The 2008 revenge game in Palo Alto turned into a story of two halves. Stanford opened the game looking very much the part of the upset minded team they were last year. Playing to a scoreboard tie, and outplaying the Trojans on the field, the Cardinal were a confident bunch. But second half adjustments proved to be the difference maker, as USC clamped down defensively and the offense poured it on for a 45-23 victory.
The first half saw a defensive breakdown. Tavita Pritchard found a gap and ran 40 yards downfield on Stanford’s first drive to set up a Toby Gerhart touchdown. The Trojans looked to strike back, with Ronald Johnson returning the kickoff the Stanford 22, but 3 consecutive incompletions left Southern Cal to settle for a field goal. USC found running difficult in the opening half, and went the entire first quarter without achieving a first down. Meanwhile, missed tackles allowed Stanford to rumble up and down the field, and by halftime, 17 points were on the board. The Trojans offense produced just one touchdown in the first 30 minutes, but the specials teams continued to take advantage of Stanford’s poor coverage. C.J. Gable capped the first half highlights with a 93 yard kick return for a touchdown.
Only one thing remained consistent in the second half, and that was the special teams play. USC received the kickoff to open the third quarter, and Ronald Johnson returned it 50 yards to the Stanford 46. Penalties killed that drive and forced a punt, but Stanford never appeared to be the threatening presence they were before the break.. USC eventually rolled off 28 unanswered points, before the Cardinal scored a meaningless touchdown with no time remaining on the game clock.
Mark Sanchez went 11 of 17 for 136 and 2 touchdowns. Stafon Johnson’s 115 yards led the rushing attack, with 3 Trojans rushing for at least 72 yards, and producing 282 total yards on the ground. Stanford’s Toby Gerhart became just the second back this season to crack the century mark against the Trojans defense. He finished with 101 yards on 23 carries, achieving the bulk of it in the first half.
This was Stanford’s first home loss of 2008, and they are still one win shy of bowl eligibility. It’s called a revenge game, but it really doesn’t have that feel. I guess for this victory to be sweeter, and actually be vengeance, the win would actually have to derail Stanford from something special. The Cardinal may end up in a bowl game, but that’s about it. USC saved themselves any embarrassment of losing a second time to their northern foes, but unlike Stanford’s victory last year, it’s not like the loser was knocked from BCS title contention.