their last eight games.
“A lot of things [went wrong],” Slovis said. “But, at the same time, I think we had good spurts, good drives but we just have to finish.”
The Cardinal seemed to have gotten whatever they wanted on the offensive side. They put up 42 points after only scoring 7 last week, punishing a Trojan defense that gave up 7 points last weekend.
In his first career start, sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee shined with 234 yards passing and two touchdowns. USC also gave up three rushing touchdowns to three different running backs.
“For defense at least, I think we just have to execute better,” senior safety Isaiah Pola-Mao said. “Our defense thrives on turnovers, and we didn’t get any tonight, so I think we just have to step up as players and execute better.”
From the opening kickoff, an odd beginning seemed to tell the story of the night. Sophomore kicker Parker Lewis was ejected from the game for a targeting penalty, setting the tone for a game the Cardinal controlled throughout.
A huge goal-line stop in the second quarter to hold the Cardinal to a field goal turned to waste. USC was called for offside on the kick, Stanford sent its offense back on the field and scored instantly.
A long drive by USC late in the second half progressed to Stanford’s seven-yard-line but it fell through late. The Trojans failed to convert in the red zone and had to settle for a field goal instead of tying the game at 14.
A defense that held San José State to only 7 points last weekend struggled to get a key stop at the end of the first half. The Trojans were unable to stop the Cardinal on the last drive of the first half, giving up a 49-yard catch and run on the second play of the drive leading to a Stanford touchdown to extend the Trojan deficit to 11.
Hope of a comeback was put to rest when Slovis threw a
pick-six to extend Stanford’s lead to 15 with 5:02 left in the third quarter. Chants of “Let’s Go, Stanford,” from traveling fans sent
shockwaves throughout the Coliseum.
“We didn’t play our best tonight,” Helton said. “But I know this: at the end of the season, see where we’re at.”
USC will travel to face Washington State next Saturday at 12:30 p.m.