LOS ANGELES – The Coliseum stands emptied in waves that flowed onto the field after Stanford’s final fumble. Thousands of Southern California fans enveloped the Trojans to celebrate an improbable win secured by an interim coach, an inconsistent kicker and a thin defense that wouldn’t break.
USC’s surge for Ed Orgeron had just swallowed up No. 5 Stanford’s national title hopes.
Andre Heidari kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play, and a stalwart defense repeatedly came up big in USC’s 20-17 upset of the Cardinal on Saturday night.
Cody Kessler passed for 288 yards as the revitalized Trojans (8-3, 5-2 Pac-12) earned their fifth win in six games under the irrepressible Orgeron, who replaced the fired Lane Kiffin in late September. Orgeron immediately returned fun to a dour program — and wins have followed, none bigger than this streak-snapping win over powerful Stanford.
“In our tight-knit family, there was a belief that we were going to find a way to win the game,” Orgeron said. “I’m proud of our young men. This is something that they’ve wanted for a long time now.”
USC’s remarkable defensive performance included two fourth-quarter interceptions and a season-low 17 points from the Cardinal (8-2, 6-2), who followed up last week’s win over Oregon by getting knocked out of the BCS title chase and maybe the Rose Bowl race as well.
Heidari nearly lost his job twice this season, and he missed an extra point in the first quarter. But the junior coolly nailed the tiebreaking field goal — and then got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for running the length of the field to celebrate it.
“They all said, ‘We know you got this. You do it every day in practice,’ ” Heidari said of his teammates. “They believed in me.”
Moments later, thousands of USC fans flooded the field. Stanford had won in its last three trips to the Coliseum, including a triple-overtime thriller two years ago, and its last four meetings with USC overall.
Soma Vainuku caught an early TD pass and Javorius Allen rushed for a score for USC, which played 38 straight scoreless minutes until Heidari’s kick. Nelson Agholor had eight catches for 104 yards, while Marqise Lee had six catches for 83 yards — and both receivers made big plays on USC’s final drive.
“I don’t know if I pulled them together,” Orgeron said. “I think they just came together. The leadership of this program is really coming to the forefront.”
Tyler Gaffney rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns for Stanford, which had won three straight while closing in on the chance to host the Pac-12 title game for the second straight year. Kevin Hogan went 14 of 25 for 127 yards, but the Cardinal couldn’t regain the lead after trailing 17-10 at half, despite repeatedly getting close.
“I think this is the first time anyone on this team has lost to them,” Gaffney said. “It’s a tough thing to swallow.”
Stanford tied it with Gaffney’s 18-yard TD run on the first drive of the third quarter, but couldn’t score on six drives in the final 23 minutes, managing just 88 yards — 75 on a single drive ending in Dion Bailey’s interception.
USC’s offense also struggled throughout the second half, but the Trojans’ sanctions-depleted defense kept it close despite using just two substitutes for most of the night.
“They’re a good team, and they got healthy at the wrong time for us,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.
Alabama stays unbeaten
Starkville Mississippi AP
Alabama looked lethargic, uninspired, sloppy and downright ordinary against a middling Southeastern Conference team on Saturday.
And the top-ranked Crimson Tide still found a way to win by nearly two touchdowns.
T.J. Yeldon rushed for 160 yards and A.J. McCarron threw two touchdown passes as Alabama overcame four turnovers to beat Mississippi State 20-7 on Saturday night.
“We typically struggle here and we did again tonight,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “But give Mississippi State credit, they had a good game plan. They played very physical and we couldn’t control the line of scrimmage.”
It was the lowest scoring game of the season for Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC), which led 10-7 midway through the third quarter before pulling away.
Alabama has seemed invincible over the past two months, winning seven straight games by at least three touchdowns. But that aura wasn’t anywhere to be found at Davis Wade Stadium, with Saban’s bunch looking curiously mortal after last week’s emotional victory over LSU.
“We came out sluggish and we were sluggish to the end.” Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood said.
Mississippi State (4-6, 1-5) kept the game far closer than most anticipated, but couldn’t take advantage of Alabama’s mistakes. Tyler Russell started for the injured Dak Prescott and completed 15 of 24 passes for 144 yards and an interception before leaving with a shoulder injury.
Miracle saves Auburn
Auburn Alabama AP
A stunning touchdown reception on a ‘Hail Mary’ pass gave Auburn a 43-38 victory over Georgia on Saturday to revive its chances of a Southeast Conference championship and maybe even college football’s national title.
With Auburn facing a fourth-and-18 play with 25 seconds left, quarterback Nick Marshall heaved the ball downfield with two defenders around Ricardo Louis, and it bounced off one of them and into Louis’ hands and his juggling 73-yard reception produced a memorable win.
Auburn finishes the season against No. 1 Alabama and a victory in the Iron Bowl would put the Tigers in the SEC championship game.