USC running back Allen Bradford tries to elude Stanford linebacker Owen… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Palo Alto
USC hung tough.
The Trojans matched No. 16 Stanford blow for blow.
But with a chance to perhaps change the course of the season, and maybe the program, the Trojans' defense again failed to finish Saturday night.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck engineered a last-minute drive that set up Nate Whitaker's game-winning 30-yard field goal, giving the Cardinal a 37-35 victory and sending USC to its second straight last-second defeat.
A week after Washington quarterback Jake Locker moved his team into position for a winning field goal at the Coliseum, the Trojans doubled their misery by letting Luck, and victory, slip from their grasp.
The loss dropped USC's record to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference.
"We're at the lowest of the lows," USC quarterback Matt Barkley said, "and it's very tough because we were at the highest of the highs just two weeks ago."
It marked the first time since 2000 that Stanford defeated the Trojans at Stanford Stadium. And, coupled with the Washington defeat, it marks the first time since 2001 that USC has lost two games in a row.
"We are so close to being good," Coach Lane Kiffin said, "but we are not there yet."
Meantime, Stanford remained in the Rose Bowl race by rebounding from last week's loss at Oregon. Cardinal Coach Jim Harbaugh, the architect of three Stanford victories in four years against USC, said the Trojans played a great game.
"It was going to be pretty much a 31/2-hour arm wrestling match," said Harbaugh, whose team improved to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
The loss ruined a dynamic performance by Barkley and receiver Robert Woods, who combined for three touchdowns and put the Trojans in position to avenge last year's 55-21 Cardinal romp at the Coliseum.
When tailback Allen Bradford scored on a three-yard run and Joe Houston added the extra-point for a 35-34 lead with 1:08 left, the 10-point-underdog Trojans appeared to be on the verge of a gritty victory.
But Trojans' penalties, which had kept earlier Cardinal scoring drives alive, this time led to USC's final undoing.
"You have to have confidence," Luck said. "I thought we could get it done."
Luck took over at Stanford's 26-yard line and completed a short pass to receiver Doug Baldwin. The play, however, turned into a 19-yard gain when USC linebacker Chris Galippo was penalized for a late hit.
Luck then coolly connected with tight end Coby Fleener for 11 yards and Baldwin for 13 before running back Stepfan Taylor broke off a 16-yard run to the Trojans' 15.
From there, it was only a matter of time.
The Cardinal ran two plays, bringing on Whitaker, who had missed an extra-point that had opened the door for a possible USC victory.
Whitaker jogged onto the field having made all nine of his field-goal attempt this season, and he split the uprights from 30 yards out.
"I knew it would come down to a field goal, so I just put [the miss] behind me," Whitaker said. "I wanted to redeem myself."
Luck, regarded as a possible top pick in the 2011 draft, completed 20 of 24 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, and Taylor rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Luck outdueled Barkley, who showed his continuing maturity while leading a late scoring drive that put the Trojans in position to win.
The sophomore completed 28 of 45 passes for a career-high 390 yards without an interception and also rushed for 33 yards on a night when Stanford limited the Trojans' rushing attack to 108 yards. Woods caught 12 passes for 224 yards and scored on plays of six, 61 and six yards.
But USC committed eight penalties, including Galippo's late hit and two calls against linebacker Michael Morgan.
Galippo forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter to set up what could have been USC's winning drive, Barkley engineering a 10-play, 51-yard march with just over four minutes left in the game.
Barkley's fourth-down completion to fullback Stanley Havili and his third-down strike to Woods set up a 10-yard run by Bradford, who capped the drive with his short touchdown run.
That left Luck with just enough time to finish the job.