Just one week after seizing control of the Pac-12 race at home against the Oregon Ducks and looking like a team that had rediscovered their identity, the Stanford Cardinal saw their grip on another conference title slip away in the Coliseum against the USC Trojans. In just their second loss of the season, the Cardinal fell into the same trap that cost them earlier against the Utah Utes; an over-reliance on Kevin Hogan to run the offense.
In two games leading up to their showdown with USC, Hogan had only attempted 31 total pass attempts as the Cardinal re-committed to Tyler Gaffney and the running game. Against USC, Hogan threw the ball 25 times, completing just 14 of them, for 127 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. His rating of 82.7 was the lowest of the season and his inability to avoid turnovers ultimately undercut the Cardinal offense in their attempt to rally.
Gaffney, meanwhile, was excellent yet again. He averaged a healthy 6.6 yards per attempt, yet only carried the ball 24 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Last week against Oregon, he carried the ball a school-record 45 times to grind out the win. Against the UCLA Bruins two weeks prior to that, he carried it 36 times in another physically dominant win. But this time, just like in the loss to Utah (when he averaged 6.75 yards per carry), he just didn’t get the touches he should have and it cost the Cardinal the win.
Stanford is equipped with a physical running back and dominating offensive line that is capable of taking over a game when the Cardinal commit to the running attack. When they have strayed from that formula for success, they have run into trouble and have once again lost their grip on the conference title race.