Posted by Bryan Fischer
LOS ANGELES -- Stanford had heard from just about everyone that they hadn't been tested this season.
They played their first ranked team last week, Washington, and promptly ran for school-record 446 yards. It was their 10th straight win by 25 points or more, the first time ever that had been accomplished since 1936. Apparently they weren't tested.
They were tested Saturday night; escaping LA with a 56-48 victory after three overtimes in front of a sold-out Coliseum crowd that was rocking like it was in the glory days.
The Heisman front-runner, Andrew Luck, gave voters a game to remember with crisp, efficient passes to 10 different targets to finish 29-for-40, 330 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on the night.
"The stats aren't going to show the plays he made, but he's a really special pocket passer and makes plays with his feet," Lane Kiffin said. "It's why he'll be the first pick in the draft."
The grizzly-bearded Luck nearly gave the game away, throwing a late pick-six that was returned by Nickell Robey for a touchdown to put USC on top 34-27 with just over three minutes remaining.
"Throughout the game he was looking off receivers a lot, that's what he does (so well)," Robey said. "I knew when he looked off he was going to come back to Chris (Owusu). My coach always says trust and believe. When I saw him sit down I just went for it. Luck is a great player, he did a lot of things that wasn't normal in the passing game. He came at us at every angle."
Not only had Stanford trailed for the first time all season after Curtis McNeal sprinted up the sidelines for a 61-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but it was also the first time the Cardinal offense were tested late in the game. The pick-six put the team down seven late in the game. That was no problem for Luck, who led an efficient, game-tying 10 play, 61-yard drive to send the game into overtime.
"I was very disappointed in myself," Luck said of the interception. "There were a couple of seconds there when I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself. But the guys believed in me. I was happy there was still some time on the clock to go down there again."
"One thing you can't forget about Andrew is that he is the most competitive guy on our team," David Shaw said. "When a bad play happens he goes completely down in the dumps. He's so mad, he's so upset, he's furious. Then it's like a toilet, he flushes it. It's like it never happened and he moves on even more determined.
"He was so mad at himself, he was not going to let that play lose the game for us."
The Trojans came close to pulling off the upset thanks in large part to one of the smallest players on the USC roster in McNeal, who rushed for a career-high 145 yards and two touchdowns. He ended up the goat however, fumbling the ball into the end zone after USC had the ball on the four yard line looking to match the Cardinal's touchdown and two-point conversion to lead off the third overtime. Terrence Stephens punched it out of McNeal as he took a draw up the middle, preserving the win.
Despite coming close to seeing their perfect record blemished, the scoreboard still showed the Cardinal had rang up 56 points. The amount was the most ever scored on USC in the program's illustrious history.
"We just needed one stop, that's all," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "Then we'd all be celebrating right now."
"I didn't know that but I would probably figure out it was close if it wasn't the record. I can't believe anybody would give up that many points. Of course, overtime and (Luck) ended up with a short field now too."
Even Luck's incompletions were things of beauty that every one of the 93,607 fans appreciated - regardless of the shade of red they were wearing. On one play early in the game, Luck was flushed out of the pocket to his left, but still managed to throw a bullet with perfect form to the back of the end zone - while being tackled - that glanced off the hands of his target. It went down in the box score as an incompletion but was nevertheless impressive.
How special is the 6-foot-4, 237-pound signal-caller? He's led an offense that has scored the most points against USC ever - twice - after scoring 55 against the Trojans in 2009. By the way, he managed to so against defenses run by Pete Carroll and Monte Kiffin, who happens to have 45 years of coaching experience. It was also USC's only overtime loss at the Coliseum ever.
"I tip my hat off to him, he's a special player. Whatever grade he's in, I'm glad he's not going to be here next year." USC linebackers coach Joe Berry said. "He's one of those guys that comes along every 15 or 20 years. There's always first round draft pick quarterbacks in every draft but this guy? He's special."
Fourth-ranked Stanford escaped Los Angeles and kept their Pac-12 championship - and national title - hopes alive. Better (Andrew) Lucky than good for one night in October.