Stanford tries not to overreact to loss at USC

Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, bottom, catches a touchdown while defended by Southern California cornerback Iman Marshall during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES (AP) It wasn’t obvious from the reaction of coach David Shaw or Stanford’s players that the Cardinal had been handed their worst loss to Southern California since 2008.

”It doesn’t have to be that we played poorly. It could also be that they just played really well,” Shaw said after the 42-24 loss Saturday night at the Coliseum.

Perhaps it came from a realization that Stanford – which dropped from No. 14 to No. 19 in the AP poll Sunday – will get no respite Saturday from defending Mountain West champion San Diego State, coming off a road victory over the Pac-12’s Arizona State.

Perhaps it came from an understanding that Stanford could still reach the Pac-12 title game and see the Trojans again in December. Perhaps it came from a place of shock, still processing the big defeat.

Stanford gave up 632 yards of total offense, the highest total allowed in Shaw’s seven seasons. The Cardinal allowed USC, which jumped from No. 6 to No. 4, to convert 10 of 12 third downs, lacking the clock control that has been a Cardinal hallmark. Their vaunted rushing offense was held in check outside a 75-yard touchdown run by Bryce Love on Stanford’s second possession.

”They just came out better than us today and we definitely got their best,” defensive lineman Harrison Phillips said. ”We have a lot to improve on and a lot of weeks to get there, so we’ll see who is the better team at the end of the season.”

Stanford did just that in 2015, as Phillips noted, overcoming a loss to Northwestern in the opener.

”Rose Bowl champions, No. 3 overall at the end of the season,” Phillips said.

Even last season, Stanford bounced back and won 10 games for the sixth time in seven years after early losses to Washington and Washington State. But there were obvious reasons for those defeats. Turnovers and poor pass protection exacerbated by a hostile atmosphere forced Stanford to spend nearly the entire game playing from behind against the Huskies, and facing the pass-happy Cougars without both starting cornerbacks was a non-starter.

Shaw offered explanations for each aspect of USC’s comprehensive win. Stanford had created adequate pressure on quarterback Sam Darnold, but couldn’t bring him down because of the redshirt sophomore’s uncanny strength and elusiveness. The USC offensive line played at a high level, allowing them to mix up the run and pass effectively. When the defense came up with stops and intercepted Darnold twice, the offense failed to turn those opportunities into points. Love was effective, but the score took him out of the game plan in the second half.

The only hint of anger came from safety Justin Reid, his words laced with a ferocity and passion the rest of the evening lacked.

”Honestly, though, this could be the best thing that happens to our team,” Reid said. ”We’re going to let this feeling sit in our mouth for the rest of the season cause we don’t ever want to go through this again. We’re going to take it as motivation. We’re going to use it to drive us for the rest of the year so that way nobody takes a play off, nobody takes a practice off. We will be driven for the rest of the year to go out and accomplish what we intend to do so that we don’t ever have this feeling again.”

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