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Pac-12 Championship Game: Stanford Cardinal defeats USC Trojans to win the conference and secure a spot in the Rose Bowl

Congratulations to the Stanford Cardinal the Pac-12 Champions!

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

First Quarter

Christian McCaffrey returned the opening kickoff to the Stanford 32. Some running from McCaffrey, through huge holes created by the Stanford offensive line, took Stanford into the red zone. A missed assignment on the offensive line backed Stanford up to second-and-goal from the ten. Hogan hit McCaffrey for a touchdown on a screen pass on the next play, but Rollins Stallworth was called for holding. Hogan missed Stallworth on the long third-and-goal. Conrad Ukropina hit a 30-yard field goal for the opening score.

USC gained a single first down on its first possession thanks to some gutty running from Cody Kessler. But the Stanford defense locked down and forced a punt.

On the next Stanford drive, Trenton Irwin missed a catch on a would-be first down. No problem for McCaffrey, who picked up plenty to move the chains. Remound Wright somehow managed to bust tackles and stay on his feet to pick up a first down on second-and-nine. A designed run to Hogan picked up nine. On second-and-short, McCaffrey read his blocks and the defense beautifully, picking up a 20+ yard gain to the USC 23. A bad spot on third down set up fourth-and-inches. To everyone's surprise, Stanford ran power and handed to Wright, who picked up the first down. On first down, a high snap to McCaffrey in the wildcat resulted in a short gain and took us to the end of the quarter, with the score 3-0, Stanford.

Second Quarter

On the opening play of the second quarter, facing first-and-ten from the USC 11, Hogan pitched to Wright, who pitched back to McCaffrey running the other direction. McCaffrey threw a beautiful pass to Kevin Hogan, who had slipped off the line unguarded, and Hogan strolled into the endzone.

A short run, an incomplete pass, and a false start set USC up with third-and-twelve from their own 22. Kessler got leveled by Joey Alfieri as he released another incompletion, forcing another punt from USC.

Stanford took over at its own 35 and immediately handed to McCaffrey. He danced through the lines, juked a safety, and took the ball all the way to the USC 15. A false start penalty and some short runs set up third-and-goal from the two. Wright couldn't convert, so Ukropina hit a 23 yard field goal, and Stanford took a 13-0 lead.

USC started at its own 21 and was immediately sent backward by a substitution infraction. USC went deep on the next play, and Quenton Meeks made a beautiful pass breakup. Another incompletion and a Brennan Scarlett sack forced USC into fourth-and-twenty-six.

A great punt return from McCaffrey meant the next Stanford drive began at the USC 19. Bryce Love picked up 13 on second down, setting up first-and-goal from the USC five yard-line. Two wildcat snaps to McCaffrey picked up four yards and putting Stanford into third-and-goal from the one. David Shaw mixed things up, running power and handing to Wright. USC stopped the ball inches short of the goal line. Stanford went for it on fourth down. A beautiful read from USC resulted in a sack, and USC took over at its own 9.

USC finally started moving, with Justin Davis running and Kessler completing a nice pass to take USC out beyond its own 30. Stanford eventually forced USC to settle for a field goal with 15 seconds left in the half. Stanford took a knee into halftime, with the score 13-3, Stanford.

Third Quarter

Justin Davis picked up a big run into Stanford territory to open the second half. Then JuJu Smith-Schuster picked up a first down inside the red zone. Kessler hit a tight end in the flat for a touchdown from a yard and a half out, making it 13-9 USC after a blocked extra point.

Stanford took the ensuing kickoff to the 24. A short run from McCaffrey and a pass to Rector set up third-and-one. McCaffrey barely picked up the first down on a run between the tackles. Then USC stuffed McCaffrey on a wildcat snap on third-and-two. Stanford was forced into its first punt of the game.

USC started moving again, and quickly got into Stanford territory. The Stanford defense suddenly looked vulnerable, though USC's offense was hugely assisted by Ronnie Harris's absence. Harris was doubtful before the game, but he played in the first half. After halftime, the trainers cut the tape off his ankle, and he did not return. Ronald Jones capped the drive with a 27-yard run. USC took a three-point lead with a five and a half left in the third.

On its next drive, Stanford handed to McCaffrey twice for a total of four yards. On third down, Hogan hit McCaffrey over the middle for a 67 yard gain inside the USC 5. Hogan kept the ball on the next play and spun into the end zone to put Stanford back ahead.

Justin Davis tripped over Adoree' Jackson on the kickoff at the USC five yard-line, and a personal foul against USC backed them up to their own two and a half. USC faced third-and-eight from its own five, and converted on a nice catch by Smith-Schuster that took a replay to confirm. Justin Davis took a run for eight yards on first down, but Stanford stuffed him for a loss on second down, setting up third-and-three. Kessler completed a 22-yard pass to Steven Mitchell, but another tackle-for loss backed USC up. Kessler was hit as he threw, making it third-and-eleven. On third down, Blake Martinez sacked Kessler and stripped the ball. Solomon Thomas picked up the fumble and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.

Jake Bailey sent the kickoff out of bounds. Stanford stuffed Davis for a loss on first down to end the third quarter.

Fourth Quarter

Jackson ran for 27 on the next play, into Stanford territory. Some tough running set USC up with a first down at the Stanford 17. Kessler took a keeper into the endzone. USC went for two, but only went backwards. The score was 27-22, Stanford with twelve and a half left.

Stanford immediately faced a third-and-four on its next drive. Hogan hit Austin Hooper over the middle to pick up the first down. Running from McCaffrey and a pass to Michael Rector moved Stanford inside the USC 40. Stanford faced a third-and-two from the USC 28, which the announcers called the biggest third down of the game. Hogan extended the play by dancing around the pocket, then hit McCaffrey over the middle. He ran untouched into the endzone.

USC picked up two first downs, including conversion a third-and-five. Solomon Thomas sacked Kessler, setting up third-and-seventeen. Kessler threw a pass that was almost intercepted by Justin Reid. Kessler had Mitchell open on fourth-and-seventeen, but overthrew him badly. Stanford took over on downs at the USC 37.

After three runs up the middle to McCaffrey, Stanford faced fourth-and-three at the USC 29. Hogan hit Cajuste at the USC 12 for the first down. Two plays later, McCaffrey danced into the endzone, and Stanford took a 41-22 lead with 1:38 to go. The next USC drive ran out the clock.

Snap Observations

McCaffrey was absolutely incredible tonight. He finished with 32 rushes for 207 yards (6.4 ypc) and a TD. He caught four passes for 105 yards (26 ypc) and another TD. He returned five kickoffs for 120 yards and two punts for 29 yards. That's 461 yards of total offense, and it was plenty for McCaffrey to set the all-time FBS record for total yardage in a season. Oh, and he also threw an eleven-yard touchdown to Kevin Hogan.

As Ronnie Harris goes, so goes the Stanford defense. Harris played the first half, and the rejuvenated Stanford defense held a potent USC offense to three points. Harris did not play the second half, and USC scored 13 points in the third quarter. Though the Stanford defense rebounded in the fourth quarter and held USC to six the final frame. Final tally: the Stanford defense surrendered 3 points with Harris, and 19 without him.

Stanford is the Pac-12 champion for the third time in four years. Stanford is almost certainly headed to the Rose Bowl, likely to face either Ohio State or the loser of the Big 10 championship.