While Stanford’s season-opening win at Hawai’i showed what the Cardinal could become under new coach Troy Taylor, a 56-10 loss at No. 6 USC on Saturday night showed how far it still has to go, at least if it wants to compete with the top teams in the country.
The Trojans (3-0) led 49-3 at halftime and rolled to the third biggest blowout in the 118-year history of the series, which has been played 102 times. USC beat Stanford 49-0 in 1977 and 54-7 in 1952.
“We’re still learning about our team,” Taylor said. “What I do know, though, is they’re going to compete, they’re not going to stop and they’re going to continue to get better. And we’ll do the same as the coaching staff. Who we are — the season is early on — hasn’t been defined. It’s one day. Obviously, we’re not at their level right now. But we will shoot to be there and we will continue to work at it.”
The Cardinal (1-1) will have a chance to rebound quickly. Next up is the home opener against Sacramento State, an FCS school where Taylor previously coached.
Stanford was dominated in every phase at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The defense allowed touchdowns on six of USC’s seven first-half possessions, special teams allowed a 75-yard punt return for a TD, and the offense committed three turnovers and was held to three points until the final four minutes.
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams completed 19 of 22 passes for 281 yards and three TDs and also ran for a 21-yard score before sitting out the entire second half.
The points came so fast during the first half that Keely Eure, an in-house reporter at USC, wrote on X that Traveler, the team’s live mascot, didn’t come out on the field to celebrate one score “because the horse was too tired.”
But Taylor said that the margin of defeat won’t negatively impact how the team prepares for the rest of the season.
“They’re competitors and these guys work really hard. They’re not going to go in the tank over one game,” Taylor said. “It’s disappointing – they should be disappointed — and they’ll lick our wounds and we will wake up tomorrow and we will get ready for the next week. This is early in the season and we’re a young team. We knew that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be a really good team. So we’ll continue to work, and I promise you that those guys will not go in the tank. They’ll be ready to roll.”
Stanford didn’t make any players available after the game.
One aspect of the USC game that might have a lasting impact is in the quarterback room. Starter Ashton Daniels appeared to suffer a right arm injury early in the second quarter when he was hit from the side while throwing. Syracuse transfer Justin Lamson played the remainder of the game, but Taylor indicated that Daniels’s injury wasn’t serious.
“I think he’s gonna be okay,” Taylor said. “He just got banged up a little bit. Just felt like it was an opportunity to get Justin a chance to play. Justin’s a really good player. He’s worked really hard and he’s had a great camp.”
Lamson completed 8 of 18 passes for 121 yards and ran 16 times for 36 yards. He fumbled once and was sacked once.
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In recent years, Stanford and USC have opened the Pac-12 conference schedule by playing in Week 2, giving both teams an early measuring stick. In their previous meeting in L.A., in 2021, USC fired coach Clay Helton after he lost to the Cardinal. But last Saturday showed how quickly the Trojans have bounced back under coach Lincoln Riley, and how far Stanford has fallen.
With both teams leaving for new conferences in 2024, it’s unknown when they will play again.
“It’s two incredible institutions that have played football for a really long time,” Taylor said. “Both proud traditions. It’s been a good rivalry. I think both sides have been challenged. But it is what it is. Maybe we’ll play them someday again.”