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September 16, 2012

Four Straight: Stanford beats USC again

It's unlikely Stanford coach David Shaw will ever admit it, but he undoubtedly heard the chatter.

The Cardinal would float back into mediocrity with Andrew Luck's departure to the NFL.

The Cardinal would eventually regress without Jim Harbaugh.

The Cardinal wouldn't overcome the losses of offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

With Stanford's 21-14 win against No. 2 USC on Saturday, Shaw has his first signature win and the post Andrew Luck era is off to a running start.

"We've talked about for years now, not being a flash in the pan," Shaw said. "We don't want to be that team known for one victory; we want to be known for victory after victory. Stacking wins on top of wins."

With a 14-2 record under Shaw, they've done just that. The victory was the first against a team ranked this high since the Cardinal's 24-23 win against the Trojans in 2007, when they were also ranked No. 2.

No one is going to compare quarterback Josh Nunes to Luck, but he made plays when he had to in the second half - with both his feet and, surprisingly to Shaw, his legs.

"I can not say enough about Josh Nunes," Shaw said. "He did not play a perfect game and has to play so much better. He made some plays unbelievable runs, broke tackles. He made some great throws as well."

Nunes was just 15 of 32 for 215 yards and two touchdowns with a pair of interceptions, but he wasn't sacked and showed poise late in the game.

The numbers could have been worse. His first half was brutal: 6 of 17 for 78 yards and two interceptions. He missed open receivers and threw balls towards to areas with no one around.

But there was no pep talk from Shaw at halftime.

"Josh is never rattled. He is a fighter," Shaw said. "You don't see a lot of emotions with him. He doesn't have ups and downs. Josh is even keeled and is the same when he makes a play as when he doesn't make a play."

After halftime, Nunes was a different player.

There were a few highlights to choose from, but none proved more important than his 37-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz with 10 minutes, 20 seconds left in the game.

"Coach Pep Hamilton saw they were playing single safeties," Shaw said of the play. "We were working with Zach on that route for two years and we got the timing down and Josh threw a heck of a ball, perfectly timed."

Ertz made one USC player miss and dove into the end zone for what ended up being the game-winning touchdown.

Nunes' counterpart, Matt Barkley?

Well, forget about the Heisman.

Even with a pair of future first-round picks to throw to, Barkley was subpar and got worse as the game went along. On a night when many Stanford fans were looking for Brett Nottingham to start the second half, the guy they wanted him to replace ended up playing the better football when it mattered.

Barkley finished 20 of 41 for 254 yards without a touchdown pass, was picked off twice and sacked four times.

A lot of that is due to the Stanford defense, which showed it has a bright future in the secondary and one of the best front sevens in the nation.

After holding the Trojans' prolific offense to 280 yards (26 rushing), it's fair to include Stanford in conversations about the best defenses in the country.

"I said that before and got in trouble for it," Shaw said, "but I'll let you guys say it."

Stepfan Taylor, who crossed the 3,000-yard barrier for his career in the game, also showed why he's among the best running backs in the nation. Taylor ran for 153 yards on 27 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns, including a 59-yard run in which his showcased seldom-seen breakaway speed.

With a bye next week, the Cardinal will now prepare for its firsts road game of the year at Washington on Sept. 27, where they'll expect to keep stacking up wins.

Follow @KyleBonagura on Twitter


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