During the chaos that ensued after Saturday night after USC's 20-17 upset win against fourth-ranked Stanford at the sold-out Los Angeles Coliseum, Stanford head coach David Shaw didn't have a chance to shake hands with Trojans' interim head coach Ed Orgeron. Shaw tried, but couldn't find him, as many of the 93,607 fans stormed the field. He'll follow up by phone.
By the time he returned to the Cardinal locker room, Shaw was met by looks of disappointment and frustration. Victory was within grasp several times, but USC -- not Stanford -- made the big plays down the stretch to deprive the Cardinal of winning its fifth-straight game against the Trojans.
"It's not a good feeling," said running back Tyler Gaffney, who did his part, rushing for 158 yards and two touchdowns. "It's the first time anybody on this team lost to them. It's a tough pill to swallow."
Gaffney, who eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the fifth-consecutive game, ran hard all night. On his first TD scamper, he appeared stopped at the line of scrimmage, but bounced outside and bolted 35 yards to the end zone.
"Unbelievable," Shaw said.
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The loss to USC dropped Stanford to ninth in this week's BCS Standings, still a favorable position for a decent bowl game. Alabama ranks No. 1, Florida State No. 2 and Ohio State No. 3, all with 10-0 records.
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Stanford players knew a resurgent USC team would be ready to play, and never led in the game. The Cardinal fought back from a 17-7 deficit to tie the score in the third quarter, and twice moved the ball into the red zone, only to come up empty when a 30-yard field goal was blocked and quarterback Kevin Hogan threw the first of two interceptions on third and goal at the USC 10.
"I take complete responsibility for the first one," said Shaw, noting that Trojan defensive back Dion Bailey read the play perfectly. "It was a bad call by me."
On the second pick, Hogan was under pressure and tried to make a play toward the sideline, but put the ball up for grabs. It was tipped and intercepted by freshman safety Su'a Craven.
"He was trying to do too much," Shaw said. "He should have thrown the ball away or taken the sack. We have to execute better."
For the second straight week, Stanford had a field goal blocked. Starting kicker Jordan Williamson warmed up but felt "no pop" in his leg, so Shaw sat him down in favor of Conrad Ukropina. His kick could have given the Cardinal a 20-17 lead and momentum in the fourth quarter, but lineman Chad Wheeler blocked it.
"I don't know what happened," said Shaw. "It was hard to see from where I was standing."
While giving full credit to USC for playing hard from start to finish, Shaw knows this was a winnable contest.
"That's the story of the game -- missed opportunities," he said. "They made the plays at the end to win it."
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Gaffney said there was no letdown after last week's emotional victory against second-ranked Oregon.
"We were focused for USC last Saturday," he said. "Win or lose, we stay even-keeled. That's what we preach around here."
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After allowing USC to score on its first three offensive possessions, the Cardinal defense stiffened and held the Trojans scoreless in the second half until the final minute when Andre Heidari kicked a 47-yard game-winning field goal with 19 seconds remaining.
Asked how the defense regrouped, outside linebacker Trent Murphy said, "A little mentality, a little X's and O's."
Murphy was his usual disruptive self. He made eight tackles, including four for loss, and forced a fumble. Inside linebacker Shayne Skov collected a team-high nine tackles and a recovered a fumble.
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Shaw said winning games in November in the Pac-12 Conference is a tall order. As proof, he pointed out Stanford's recent schedule that has seen it play UCLA, Oregon State, Oregon and USC in consecutive games.
"There's no comparison to any other conference in the county," said Shaw. "People can say what they want, but it's not even close. It's tough. You have to try to run the gauntlet. It's the only chance."
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Next up for Stanford is the Big Game against Cal on Saturday at 1 p.m. Given the tough defeat to USC, Shaw was asked how difficult it will be to prepare for the Bears, who have yet to win a Pac-12 game this season.
"It's the Big Game and it's home," he said. "There's going to be energy and there's going to be fire. If it's not there during the week, it's our job as coaches to manufacture it."
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Stanford extended it streak of forcing at least one turnover to 35-consecutive games. That ranks second nationally behind Missouri (39) . . . The Cardinal defense limited USC to 23 yards rushing, but allowed 288 yards through the air, mostly on short and intermediate passes . . . Neither team was effective on third down, Stanford converting 4-of-12 attempts and the Trojans 4 of 14.