USC Football: Putting The Stanford Victory Into The Proper Time Capsule

Jeff Gross

Andre Heidari kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play cementing USC's 20-17 victory over No. 5 Stanford in front of a national ABC-TV audience and a loud sold-out Coliseum Homecoming crowd of 93,607 that immediately stormed the field moments following the final whistle.

The win snapped the Cardinal's four-game winning streak over Troy, USC's first game against a ranked opponent in 2013 and its first victory over a ranked foe since beating No. 4 Oregon in 2011. In the process, USC now sits in position to win the Pac-12 South if it can defeat UCLA and Colorado while getting some help with losses from Arizona State.

After Su'a Cravens picked off a pass from Stanford QB Kevin Hogan with 3:02 to play, the Trojans marched right down the first for its first game-winning last minute field goal since David Bell beat UCLA in 2000. That led to the Trojans 10-play drive into scoring range for Heiardi, with no bigger play than the "4th and 2" conversion to Marqise Lee.

In the midst of the post-game madness, ABC play-by-play commentator described the feelings around this program saying, "The Trojans are relevant again." What made this all possible you ask? Here are three of the overriding factors that pushed USC over the top for its fifth, and arguably most impressive, victory under coach Orgeron

THE STARTING DEFENSE STEPPED UP

Stanford managed just 337 yards (210 rushing) against a Trojan defense that used just two substitutes, and one of them in CB Torin Harris, came in for only one play in the entire game. That being said, USC limited Stanford to 4-for-12 on third-downs and consistently sent bodies towards the football against the surprisingly more balanced pass/run (25-35) splits.

Not only did the unit play with very few replacements, the bend-but-don't-break philosophy stood true against the Cardinal physical running game. Case in point: the Trojans stuffed Stanford on their half of the field to start the second quarter (on a play that was actually ruled a first down by Pac-12 officials) in one of many rough and tumble match ups in the trenches.

For inside linebacker Anthony Sarao - a player that was not even starting just three weeks ago but was plastered into the lineup after Lamar Dawson went down with a season-ending injury - the opportunity resulted in a team-leading 12 tackle performance as he was flying all around the football.

CODY KESSLER MADE PLAYS WITH HIS FEET

Facing one of the best defenses in the nation, entering 1st in Pac-12 rushing and 2nd in scoring and total defense, Kessler was forced to shoulder the load because his typically strong running game was limited to a season-low 23 yards on the ground. And right from the start, Kessler set the tempo on offense by moving the chains in unconventional ways.

The best example of his development came on the Trojans two-point conversion requiring touch, timing and quickness  in the pocket to dart past pass-rushing extraordinaire Trent Murphy to rifle a bullet pass towards Marqise Lee in the corner. That was just one example of the many plays in which Kessler recognized the pocket was collapsing around him and looked to extend the play for just an extra second or two to allow his explosive playmakers to break free from coverage.

By no means does Kessler work his magic to the likes of Marcus Mariota or Brent Hundley, but watching him extend plays while being relatively safe with the ball (one fumble) was encouraging for his development from a game manager to someone you can win the big game with on offense. And then to watch him utilize such awareness to snatch in a low snap from center Marcus Martin and then trust Marqise Lee to break open on his slant route was rather impressive.

USC PLAYED TO WIN THE GAME

As cliché as it may sound, when the players gathered around their head coach in the game's final minutes, you could immediately tell from that point forward that the game was going to be placed in the players hands.

If you look back to the Washington State disaster, the biggest criticism against the offense was that Lane Kiffin was afraid to test the opposing defense by throwing the football down the field. And to that point, USC has suffered from time to time of being too conservative.

But on Saturday night, the Trojans bucked the trend to take down Stanford.

Going for the win on 4th-and-2 was no simple decision, given field position and fatigue of his defense but as Orgeron said after the game, it was about all about winning this game right then and there.

"I knew I was taking a chance but I looked in these guys' eyes and I knew they wanted to go for it. I wanted to give them the best shot to get what they wanted. It worked; it was a great call. It could have gone the other way, I understand that." -Orgeron proclaimed in the post game press conference

Through the gimmicks of give the line a cookie, In-N-Out Burger deliveries along with Dr. Dre and Ray Lewis motivational speeches lies the overriding message for this team. The mantra "One Team, One Heartbeat" continues to flow through the player's spirits and on that final drive, a Hollywood script may one day be written to capture it all.

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