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-ranked Stanford blow for blow.
But with a chance to perhaps change the course of the season, and maybe the program, the Trojans defense failed to finish.
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 consecutive last-second defeat.
A week after losing to Washington by a point at the Coliseum, the Trojans doubled their misery by letting victory slip from their grasp.
The loss dropped Coach Lane Kiffin and his team to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference.
It marked the first time since 2000 that Stanford defeated the Trojans at Stanford Stadium. And, coupled with the Washington loss, it marks the first time since 2001 that USC has lost two games in a row.
The defeat ruined a dynamic performance by USC quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods, who combined for three touchdowns and put the Trojans in position to avenge last year's 55-21 Cardinal beat-down 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 minute 8 seconds 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, led to USC's final undoing.
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 more before running back Stepfan Taylor broke off a 16-yard run to the Trojans' 15-yard line.
From there, it was only a matter of time.
The Cardinal ran two plays before 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 to give Stanford its third victory over USC in four years.
Luck, regarded as possible top pick in the 2011 draft, completed 20 of 24 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns and Taylor rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown as the Cardinal improved to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
Luck outdueled Barkley, who showed his continuing maturity while leading a late scoring drive that put the Trojans in position to win.
Barkley completed 28 of 45 passes for 390 yards without an interception and also rushed for 33 yards on a night when Stanford limited the Trojans' rushing attack to 108 yards.
But USC committed eight penalties, including Galippo's late hit and pass interference calls against linebacker Michael Morgan.
Galippo's fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter set up what could have been USC's game-winning drive, Barkley calmly engineering a 10-play, 51-yard drive 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 brought on Houston, who had missed a critical field-goal attempt against Washington.
USC breathed a sigh of relief when the fifth-year senior made the extra-point kick for a one-point lead, but that's when Luck ran out to finish the job.
Woods caught 12 passes for 224 yards and scored on plays of six, 61 and six yards.
USC outgained the Cardinal, 498 yard to 478, but it was not enough.