McCaffrey and No. 7 Stanford methodically mash USC 27-10
This was typical Stanford. A heavy dose of methodical mashing, a bit of everything from Christian McCaffrey and a couple little wrinkles that caught Southern California totally off guard.
McCaffrey slipped out of the backfield for a 56-yard touchdown reception and dived over the pile for a 1-yard score as the seventh-ranked Cardinal beat USC 27-10 on Saturday night.
The Cardinal (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have now won seven of nine against the Trojans, the best nine-game stretch for the Cardinal in the history of a rivalry that covers 96 games and more 111 years. Stanford has also beaten USC three times within the last calendar year.
"We don't use anyone but us to set our standards," Cardinal coach David Shaw said.
McCaffrey, the AP player of the year and Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2016, had a routine 260 all-purpose yards. Stanford ran it 47 times for 295 yards, threw 15 passes and held the ball for 34:14.
The Cardinal drew most of the USC defense into the box with a steady dose of inside runs before receiver Michael Rector went 56 yards for a touchdown on a reverse with 3:26 left in the third quarter to make it 27-10.
"I thought (the Trojans) were chasing," said Shaw, adding that he told Rector: "Stay wide and run fast. Great, brilliant coaching by me."
At that point, the Cardinal just played the keep-away game they love so much.
"I think our MO is pretty much set in stone," Shaw said. "If we get a two-score lead in the second half, we're going to run it. We're going to be physical. We talk about intellectual brutality, we're trying to end the game with the ball in our hands."
USC (0-1 Pac-12) is 1-2 for the first time since 2000, when the Trojans started 1-4 in Pete Carroll's debut season as coach. The Trojans weren't as thoroughly dominated as they were in the opener against Alabama, but in the end they have been outscored 79-16 by the Crimson Tide and Cardinal.
"I hope we play that team again, I really do," USC coach Clay Helton said about a possible rematch in the Pac-12 title game. "This is going to be a good football team. We've played two very good teams and we need to find a way to win those games."
USC: The Trojans look like the antithesis of Stanford, a team still trying to find an offensive identity and lacking creativity. Their best player, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, had three catches for 34 yards. Max Browne (18 for 28 for 191 yards) was solid, but the Trojans did little to stretch the field and played it safe on several third-and-longs. Mobile freshman quarterback Sam Darnold's only extended playing time came late in the fourth quarter.
"We spread the ball around," Helton said. "I can never be right. I can throw to one guy or throw to the guy who is open."
Stanford: The Cardinal pounded away against a USC defensive line that lacks depth and experience. McCaffrey was the workhorse between the tackles, carrying 30 times for 165 yards.
"We had a couple of missed assignments, but their offensive line works for him," USC linebacker Cam Smith said.
McCaffrey went over 200 all-purpose yards for the eighth straight game.
"Sometimes when the game's on the line, we're OK getting 5, 5, 5, 12, 5, 4 yards a pop if that's what it takes to win and that's what they're giving us," he said.
Only one team lost in front of Stanford so expect a modest gain for the Cardinal in the AP Top 25. Frankly, beating USC at home just doesn't warrant that big of a bump.
USC: The Trojans have a short week of preparation to get ready for another road game against a smash-mouth team. USC plays at Utah on Friday night.
Stanford: This was the start of the toughest stretch of the season for the Cardinal. UCLA is up first next week. Stanford has owned the Bruins lately, winning eight straight meetings. After that, Stanford has its own quick turnaround road game on a Friday night at No. 8 Washington.