LOS ANGELES — Southern California's defense gave up big plays on occasion, and it gave up ordinary plays all night long. Stanford's methodical offense scored points on seven of eight drives before Kevin Hogan finally took a knee on the Cardinal's latest win at the Coliseum.
In the sixth-ranked Trojans' first test in a season of high expectations, the offense passed — and the defense repeatedly came up wanting.
Kevin Hogan passed for 279 yards and two touchdowns, Remound Wright rushed for three more scores and Stanford opened Pac-12 play with a 41-31 victory Saturday night.
Cody Kessler was 25 of 32 for 272 yards and three touchdowns, but USC (2-1, 0-1) couldn't match the steady production of Hogan, who went 18 for 23, and his dominant offensive line.
Steven Mitchell Jr. caught two touchdown passes and JuJu Smith-Schuster caught another for the preseason Pac-12 favorites, but coordinator Justin Wilcox's defense was patiently shredded for 474 yards.
"Whenever you play Stanford, you're going to play big-boy ball, and that's what we've got to do," said linebacker Su'a Cravens, who graded his defense's performance as "a D-minus."
"We've got to grow up," Cravens added. "We've got to establish ourselves and execute."
Austin Hooper and Devon Cajuste caught TD passes as Hogan beat USC for the first time in his career, snapping the Trojans' two-game winning streak in the lively in-state rivalry.
"We kept their offense on the field, and our offense off of it," USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We need to play football the way we're capable of playing. We did some good things, but we didn't do them consistently enough. We played a quality team tonight."
Christian McCaffrey rushed for 115 yards for the Cardinal (2-1, 1-0), who scored just six points in their stunning season-opening loss at Northwestern. They looked more like their usual powerhouse selves at the Coliseum, where they've won four times in their last five trips.
"I think a lot of people underestimated us as a team," Hogan said. "We gave them that ability after our loss in Week 1, but we're going to get better every week."
After USC's impressive start, Stanford took a 24-21 halftime lead with two touchdowns in the final 3:53. Wright's third TD run put the Cardinal up 38-28 with 11:21 to play, and Conrad Ukropina hit a 46-yard field goal with 2:27 left, essentially sealing Stanford's sixth win over USC in their last nine meetings.
"We were in position to win, but we were doing things that we weren't doing in practice," USC safety Chris Hawkins said.
Stanford and USC began their football meetings in 1905, but the past several years of the rivalry have been particularly memorable.
The Cardinal stunned then-No. 2 USC as a 41-point underdog at the Coliseum in 2007, and Andrew Luck's team won a triple-overtime thriller here four years ago. The Trojans won the past two meetings on last-minute field goals by Andre Heidari, including an eventful 13-10 victory at Stanford last season.
"Every game we play against these guys is going to be like this," Stanford coach David Shaw said.
Hogan didn't excel in either of his first two clashes with Kessler and USC, which largely relied on its defense to beat Stanford twice. Hogan and Kessler both were in elite form for this meeting, but Stanford's offensive line largely made the difference against USC's defense.
USC won the opening coin toss and ran the ball right at the Cardinal, going 76 yards on a methodical opening drive capped by Tre Madden's 5-yard TD run. USC rarely had trouble moving the ball against Stanford's thin defensive line, but the Trojans hurt themselves with eight penalties and didn't get many drives, thanks to Stanford's clock-chewing offense.
Hogan and his teammates quickly found the groove they missed in their first two games. The senior quarterback had plenty of time to pick apart USC's secondary for 221 yards passing in the first half, including Hooper's 16-yard TD catch late in the first half.
Smith-Schuster put the Trojans up 21-10 with a 54-yard catch-and-run TD in the second quarter, but Stanford surged. Cajuste put the Cardinal up 24-21 with 3 seconds left with a 17-yard TD catch when Adoree Jackson slipped and fell.
Jackson also had an early 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown erased by a penalty.
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