But the Trojans defense had no answer for quarterback Kevin Hogan or Stanford's methodical running game Saturday night at the Coliseum as the Cardinal dealt sixth-ranked USC a 41-31 loss in the Pac-12 Conference opener for both teams.
Stanford outgained USC, 474-427, ran 73 plays to 60, and held possession 39 minutes 29 seconds compared to 20:31 for the Trojans.
Stanford improved to 2-1, its loss coming in the opener to Northwestern. USC had routed two Sun Belt Conference teams in its first games.
Hogan completed 18 of 23 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns. He was complemented by the running of Christian McCaffrey and Remound Wright.
McCaffrey ran for 115 yards in 26 carries and Wright scored on three short runs, carrying 11 times for 41 yards.
Cody Kessler completed 25 of 32 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns for USC, which rushed for 155 yards.
Stanford had converted on six consecutive third-down plays, but finally missed one.
So Conrad Ukropina made a 46-yard field goal to seal the deal for the Cardinal.
Stanford 41, USC 31 -- 2:27 left in the fourth quarter.
Stanford will start at its own 19-yard line.
Christian McCaffrey opens the drive rushing six yards.
McCaffrey picks up a first down. He has rushed for 98 yards in 23 carries.
Stanford's momentum stalls, at least for a play, after the refs call a false start.
McCaffrey rushes 14 yards. USC's defense has had little answer for him.
McCaffrey takes a rest, Remound Wright rushes three yards for a first down. This is Stanford's plan. Slow and steady wins the race.
Second and eight, Wright is knocked down at the line of scrimmage by Noah Jefferson. That's a big play by a freshman.
Third and eight, Hogan completes a short pass to an open McCaffrey, who takes off for a 20-yard gain.
Hogan is having a great game. He has completed 18 of 23 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
Stanford is on USC's 35-yard line. Hogan drops back to pass but is forced to scramble and picks up three yards.
Stanford 38, USC 31 -- 9:19 left in the fourth quarter
The announced attendance is 78,306 at the Coliseum.
Adoree' Jackson returns the kickoff 40 yards.
USC will start at its own 43-yard line.
Justin Davis looked like he would be tackled short of the first down, but kept his legs moving for a 12-yard gain.
Davis rushes two yards and Kessler has a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage to bring up third and seven.
Kessler completes a 19-yard pass over the middle to an open JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Ronald Jones II rushes one yard.
Kessler has time, but no open receivers, and throws an incomplete pass to Jalen Greene.
Third and nine, Kessler avoids a sack and completes a short pass to Tre Madden, well short of the first down.
Alex Wood comes on to attempt his first field goal of the game and its from 36 yards: The kick is good.
Stanford 38, USC 28 -- 11:21 left in the fourth quarter
Stanford will start at USC's 46-yard line after Kris Albarado punts 30 yards.
Kevin Hogan begins the drive handing off to Christian McCaffrey, who loses five yards.
Second and 15, Hogan completes a 10-yard pass to McCaffrey.
Hogan is having a great night. He completes a 10-yard pass to Trent Irwin.
Interesting note on Irwin: USC was one of very few schools that did not offer him a scholarship. After watching him for several seasons, Irwin is a player who never drops a pass.
McCaffrey rushes for consecutive two-yard gains to end the third quarter.
Third and seven, Hogan keeps it for a 10-yard gain. Coach Steve Sarkisian said in a halftime interview that USC needed to contain the quarterback.
Stanford is on USC's 17-yard line.
McCaffrey rushes for four and two yards in consecutive carries.
Third and four, Hogan is called for a delay of game, which sets up third and nine. There appears to be some confusion on the Stanford sideline.
Hogan throws a laser to Austin Hooper for a 15-yard completion.
First and goal, Stanford is stopped short.
Second and goal, Remound Wright jumps over the top for a Stanford touchdown.
The extra point is good.
USC coaches have been selling their platoon system, utilizing a plethora of defensive players.
Perhaps they should just go with their best players now.
Adoree' Jackson returns the kickoff 19 yards to USC's 24-yard line.
