Saturday night was not a good night for the USC Trojans. Clay Helton and the Trojans found themselves on the losing end of a 42-28 score at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The honors went to Pac-12 Conference rival Stanford, which used 21 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters to knock the No. 14 Trojans.
“Obviously a very well-played game by Stanford,” Helton said after the game. “Credit to David Shaw and his team. They came in extremely well prepared. I thought they executed their game plan tremendously well; the quarterback played exceptional as a young person and really didn’t make any mistakes, didn’t have the unforced errors.
“When you look at it across the board, they beat us in every phase,” Helton added. “In each and every phase, you look at the execution they out-executed us. And when you look up, we did not do what we did in the first game. We got beat in penalties. We got beat on third-down efficiency, and we got beat in the turnovers; we didn’t get turnovers.”
It’s not surprising that Stanford would give the Trojans grief. Playing at the Coliseum, USC is 3-2 in games against the Cardinal. But being below .500 against Pac-12 Conference rivals to open conference play is something that Helton and USC have to improve on. USC is 4-6 in its last 10 games in Pac-12 season openers.
“I thought we got behind in penalties early that set us back,” Helton continued. “We were 4-for-14 on third downs, which ended drives, and when you look at it, gosh, it just felt like we just played on the long field all night. We didn’t get the turnovers, we didn’t get the field position, and that’s credit to them.”
Statistically, USC had the edge against the Cardinal. The Trojans landed more first downs (24-18), dominated the clock (32:02 to 27:58), had more rushing yards (185 to 141), and outgained Stanford in totals yards (408 to 375). That didn’t manifest itself into the final score.
“For defense specifically, I think we just have to execute better,” USC safety Isaiah Pola-Mao said. “Coach makes any call and honestly we just have to make it happen, regardless if it’s right or wrong. 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.”
After scoring 21 points in the first half, Stanford blew the game open in the third quarter when the Cardinal added another 14 points on the scoreboard. After opening the season with a 24-7 loss to Kansas State, Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee said the Cardinal had to come out with a better attitude to beat the Trojans.
“I actually sent out a text to the team just trying to get like that dog mentality out of us,” McKee said. “Obviously, losing is not acceptable and so we did everything that we could to prepare for this week so that we can come out and have a dominant performance. We have a ton of things that we can improve on. I felt like we definitely had a better attitude this week for sure and we had a great week of practice, and so it’s nice that it was able to pay off.”
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