Stanford 56, USC 48 (final, 3 overtimes)
USC played No. 4 Stanford even.
The Trojans forced the high-powered Cardinal into triple overtime and appeared on the verge of sending the game into a fourth extra period.
That’s when it all went bad for the Trojans.
Stanford linebacker A.J. Tarpley recovered a fumble by USC running back Curtis McNeal in the end zone, sending the No. 20 Trojans to a 56-48 defeat before a stunned crowd of 93,607 Saturday at the Coliseum.
Stanford stayed on track for a possible national title and improved to 8-0 overall and 6-0 in the Pacific 12 Conference.
USC fell to 6-2 and 3-2 in conference play.
Regulation ended with the score tied, 34-34, sending USC into its first overtime game since losing in triple overtime at California in 2003.
Stanford got for the ball first at the 25-yard line and used seven plays to take a 41-34 lead on Jeremy Stewart’s one-yard touchdown run.
The Trojans matched it with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods.
Stanford then opted to defend at the start of the second overtime and USC converted with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to tight end Randall Telfer for a 48-41 lead.
Luck tied the score with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Levine Toilolo.
The Cardinal then went ahead on Stepfan Taylor’s five-yard touchdown run and Luck’s two-point conversion pass to tight end Coby Fleener.
Stanford extended its nation-best winning streak to 16 games.
Stanford 56, USC 48 (final)
It's finally over.
Stanford 56, USC 48 (now USC's ball in third overtime)
Stanford has scored on a five-yard run by Stepfan Taylor.
In the third overtime, teams must go for a two-point conversion.
Stanford cashed in on its opportunity when quarterback Andrew Luck found Coby Fleener wide open in the end zone.
USC 48, Stanford 48 (going into third overtime)
When in doubt, Andrew Luck always looks and throws high.
And usually one of his tight ends is there to haul in a pass.
This time it was Levine Toilolo who came up big, going over USC freshman Tre Madden to pull in an 11-yard scoring pass.
USC 48, Stanford 41 (now Stanford's ball in second overtime)
Randall Telfer might never make a bigger play for USC. And he's only a freshman.
The tight end took in a Matt Barkley pass at the 12 yard line, broke three tackles, and made like Gumby the final three yards, struggling and streeetching and barely pushing the nose of the ball past the goal line for a touchdown.
USC 41, Stanford 41 (going to second overtime)
Well, that was fast.
Two five-yard gains by Curtis McNeal followed by a 15-yard scoring pass from Matt Barkley to Robert Woods and we have a tie ballgame -- again.
Stanford 41, USC 34 (now USC's ball in overtime)
Stanford has put the pressure on USC, scoring on its first possession in overtime.
The Cardinal did it without Andrew Luck throwing the ball.
It took seven plays -- all runs -- with Jeremy Stewart leaping in from a yard out for the touchdown.
USC 34, Stanford 34 (end of regulation)
The game is going to overtime -- but not without controversy.
USC's last play was run with nine seconds to play, and it was a little too slow to develop.
Matt Barkley hit Robert Woods with a middle screen and Woods, an accomplished high school sprinter, headed for the sideline as fast as he could.
But just a split-second too slow.
Instant replay showed that Woods' knee was down at about the Stanford 32, but officials ruled that time had run out -- much to the chagrin of Coach Lane Kiffin, who argued Woods was down before the clock hit zero.
A field goal try would have been from about 49 yards.
Adam Heidari made a 50-yard field goal near the end of the first half.
USC 34, Stanford 34 (38 seconds left in fourth quarter)
Stanford and Andrew Luck are good enough that they don't need help, and when an opponent gives some, they usually cash in.
They just did.
On a third-and-six incomplete pass, USC's T.J. McDonald was called for a personal foul for hitting a Stanford receiver high at the end of the play.
That gave Stanford an automatic first down and the Cardinal cashed in with a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive.
Stepfan Taylor scored from two yards, and now USC will try to scramble into range for a long field goal.
USC 34, Stanford 27 (3:08 left in the fourth quarter)
You have to expect that Andrew Luck would make a huge play with the game on the line.
Instead, USC cornerback Nickell Robey did.
On third-down-and-three, Luck tried to connect with Chris Owusu on a curl pattern, and Robey beat the receiver to the spot.
Then he beat everyone else to the end zone, returning the ball 33 yards for a touchdown.
USC 27, Stanford 27 (5:10 left in the fourth quarter)
This has the feel of a game that will belong to whichever team has the ball last.
