Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) saw his team make countless uncharacteristic mistakes Saturday. / Cary Edmondson, USA TODAY Sports
PALO ALTO, Calif. - Breaking down No. 14 USC's 13-10 win at No. 10 Stanford.
THE BIG PICTURE: Uncharacteristic sloppiness eliminated Stanford from the national conversation even before Oregon took the field for its marquee nonconference game against Michigan State. USC was the beneficiary: Despite being largely outplayed for the majority of three quarters, the Trojans rode the Cardinal's missteps - botched snaps, false starts, missed blocks, failed conversions, errant field goals - to a 13-10 win. With five difficult road tests to come, Stanford might have placed its back against the wall in the chase for the playoff.
WHAT WE'LL BE TALKING ABOUT: There are two story lines. One involves the Trojans: Given UCLA's early-season struggles, USC should be viewed as the favorite in the Pac-12 South Division and one of the league's strongest contenders for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The second looks at Stanford, which must look inward and solve its mind-boggling comedy of errors to charge back into the championship race. While neither team looked like one of the nation's best - to put lightly in Stanford's case - the Trojans' victory vaults Steve Sarkisian's bunch into the hunt.
THE TWEET: The former head of officiating for the NFL on the targeting call that disqualified USC LB Hayes Pullard:
THE DECIDING PLAY: Stanford brought pressure on third-and-4 with five minutes left; USC quarterback Cody Kessler felt it coming, stepped up in the pocket and hit Nelson Agholor over the middle for a 29-yard gain, moving the Trojans inside Stanford territory. Later in the drive, USC would eschew a fourth-and-5 attempt the Stanford 36 in favor of a 53-yard field goal try - and Andre Heidari nailed it, giving the Trojans a 13-10 lead. The Cardinal's ensuing drive ended with a sack and fumble, giving USC a key early victory.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Agholor spent much of his first two seasons playing in the shadow of Marqise Lee, his former All-American teammate. This smelled like a coming-out party: Agholor made nine receptions for 91 yards against the Stanford defense, often extending drives with crucial third-down grabs or, in the case of the deciding drive, giving USC the boost it needed to seal a three-point win.
KEY STAT: Stanford made nine trips inside USC's 28-yard line yet came out with just 10 points.
Read the original story: No. 14 USC outlasts No. 10 Stanford 13-10 on the road