2011 Season Rewind: USC vs. Stanford

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 29: Linebacker A.J. Tarpley #17 of the Stanford Cardinal covers the fumble in the end zone that ended the final drive in triple overtime by the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 29, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Stanford won 56-48 in three overtimes. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

After the highs of reliving USC travelling to Eugene, Ore. and escaping with a win, the Stanford Cardinal marched to the Coliseum and left the Trojans the losers of a triple-overtime affair. From the USC faithful, it was a gut-punch. They almost had it. To the unbiased observer, it was one of the greatest games of the year, and those in attendance were one of 93,000 lucky persons. Just like the Oregon game, here are three retro thoughts from this NorCal/SoCal affair:

USC continued its momentum

After being swept away in an Arizona windstorm in Phoenix against the Sun Devils, the Trojans found their groove. They went up to Cal and beat the Golden Bears and ventured to South Bend, Ind. to defeat the hated Fighting Irish, just in time to return to L.A. and host the No. 6 Cardinal. The first half featured USC’s defense keeping eventual No. 1 pick Andrew Luck in check, allowing just ten points. The teams traded blow after blow until Stanford eventually forced a fumble on Curtis McNeal in the third overtime. Obviously, this didn’t cripple USC; they won four games to end their final bowl-less season.

Moody: Before you came into the Trojans’ life, they missed you so bad

Despite my usual hatred for today’s music, paraphrasing the bridge in "Call Me Maybe" perfectly describes the Trojan running back situation in 2011. For the most part, USC struggled to find its starting tailback. McNeal broke through a bit against Arizona and had better showings against Cal and Notre Dame. But McNeal put the Trojans on his back and carried them to moments within claiming an upset. The first half was pretty boring -- only one touchdown was scored. But McNeal busted a 61-yard scamper for six, which ignited the Coliseum. Just three-and-a-half minutes later, he ran it in from 25. Ultimately, yes, his fumble ended the game. But without McNeal’s amazing production, the game would have likely been Stanford’s in regulation.

Lamar Dawson’s emergence

The defense actually performed pretty well in that Luck had a typical performance and not a stellar one. Plus, the vaunted Stanford running attack boasted more quantity than quality (it averaged 3.9 yards per rush). But this game marked the end of Chris Galippo’s starting job at middle linebacker. While Coby Fleener’s impact was minimal, Luck picked apart the middle of the field and still found his other tight ends for targets and catches. Dawson compiled four tackles against the Cardinal. But coach Lane Kiffin named him the starter for the next game against Colorado and pulled Galippo. Now, the three-headed sophomore linebacker corps will have their first full season together.

A few more thoughts

* Yep, Andrew Luck was really good in college.

* Robert Woods and Marqise Lee were both good -- 9 rec-89 yards-1 TD and 7 rec-94 yards-1 TD, respectively. But neither wideout had one of their trademark "Why even have the secondary out there?" games.

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