STANFORD -- Stanford didn't need any luck to upset second-ranked USC on Saturday. It had tailback Stepfan Taylor, quarterback Josh Nunes and a dominating defense.
Taylor scored two touchdowns, Nunes made big plays in the second half, and the defense overwhelmed USC in a 21-14 victory at Stanford Stadium.
The win was Stanford's fourth in a row over the Trojans -- its longest winning streak in a series that dates to 1905 -- and fifth in the past six meetings.
And true to form in this riveting series, the win came in unexpected fashion, with Nunes outplaying USC's Matt Barkley, the Heisman Trophy favorite, in the fourth quarter.
"We were prepared. They played better. They outplayed us,'' said Barkley, who is 0-4 against the Cardinal.
Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) took the lead with 10 minutes, 20 seconds remaining on a 37-yard pass from Nunes to tight end Zach Ertz, then watched its defense seal the deal.
USC (2-1, 0-1) crossed midfield with just over a minute remaining, but Barkley was sacked twice, then threw an incomplete pass on fourth down, allowing Stanford to run out the clock before its fans stormed the field.
"Everybody made plays when they needed to,'' Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said. "It was a collective effort. That's what's special about this team."
The sizzling offense and brilliant individual performances that defined the previous two Cardinal-Trojan matchups were largely absent -- Taylor was the
The teams combined for 15 penalties, five turnovers and three missed field goals -- all of them by Stanford. The Trojans, who were without injured place-kicker Andre Heidari, didn't bother with field goals; they went for it on fourth down five times.
But the difference in the game was third down. Stanford converted 5 of 14 chances while the Trojans were 1 of 13.
"We tried to make them one dimensional,'' Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "That sounds crazy, to put it in the hands of that quarterback and those receivers. But we knew we could play smart, sound football.''
Time and again, No. 21 Stanford pressured Barkley into throwing before he was ready and gang-tackled USC's fabulous receivers, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
But the Cardinal was stout against the run, as well, holding the Trojans to 26 yards on the ground -- a figure that includes 42 yards lost by Barkley.
"That's one of the best front sevens in the country,'' Kiffin said of Stanford's defensive line and linebackers. "They showed it last year, and they all came back, and they're even better than last year.
"They're going to give a lot of people a lot of problems -- and today they did us."
Whereas Barkley seemed to lose rhythm as the game progressed, Nunes was at his best early in the fourth quarter. After scrambling for a first down on third-and-10, he connected with Ertz down the middle for the game winner -- a pass worthy of his predecessor, Andrew Luck.
"We had been trying to set up that route for a while, and Zach ran a great route with great protection,'' Nunes said.
Stanford wouldn't have been in position to win without Taylor, who played one of the best games of his sterling career.
The senior scored Stanford's first touchdown on a 59-yard run and its second on a 23-yard screen pass. In both instances, he ran through or around a bevy of USC defenders.
"Coach told us to trust this game; that's what we did,'' said Taylor, who had 153 yards rushing and 60 receiving. "We were going to go down the stretch, going to get tired. We were just going to keep chugging.''
"The ball is in their court,'' said Scott, who added that he would be "shocked" and "really disappointed" if DirecTV didn't come to terms with the Pac-12 in time for the USC-Cal game next week.