Cody Kessler completes a two-yard pass to Justin Davis and a seven-yard pass to Isaac Whitney.
Max Tuerk is called for unncessary roughness after the play and USC is moved back 15 yards.
Kessler completes a short pass to Davis, who is tackled for a loss.
Stanford 31, USC 28 -- 4:55 left in the third quarter
Stanford will start at its own 23-yard line.
Kevin Hogan hands off to Christian McCaffrey, who rushes three yards before he is tackled by Su'a Cravens.
McCaffrey rushes four yards before he is stood up by several linebackers.
Third and three, Hogan completes a three-yard pass for a first down. The spot looks generous -- Cameron Smith made the tackle as soon as the receiver caught the pass.
Cody Temple is called for holding. USC has four penalties for 36 yards. Stanford has two for 21.
Hogan throws an incomplete pass and McCaffrey rushes for eight yards before Remound Wright evades the defense for a 22-yard gain.
Stanford is on USC's 24-yard line.
Linebacker Cameron Smith tries to cover McCaffrey down field, but the freshman is called for pass interference.
Stanford is now on USC's seven-yard line after the 15-yard penalty.
McCaffrey was a yard from the goal line before he was brutally taken down by Cravens.
Wright goes over the top of the pile to land inside the goal line for a Stanford touchdown.
The extra point is good.
USC 28, Stanford 24 -- 10:08 left in the third quarter
Stanford botches the punt and USC will start at the Cardinal 40-yard line.
Cody Kessler completes a five-yard pass to Tre Madden.
Justin Davis rushes five yards.
Kessler completes a seven-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, short of the first down.
Rogers makes an impressive 13-yard one-handed catch for a first down, but the ball appears to be knocked loose and pops up for a Stanford defender to intercept. The play will be reviewed.
The play is being shown on the Coliseum big screen and fans are erupting in boos. The replay appears to show Rogers down before the ball is knocked out.
The play is reversed and it is ruled a catch by Rogers.
Kessler evades a sack and rushes 18 yards to the one-yard line.
Kessler completes a one-yard pass to Steven Mitchell Jr. for a touchdown. That's Mitchell's second touchdown of the game.
Alex Wood's extra point is good.
USC kicks off to Stanford to start the second half and the Cardinal will begin with the ball at its own 25-yard line.
Su'a Cravens tackles Christian McCaffrey near the line of scrimmage.
USC finally gets after Kevin Hogan. Hogan steps around in the pocket before he is sacked by Greg Townsend Jr. and Porter Gustin.
Anthony Sarao sacks Hogan on third down.
I wonder what the message was to the defense at halftime?
USC goes to the locker room down, 24-21, to Stanford.
There's a small chorus of boos filling the Coliseum. Not many -- or any -- expected this.
Cody Kessler has completed 10 of 12 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
Kevin Hogan is 13 of 17 for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
Stanford 24, USC 21 -- three seconds left in the second quarter
Stanford will start at its own 22-yard line.
Lamar Dawson puts pressure on Kevin Hogan, but misses the tackle -- and the chance for a sack. Hogan scrambles and completes a 24-yard pass to Austin Hooper.
Adoree' Jackson covers Frances Owusu to force a third-down situation.
Third and eight, Hogan keeps the ball and rushes for a first down before he is forced out of bounds by Anthony Sarao.
Hogan slips a 22-yard pass over the middle to Dalton Schultz, just out of the reach of Sarao.
Eight seconds left in the second quarter. And for the first time tonight, USC fans are getting really loud.
Hogan completes a 17-yard pass to an open Devon Cajuste in the end zone to give Stanford the lead.
The extra point is good.
Adoree' Jackson returns the kickoff 14 yards. USC will start at its own 14-yard line.
Cody Kessler completes a 25-yard pass to Isaac Whitney on the first play of the drive.
Tre Madden rushes for seven and three yards to pick up a first down.
Kessler looks deep for JuJu Smith-Schuster, who isn't able to make a tough catch. Smith-Schuster is hurt on the field, tries to make his way off alone before he has to sit.
