Stanford, Calif.The USC offense started the game, like the Trojans start plenty of games. USC went to the air, ran reverses and through bubble screens and swing passes.
The one thing they didn't really do was the hand the ball off to one of its talented tailbacks.
Finally, though, they got there, and when USC did, it's fortunes changes, coming back from a 17-10 deficit to win 45-23 at Stanford.
USC finished the game with 304 yards on the ground, and while the backs did their part, much of the credit goes to the big men up front.
"We have to return to who we are, and we did that tonight," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "In the second half, we took over the game, and our guys just had a ball.
"This night was really about the offensive line. Their turnaround was really fantastic."
The Trojan offensive line didn't excel until the second half, when the offense and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian settled into a run-first mentality.
"We made out adjustments at halftime. We utilized what they were giving us and adjusted to what we needed to do," center Kristofer O'Dowd said. "During the first half, we kind of tried everything out. We tried everything in our game plan. In the second half, we consistently went with what was working for us.
"We just cut that defense up."
The Trojan line also began talking more between one another, reading the Stanford defense better and executing.
"We communicated better in the second half. We really didn't communicate well at all in the first half. That was our main problem. We couldn't move the ball at all," right guard Alex Parsons said. "They didn't show us anything we hadn't seen or did in practice. We just started talking more, and it fell into place."
Because the Trojans place such a premium on having a balanced attack, right tackle Butch Lewis said he wasn't sure if the team was going to follow through with their halftime plan.
"We talked about it, and I didn't know if we were actually going to do it," he said. "They said we were going to keep running that ball. When we did, it was a confidence builder and a statement all at the same time."
And that was just fine with Lewis and the rest of the offensive line, who began to impose their will on the Cardinal front four.
"We really started to physically dominate," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "The offensive line was pushing them back two to three yards each snap. They really turned the corner in this game."
Lewis wasn't surprised.
"We're tough guys," he said.
Return of the kick
It's not the easiest job on the roster.
USC's kick returners don't get a lot of chances to show what they can do, largely because opposing offenses so rarely score.
Saturday, though, the Stanford offense was able to put some points on the board, meaning Ronald Johnson and C.J. Gable were going to get a shot to make some plays.
"With our defense, I usually only get one a game - either the first one of the game or the one to start the second half," Johnson said.
Johnson and Gable got their hands on two kicks each, making the Cardinal pay. Johnson brought back returns for 75 and 50 yards, and Gable broke loose for a 93-yard return - the Trojans' first special teams touchdown of the year.
Carroll said that USC didn't really have a sense it could gain 230 yards on kickoff returns.
"They had some good stuff in special teams. We thought they were really solid and didn't show any real weaknesses," Carroll said. "It's been so close so many times. Finally to get C.J. out and going, it's such a great reward for all of the hard work."
By getting the touchdown, Gable know has temporary bragging rights.
"We were going to see who was going to get one first," he said. "I got it. It was just a friendly bet between us. I think it made us both better."
But Johnson said he might not have to wait too long to get a chance for redemption.
"Every week, we feel like we have a shot," Johnson said. "(Stanford) didn't have too many really great returns against them. We just did what we could do and got some great blocks. We came through."
SoCal in NorCal
When Carroll walked into Stanford Stadium, a good chunk of the sold-out crowd of 50,425 were cheering for him and his Trojans.
This isn't always the case when USC hits the road.
"For being on the road, it was a great crowd for us. It's cool to see the stadium all filled up like that. This is a beautiful place to play football," Carroll said. "Our crowd was dominant for us tonight. I was shocked it was like that. It wasn't just in any one section; they were all over.
"I was really proud of everyone rallying like that for us, keeping us in the game. I was glad to pay them back by getting a big win."
The enormous support wasn't lost on Trojan players, either.
"We talked about it during the game," Lewis said. "It was pretty much our stadium. We were on the bench during a timeout or something, and we looked up. It was kind of like the Coliseum."
The big payback
Even after the win over Stanford, Carroll acknowledged last year's upset at the Coliseum was probably a bigger deal for the Cardinal than this year's triumph was for the Trojans.
Still, he was smiling.
"I think that's a win for them for a long time. I respect that," he said. "It didn't bother us. It didn't hang with us, but obviously, it's nice to get this win."
Lewis said the team didn't really talk about revenge, but it didn't necessarily need to.
"They say sweet revenge," Lewis said. "That was last year, and there's nothing we can really do about it. But this feels good. There was a silent consciousness. Everyone knew. Nobody talked about it, but we all knew."
Still, in the locker room, senior defensive tackle Fili Moala said he felt a sense of gratification.
"Throughout this whole week I was telling everyone it was going to be a dogfight. It's not like these guys are bad," Moala said. "These guys are pretty good. They talk trash. They play to the whistle. They even give you an extra shove here and there.
"I felt like we owed them something. They came into our house and got one on us. I definitely felt like we needed to return the favor."
• USC began moving the ball early in the second half, but a Stanley Havili fumble derailed the Trojans with the score still tied.
Luckily, Carroll said, it was only temporary.
"We were rolling. That's the main thing. We really had the momentum going. We found the line of scrimmage, and that just kind of got in the way," Carroll said. "At the time, you don't know if that's going to be a significant play, but the defense came back out and played really well after that. And we went right back down the next time.
"It had changed. We could tell it had already shifted. We were disappointed, but it didn't throw us off kilter."
• Moala got some good news prior to Saturday's game. Doctors released his ailing father from the hospital hours before the kickoff.
"It helped me really clear my head. It was something a little extra to play for," he said. "I came in here with a clear mind. I'm just happy that he's at home."
Moala finished with the Trojans' only sack.
• Linebacker Rey Maualuga said he had no doubt the Trojans' were going to come back. The offense told him so.
"The offense had a great game tonight. They stepped up big tonight. There were big special teams plays," he said. "That kickoff return helped us a lot. It was good. The offense told us they were going to bounce back.
"We knew we were beatable. We talked about that."
• Maualuga also took the fall for Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard's 41-yard scramble in the first quarter, setting up the game's first touchdown.
"How are we going to let that quarterback run down the field on us? We just made mental mistakes," he said. "We weren't being in the right place at the right time. I should've been there, and I take that blame."
Maualuga led USC with nine tackles.
• USC punter Greg Woidneck had a good game, averaging 42.5 yards on four punts.
• Carroll didn't seem distraught over Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh's decision to call a late timeout with the game out of reach, setting up the Cardinal's final score.
"He can do whatever he wants," Carroll said. "I don't care."
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