PALO ALTO — It seemed unlikely that Steve Webster, Erik Affholter and Jeff Brown would all play significant roles for USC. Who are these guys, anyway?
It also seemed unlikely that USC would shut out Stanford. But that's what happened Saturday at Stanford Stadium as the Trojans beat the Cardinal, 10-0, before an estimated crowd of 73,500.
By winning, USC snapped a two-game losing streak and improved its Pacific 10 record to 3-2. The Trojans are 5-2 overall.
Stanford, which was off to its fastest start since 1971 with a 5-1 record, is 2-2 in the conference and 5-2 overall.
The Trojans and Cardinal aren't usually caught up in grim, defensive struggles. But that was the tenor of Saturday's game on a clear, warm day in the Bay Area.
It was the first time that Stanford has been shut out at home since 1964, when Washington won, 6-0. USC hasn't shut out Stanford here since 1932, when a Howard Jones-coached national championship team won, 13-0.
So much for musty statistics.
Webster, USC's third-string tailback, who hadn't played previously this season, made his debut in the third quarter.
A 5-foot 10-inch, 180-pound sophomore from Helix High School in La Mesa, Webster was sidelined most of last year with an ankle injury that later required surgery.
He is known as a big-play runner, but he made the tough, inside yards against Stanford, spinning away from defenders and helping to sustain a field-goal drive in the fourth quarter that provided USC with a 10-0 lead.
Webster made 60 yards in 16 carries, outgaining both Aaron Emanuel and Ryan Knight, USC's regular tailbacks.
Affholter, a sophomore reserve split end, made a leaping catch in the end zone of quarterback Rodney Peete's 18-yard pass. He said he wasn't the primary receiver.
The second-quarter touchdown was set up when cornerback Louis Brock intercepted a pass thrown by Stanford's John Paye, carrying it 41 yards to the Cardinal 32-yard line.
Jeff Brown, a redshirt sophomore fullback, was virtually unknown until Saturday, unless you'd kept your field glasses trained on special-team performers.
Brown, who backs up Todd Steele and Leroy Holt, had only one official carry, for zero yards, before Saturday's game. That was in the opener against Illinois.
He got into the game because Steele was bothered by a sprained ankle and Holt was woozy after taking a blow to his head.
The 5-11 205-pounder who came to USC as a walk-on from Golden West College in Huntington Beach made his presence felt on USC's field-goal drive.
He burst up the middle for 22 yards on second and one from the USC 36-yard line to help get Don Shafer in range for his 22-yard field goal.
It was certainly a day for surprises. Stanford, with its usually proficient offense, averaged 347 yards in total offense in its first six games.
The Trojan defense limited the Cardinal to only 172 yards, just 64 in the second half.
That was done by a mixture of coverages that kept Paye, Stanford's skilled quarterback, off balance. Paye completed 23 of 37 passes for 122 yards, but his longest completion was only 18 yards to wide receiver Jeff James. Several of his throws were deflected, and he threw three interceptions.
Paye had to throw in a hurry at times and couldn't locate his wide receivers, who were lost somewhere in the USC zone defense.
Peete threw only 18 passes, but he completed 12 for 169 yards and the touchdown to Affholter.
Affholter has played regularly this season as a reserve wide receiver, but Webster and Brown didn't figure previously in the Trojan offensive scheme.
USC Coach Ted Tollner said he wanted to get a look at Webster, and he was not disappointed. He also said it wasn't a reflection on the abilities of Emanuel and Knight.
However, Emanuel, who has lost one fumble in each of USC's six previous games, couldn't hang on to a handoff from Peete when USC was threatening from Stanford's one-yard line in the second quarter.
Stanford had a stout goal-line defense as USC couldn't take it in on four downs from the one-yard line. Then, Peete and Emanuel couldn't get together on the exchange on fourth down, and Stanford linebacker Kurt Colehower recovered the bobble at the three-yard line.
Webster, who had a ligament reattached to his right ankle in summer surgery, said he practiced well during the week and was confident of a good performance if given the chance. He had a knack of spinning away from defenders just when it seemed that he would be tackled.
"Coach Tollner told me at halftime, 'Be ready, you're going to play,' " Webster said. "I told him I was ready. I wasn't looking for the big play. I just wanted to hold onto the ball."
Webster has the reputation of a breakaway type, but there was some doubt whether he could take a pounding.
"I think I showed today that I could take a shot and bounce right back up," he said. "I feel very good. I thought I could prove myself when my time came."
Webster hadn't played since he made a cameo appearance against Arizona State in the third game last season.