Smith-Schuster finds his way to his feet and jogs off the field without assistance.
Left tackle Chad Wheeler was called for holding on the play.
Second and 18, Ronald Jones II rushes three yards.
Third and 15, Kessler is sacked.
USC 21, Stanford 17 -- 3:53 left in the second quarter
Stanford will start at its own 16-yard line.
USC's defensive line finally shows up. Delvon Simmons tackles Christian McCaffrey at the line of scrimmage.
Kevin Hogan sees open field to his left and rushes 22 yards before he steps out of bounds.
USC's defense is putting little pressure on Hogan, who has had plenty of time to stand in the pocket.
Hogan completes a 13-yard pass to Remound Wright.
Hogan hands off to McCaffrey, who rushes 10 yards before Chris Hawkins pushes him out of bounds.
Stanford is at USC's 30-yard line.
Wow -- Hogan completes an impressive 24-yard pass to Austin Hooper just above the reach of John Plattenburg and Iman Marshall to put Stanford on USC's 1 yard line.
Remound Wright tries to dive over the line but he's ruled short of the goal line. The play will be reviewed.
The ruling on the field is reversed -- Stanford touchdown.
The extra point is good.
USC's defense isn't putting any pressure on Hogan and the secondary is struggling to cover some bigger receivers.
USC 21, Stanford 10 -- 9:29 left in the second quarter
Adoree' Jackson fields the kickoff and returns it 97 yards for a touchdown.
However, there's a flag down on the 34-yard line. Quinton Powell was called for holding and JuJu Smith-Schuster was called for a personal foul after the play.
USC will start at its own 11-yard line.
Ronald Jones II breaks through Stanford's second level of defense -- and nearly its last defender -- before he is tackled... but there's another flag on the play.
Viane Talamaivao is called for holding and USC is also called for an illegal formation. Stanford is called offsides. Penalties offset. Flags everywhere.
Third and two, Kessler hands off to Jones, who rushes four yards for a first down.
Cody Kessler completes a four-yard pass to Darreus Rogers.
Kessler's protection breaks down and he throws it away.
Third and six, incomplete pass to Smith-Schuster -- but, more flags. This should be pass interference on Stanford.
And it is. Automatic first down for USC.
USC is at its own 30-yard line.
Dominic Davis rushes for 19 yards. Four tailbacks have now ran the ball for USC.
Adoree' Jackson checks in on offense and stands as a decoy at the line of scrimmage. Kessler completes a pass over the middle to Smith-Schuster who turns on the jets and barely escapes two defenders for a 54-yard touchdown.
Alex Wood's extra point is good.
USC 14, Stanford 10 -- 12:44 left in the second quarter.
Stanford will start at its own 25-yard line.
Barry Sanders rushes four yards and that ends the first quarter.
Stanford has the ball at its own 35-yard line and is headed for the West end zone.
Kevin Hogan completes a 41-yard pass -- over freshman cornerback Iman Marshall -- to start the second quarter.
Stanford is called for a chop block, which backs the Cardinal to USC's 33-yard line.
Hogan throws into tight coverage and completes a nine-yard pass to Dalton Schultz in front of John Plattenburg.
Third down, Hogan doesn't come close to finding his receiver.
Conrad Ukropina kicks a 42-yard field goal.
USC 14, Stanford 7 -- 53 seconds left in the first quarter
USC will start at its own 25-yard line.
Now it's time to open the offense.
Cody Kessler completes a 31-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Tre Madden rushes for two yards and Kessler follows with an 11-yard pass to Smith-Schuster.
Offensive coordinator Clay Helton utilizes several players on this drive. Justin Davis catches a short pass, then dodges a few tackles on his way to a 23-yard gain.
Kessler caps the drive with a six-yard pass to Steven Mitchell for a touchdown.
USC makes it look easy and fast. That drive took less than two minutes.
Alex Wood's extra point is good.
USC 7, Stanford 7 -- 2:49 left in the first quarter
Stanford will start at its own 34-yard line.
Su'a Cravens is the playmaker for USC's defense. He tackles Bryce Love at the line of scrimmage.