The taunting penalty on USC freshman Marqise Lee just came back to haunt the Trojans.
USC was forced to punt out of its own end zone, and even though the Trojans got a good kick, Stanford's Drew Terrell returned it 33 yards to the USC 29-yard line.
That led to a 29-yard field goal by Eric Whitaker to tie the score.
USC 27, Stanford 24 (early in the fourth quarter)
USC badly needed an answer after Andrew Luck led Stanford to 14 unanswered points that erased a 10-point deficit.
Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee gave him one.
The USC quarterback threw a short pass to Lee crossing over the middle, and Lee broke free and sprinted into the end zone, a 28-yard touchdown that finished a seven-play, 73-yard drive.
The bad news for USC was that Lee was penalized for taunting in the end zone, which resulted in good field position for Stanford on its next drive.
Barkley is 20-of-31 passing for 181 yards and a touchdown while Luck is 17-of-23 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
Stanford 24, USC 20 (late in the third quarter)
Oh yeah, there’s why Andrew Luck is going to multi-multi-millionaire next year.
It’s because he’s really, really, really good.
The Stanford quarterback reminded that fact to anyone in the Coliseum here who doubted it after pioneering a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard scoring toss to fullback Ryan Hewitt.
Then he drilled that indisputable truth home after a two-yard touhdown run to cap a 7-play, 86-yard drive that lasted just 3:20, putting his team back in front.
Luck was 5-of-6 on that first touchdown drive for 71 yards, but more impressively he looked cold-blooded and calm in answering USC’s consecutive touchdowns.
“Nothing to it,” his demeanor seemed to say.
To the USC fans in attendance, their demeanors may well have said, “Uh oh,” especially after Stanford’s defense forced USC into a three-and-out on its next possession.
Deep in its own territory, Stanford went for a trick play -- a reverse pass.
It was executed perfectly and Luck lofted about as perfect a pass as you’re going to find more than 50 yards down the field to Ty Montgomery.
The play netted 62 yards, putting Stanford at USC’s 13 yard line.
The Cardinal went for it on 4th-and-one from USC's four-yard-line, but Jeremy Stewart picked it up.
On first down-and-goal, Luck looked to pass, but he scrambled and jumped right into the end zone.
USC 20, Stanford 10 (early in the third quarter)
Stanford isn’t off to such a hot start this half.
USC on the other hand ...
First, Stanford gives up a 61-yard touchdown run to USC running back Curtis McNeal that puts the Cardinal behind on the scoreboard for the first time all season. All season.
On its next possession, Stanford surrenders only its third sack of the season on third down, after which Stanford’s star offensive tackle Jonathan Martin limps off the field with an apparent leg injury.
Then, when Stanford lines up to punt for the fourth time tonight, which ties a season high in a game, punter Daniel Zychlinski shanks it and the ball only travels 18 yards.
Three plays later, McNeal busts loose again and takes it 25 yards to the house.
The crowd is a-shaking and a-screaming and we have the makings of an upset here at the Coliseum.
USC 13, Stanford 10 (early in the third quarter)
USC running back Marc Tyler's arm is in a sling and he likely won't return to this game.
What's that? You no longer care, all of the sudden?
Understandable, because USC running back Curtis McNeal just scooted 61 yards to the end zone to put USC ahead. It also put Stanford behind for the first time all season.
Yeah, that's right. Stanford hasn't trailed at all this season -- until now.
Let that digest for a minute after USC's three-play, 79-yard scoring drive that lasted 1:06.
Stanford 10, USC 6 (halftime)
USC could be and, arguably, should be winning this game.
But you know the thing about mistakes.
They create woulda, coulda and shoulda sayings like the one above.
That said, USC's defense has played marvelously, holding Stanford's offense to 168 yards at halftime. Stanford's defense has played well, too, holding USC's offense to 130 yards
But with Alex Heidari's 50-yard field goal with 11 seconds before halftime, USC is in this game, really.
That might seem like a surprise considering Stanford was favored by eight points, but that betting line doesn't really show how monumental of an upset it would be for the Trojans to beat the undefeated Cardinal.
What some thought might be an offensive show has not turned out that way at all.
For USC, quarterback Matt Barkley is pressing a bit. Perhaps he knows the nation is watching and comparing him to Andrew Luck? Perhaps he knows several NFL scouts are here?
It probably doesn’t help either that Stanford’s defense has laid a couple of good hits on him.
