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November 15, 2008Stanford, Calif. - Inside the bookstores around Stanford's campus and on the chests of Cardinal fans, a simple message reminded everyone just what happened on Oct. 6, 2007.
The shirts read, "Biggest. Upset. Ever."
The stunning one-point loss to Stanford last year at the Coliseum had Stanford believing it could shock the Trojans again - and for the better part of a half, the Cardinal did just that.
"I felt like we weren't playing our ball," defensive tackle Fili Moala said. "They got off to a good start. They built their confidence up quickly.
"Once they got off to such a quick start, we kind of hesitated a little bit."
Even Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh said his team was better the first 30 minutes.
"There was a lot of talk about revenge coming into this game. That's a word I don't use in college football," Harbaugh said. "We knew USC was coming to play, and our team came out and played a better first half."
But almost as fast as Stanford jumped out to a 17-10 lead, the Trojans snapped out of it and responded with a blitzkrieg of points and defensive dominance on their way to a 45-23 win at Stanford Stadium.
After allowing 17 first-half points and 210 yards, the USC defense limited Stanford to a last-second garbage touchdown and 157 yards of offense in the second half.
The No. 6 Trojans (9-1, 7-1 Pac-10) scored 35-straight points before Stanford's final score, racking up 418 yards of total offense after a nightmarish start.
Stafon Johnson rushed for 115 yards and two scores, and USC, as a team, went for 304 yards on 43 rushes.
"Both lines of scrimmage just went crazy," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "The offensive line blocked so much better Defensively, we just stopped them series after series after series."
But it didn't begin that way.
Stanford didn't do anything too fancy to get off to such a hot start. The Cardinal (5-6, 4-4) picked up a big gain on a play-action pass on the second play of the game, but after that, they did the unthinkable.
They ran at the heart of the USC defense, something only Oregon State had been able to do this season.
Stanford's 10 first-quarter points and second-quarter touchdown were largely due to 156 yards rushing in the half. Only the Beavers had rushed for more yards in a game than the Cardinal ran for in the first half.
But instead of getting discouraged, the Trojans showed patience, Moala said.
"I think we learned our lesson," he said. "We kept our composure. We realized if we would do what we do best, play hard, smash-mouth defense."
As Stanford ploddingly moved the ball on the ground, the Trojan offense struggled to do much of anything. USC didn't gain a first down in the first quarter, scoring three points after a 75-yard kickoff return from Ronald Johnson on its first posession.
But in the second quarter, the USC offense began to look more to the ground, and it opened things up in the passing game.
On a 12-play, 80-yard drive, the Trojans effectively mixed run and pass, rushing eight times and throwing four. The drive culminated with a five-yard TD pass on a play fake to Damian Williams.
USC also got a huge play when C.J. Gable took a Stanford kick 94-yards all the way back for USC's first special teams' score of the season.
Even though the Trojans were being out-gained 210 yards to 90 yards on offense, USC hit the locker room with the score tied at 17.
"The first half was really dominated by what Stanford was able to do in all phases," Carroll said. "We were kind of lucky to be at 17's, I think."
But after USC came out of the locker room, things became different - fast.
Stafon Johnson scored from seven yards out, Gable scored from three yards, Stanley Havili caught a 50-yard touchdown pass and Stafon Johnson added a second touchdown run from the three-yard line.
"They did a good job in the first half trying to contain us," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "In the second half, we hit the edge; we got to the corner with our speed a little more. We made them run side-to-side, and these guys couldn't keep up with us."
Sanchez completed 11-of-17 passes for 136 yards and two scores.
And like that, Carroll and his team won't have to worry about what happened a year ago. They got their "revenge" out of the way.
"We all wanted to get this win," he said. "Now, we can get on with it."
But before they could do that, the Trojans had to erase any memories of what had happened on that T-shirt-inspiring day.
"You have to learn from your mistakes," guard Alex Parsons said. "We proved that we did today."