LOS ANGELES — For so many years Stanford was a speed bump for USC. It certainly wasn’t a destination or a milestone. Stanford was just a Saturday of calisthenics, a warmup for the Notre Dames and UCLAs that lay ahead.
Fortunately John McKay was no longer around when all of that changed. He never had to watch the Trojans use the Cardinal as a growth chart, a model of what they wanted to be. He wouldn’t have enjoyed the last few years of this sudden rivalry. But he would have savored Saturday night in the Coliseum, when USC finally crushed this pebble inside its shoe.
The Trojans used a crushing running game, the on-the-run precision of quarterback Sam Darnold, and a defense that resurrected itself on the fly. It put away Stanford, 42-24, just 21 months after Clay Helton watched the Cardinal and Christian McCaffrey dangle the Trojans like a yo-yo in the 2015 Pac-12 championship game.
The Trojans opened with four consecutive runs by Ronald Jones, but that was just a head fake. As the first half whooshed along in pingpong style, the game rested comfortably in the hands of Darnold and his receivers.
USC never punted in the half and scored touchdowns on four of five possessions, with Darnold’s interception to Justin Reid the only exception. And after Uchenna Nwosu charged in from the corner and tipped a third-down pass by Keller Chryst to hold Stanford to a field goal, Darnold put together a Heisman mixtape with the help of the same catchers who were so belittled, for good reason, a week ago.
Darnold wound up and speared Stephen Mitchell for 49 yards down the left sideline, against tight coverage. Then he rolled and looked at three receivers crossing, picking out Deontay Burnett, who leaped and grabbed the 25-yarder near the end of the half.
That put USC ahead 28-17. The Trojans hadn’t scored 28 points against Stanford in four of their past five games.
Again, freshman Stephen Carr went for the fences with a 52-yard burst. And, again, USC’s defense had trouble establishing stopping distance. Stanford’s Bryce Love answered the Trojans’ first touchdown with a 75-yard touchdown run, and a good kickoff return by Cameron Scarlett put the Cardinal in position for its second touchdown.
For the most part, the Trojans were playing only two linemen with a hand on the ground in the half, putting linebackers Cameron Smith and John Houston Jr. on each side of Stanford center Jesse Burkett and trying to play cat-and-mouse with Chryst. The Cardinal was…