Add in the fact that his favorite target, Robert Woods, who has dropped a couple passes that could've gone for touchdowns, is being bottled up by Stanford’s defensive backs and clearly appears flustered. It doesn't help Barkley further that Marqise Lee dropped another pass that would’ve been a touchdown.
In all, Barkley has completed 14 of 25 passes for 125 yards.
That's more than Luck, who is nine of 14 for 99 yards and a touchdown.
The rushing game is an important area of concern. USC has held Stanford to 69 rushing yards in 16 attempts while Stanford has held USC to five rushing yards (yes, only five) in seven attempts.
One more note: Stanford punter David Green hasn't punted more than three times since Stanford's season opener against San Jose State. He's already punted three times in the first half tonight.
Stanford 10, USC 3 (midway through second quarter)
You’ve got to give USC’s defense a little bit of credit.
It forced Stanford’s mighty offense to punt on consecutive possessions, which hadn’t happened in three games for the Cardinal.
But then, you don’t want to give Stanford and Andrew Luck more chances, such as a turnover.
USC’s Matt Barkley was picked off on a third-down pass at USC’s 41-yard-line by Stanford linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who made an impressiving diving catch to give the Cardinal good field position with 9:48 left in the second quarter.
And this is the part where we give USC’s defense a little bit more credit, because it held strong and kept Stanford to a field goal, a 33-yard kick by Eric Whitaker.
Key to USC’s defense on that drive was pressuring Andrew Luck on second- and third-down passes that fell incomplete with Stanford at the 15-yard line.
Stanford 7, USC 3 (end of first quarter)
Let's go out on a lonley limb here and say that USC needs touchdowns more than field goals if it wants to keep up with a Stanford offense that averages 48.6 points a game.
But USC will take the points for now.
Andre Heidari nailed a 22-yard field goal to cap a 12-play, 55-yard drive that spanned 5:03.
He only came out, though, after USC quarterback Matt Barkley brought the Trojans to the 5-yard line but no further.
He twice threw passes that were incomplete, but to be sure, there was plenty of physical play by Stanford's defensive backs, especially on a pass thrown toward Robert Woods on second down.
The officials didn't deem the physical play of Stanford defensive back Terrence Brown to be interference, a decision the crowd disagreed with vociferously.
That brings us to the end of the first quarter.
Note: USC running back Marc Tyler headed to the locker room with an apparent injury, according to a USC official.
Stanford 7, USC 0 (first quarter)
It took 10 plays and 6 minutes 4 seconds off the game clock for Andrew Luck to drive Stanford 83 yards down the field on the opening drive.
His 21st touchdown pass of the season covered 10 yards, though running back Tyler Gaffney did most of the work with his legs after taking the short dump-off pass from Luck on a third-down play and diving for the pylon.
USC looked sharp against the run, holding Stanford to only 14 yards in five carries on that drive.
But Luck completed all five of his passes on the drive. He looked surgical, really.
A couple quick notes:
USC running back George Farmer (ankle) is wearing a walking boot and is out for the game.
Also, several NFL scouts are in attendance and have seats in the press box.
The Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons are represented.
One more thing ...
On offense, Stanford and USC are each led by a future NFL quarterback.
But only one of those teams is balanced in terms of rushing and passing.
Guess which one.
Time’s up. Pencils down.
If you guessed Stanford, grab a cookie from the jar.
The Cardinal’s Andrew Luck has thrown for 20 touchdowns and the team has rushed for 20.
Moreover, as I noted in an earlier entry, Stanford is averaging 219.4 rushing yards a game and 285.4 passing yards a game.
USC, to the contrary, is not so balanced.
The Trojans are a teeter-totter with too much weight on one end –- or at least on Matt Barkley’s arm.
USC is averaging 290.4 passing yards a game and 145.7 rushing yards a game.
And Barkley has thrown 19 touchdowns and the team has run for five.
Only six teams have rushed for fewer touchdowns.
Also, last week was supposed to be a quarterback shootout between Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Washington’s Keith Price.
What happened? Stanford went to the ground and rushed for a school-record 446 yards.
Don’t be surprised if the Cardinal resorts to such tactics against USC, a move that would keep the ball out of Barkley’s hands.
In fact, if I were to make a prediction, that’s what it would be, that Stanford will run all day long.
Why? Because they can control the clock.
Dating to last season, Stanford has held a time of possession edged in 17 of its last 20 games.
This season, the Cardinal ranks second in the Pacific 12 Conference and 21st nationally in that category, holding the ball for an average of 32 minutes a game.
In fact, Stanford led the nation last season in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of 34:34 each game.