Fifth-year senior linebacker Lamar Dawson checks in for the first time since 2013 and makes three consecutive tackles.
Third and four, Hogan completes a 12-yard pass to Trenton Irwin in front of safety Johny Plattenburg.
Hogan completes a 21-yard pass to Bryce Love.
Hogan should have thrown a touchdown, but receiver Devon Cajuste drops the pass in the end zone.
Next play, no drop here. Hogan completes a 16-yard pass for a touchdown to Austin Hooper.
The extra point is good.
USC will start at its own six-yard line.
And it looks like the Trojans will continue to run the ball.
Cody Kessler hands off on the first and second plays to freshman tailback Ronald Jones, who picks up six and two yards.
USC is called for an illegal procedure on third down, which brings up fourth down.
Stanford will start on its own 18-yard line.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Hogan started to find a rhythm moving the Cardinal down the field, but linebacker Su'a Cravens single handedly put a stop to that.
After a Stanford first down, Cravens tackled tailback Christian McCaffrey -- who was on the verge of breakthrough run.
Next play, Cravens sacked Hogan.
Third down, Hogan overthrows his receiver on the sideline.
USC 7, Stanford 0 -- 12:05 left in the first quarter
Adoree' Jackson shields his eyes from the sun to return the opening kickoff and runs 22 yards.
USC will start at its own 24-yard line.
The Trojans game plan is clear on the first drive: Run the ball.
It took nine plays for the Trojans to score their first touchdown. Tre Madden and Justin Davis ran for seven of the nine plays. Madden also caught a pass, as did Taylor McNamara.
Madden rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown in five carries.
Stanford's defense had no answer for the run on that drive.
Alex Wood kicked the extra point.
Comedian Will Ferrell leads USC onto the field.
The Trojans game captains are Max Tuerk, Cody Kessler, Antwaun Woods and Anthony Sarao.
USC wins the toss and elects to receive to start the game.
It's 84 degrees to start the game.
USC has announced starting lineups.
Offense: Quarterback Cody Kessler, receivers Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell Jr. and JuJu Smith-Schuster, fullback Jahleel Pinner, tight end Taylor McNamara, tailback Tre Madden and linemen Zach Banner, Toa Lobendahn, Max Tuerk, Damien Mama and Chad Wheeler.
Defense: Linemen Delvon Simmons, Antwaun Woods and Greg Townsend Jr., linebackers Su'a Cravens, Scott Felix, Cameron Smith and Anthony Sarao, cornerbacks Iman Marshall and Adoree' Jackson and safeties John Plattenburg and Chris Hawkins.
The USC Marching Band is about to take the field.
Stanford's band is not at the Coliseum because it is restricted from traveling this season.
USC announced freshman cornerback Iman Marshall will make his first start against Stanford.
Senior Kevon Seymour does not appear to be suited to play because of a knee injury.
Marshall, 6 feet 2 and 200 pounds, will play opposite sophomore Adoree' Jackson.
A product of Long Beach Poly High, Marshall was considered a top defensive back prospect in the 2015 recruiting class.
It's about an hour before USC opens Pac-12 Conference play against Stanford and it's a beautiful day in Los Angeles for football -- blue skies and about 90 degrees.
The Trojans are 2-0 after routing Arkansas State and Idaho in nonconference action.
Stanford is 1-1. The Cardinal opened the season with a surprising loss at Northwestern and bounced back with a victory over Central Florida.
The last five times USC and Stanford have played, the games have been decided by eight or fewer points.
Stanford won four straight before the Trojans won the last two -- each USC victory by a field goal.
USC coaches and players walked through the Peristyle two hours before kickoff, gathered on the 50-yard line and proceeded up the Coliseum tunnel to the N.W.A. hit, "Straight Outta Compton."
Freshman Iman Marshall is expected to start in place of senior Kevon Seymour, who was slowed this week because of injury.
Fifth-year senior Lamar Dawson is expected to play in his first game since 2013. Dawson has been sidelined and slowed this season because of a rib injury.