Greetings, ghouls, goblins, specters, spooks, phantasms, everyone dressed up in Halloween costumes thumbing through mobile devices and all other manner of Internet audience members!
(If you see a ghost tonight whilst treak-or-treating postgame, by the way, you know who to call.)
Whether a powerful search engine landed you on the blog or if social media –- a tweet, or, say a Facebook post –- was responsible, we’re mighty glad to have you.
Welcome and thanks for making us a part of your attention span.
If you’re going out trick-or-treating later, or are doing it now, may your pillowcases stretch wide and full with a sugary bounty that results in much happiness and few cavities.
But for now, get cozy and grab whatever sustenance you require –- a cold beverage and a sandwich with exotic meats and cheeses, perhaps? –- because we’re with you all night long here at the Coliseum for what should be a dandy of a donnybrook between No. 4-ranked Stanford and No. 20 USC.
If you didn’t pick up the paper all week, for shame!
But if you didn’t, hopefully you read the buzz online that Stanford (7-0) has won a nation's best 15 consecutive games, a streak that started with a 37-35 win against USC last season in Palo Alto.
And if you didn’t know, Stanford, which entered Saturday as one of eight unbeaten teams in the FBS ranks and sits at No. 6 in the BCS standings, has won 10 straight games by 25 points or more –- something no team in the 75-year history of college football’s poll system has done.
Not. Too. Shabby.
Speaking of things in the not-too-shabby category, the Cardinal has this quarterback named Andrew Luck who folks say is the best thing since air conditioning, or at least since John Elway.
USC (6-1), on the other hand, could care less about BCS standings since it’ll be home for the holidays this year, again.
But the Trojans still have motivational material worth scribbling and underlining on the locker-room chalkboard.
Consider: Not only is this in essence USC’s bowl game this season, but Trojans Coach Lane Kiffin would very much like to pocket a monumental upset win to use as ammunition for potential recruits and naysayers who argue he’s not fit to succeed Pete Carroll.
Then there’s USC's Matt Barkley, a fine quarterback in his own right, who’d like to prove he’s not so far behind Mr. Luck in terms of all those skills NFL types tabulate before offering checks with many zeros.
And if Barkley does well, he could make himself a few million or so. That’s a lot of simoleans.
(For the record, Barkley played just as well as Luck in last season's meeting, completing 28 of 45 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns while Luck completed 20 of 24 for 285 yards and three touchdowns.)
In terms of storylines for this showdown, The Times’ Gary Klein can fill you in.
Here’s a few quick-hitters:
--Will either defense be able to disrupt the opposing quarterback?
That’ll be most interesting.
The Cardinal has allowed just two sacks all season, the fewest in major college football.
Barkley, meanwhile, has been only sacked four times all season.
--Which USC defense will show up today?
Will it be the one that gave up 554 yards and 37 first downs to Arizona in a 48-41 win Oct. 1? The one that allowed Arizona’s Nick Foles to complete 41 of 53 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns?
Or will it be the one that forced five turnovers against Cal in a 30-9 win on Oct. 13?
Will it be the one that was sliced and diced by Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler on Sept. 24 in Tempe? The game in which he completed 25 of 32 passes for 223 yards and two scores in a 43-22 USC loss?
Or will it be the one that forced three turnovers against Notre Dame in a 31-17 win on Oct. 22?
USC has played stout defense for two consecutive games and it’ll need to continue that against Stanford, which averages 504.1 yards a game, with more than 200 rushing (219.4) and passing (285.4).
More to the point, though, is USC being able to stop Stanford’s running game, which churned out a school-record 446 yards in a 65-21 rout of Washington last week.
In terms of atmosphere, we're expecting a sell out and possibly the largest crowd at the Coliseum since USC played Stanford in 2009.
What happened then? Oh, Stanford just scored more points against USC than anyone ever (55).
For you gamblers out there, it's worth noting that depending on the sports books, USC is a 7, 8 or 9.5-point underdog against Stanford, which has covered the spread in 13 of its last 14 games, including the last 10 in a row. This is the also second time since 2001 that USC isn’t favored at home.
The last time USC beat the Cardinal in L.A. was 2005, which is the longest home drought the Trojans have against any former Pac-10 team.
Oh, and Stanford has also won by an average of 36 points this season.
So, there’s that.
Photo: Stanford linebacker A.J. Tarpley recovers a fumble by USC running back Curtis McNeal in the end zone to seal a three-overtime victory for the Cardinal on Saturday at the Coliseum. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times