Stanford loss: That was then, this is now

LOS ANGELES -- In what turned out to be its most disappointing loss last season, USC lost a triple-overtime thriller to Stanford at the Coliseum after Andrew Luck rebounded from a pick-six to lead his Cardinal to four consecutive touchdowns and a 56-48 win.

But to take the words of the Trojans, the events of Oct. 29, 2011, will have no bearing on the events come Saturday at Stanford.

"That was last year," said USC cornerback Nickell Robey, who intercepted Luck and returned it the other way for a touchdown. "This year is going to be totally different.

"They're a new team this year; we're a new team. We're only focused on the present."

Robey's play came with a little more than three minutes left in the game last October and the score tied at 27. The expectation was that Luck and Stanford would drive down the field, eat up clock, and score the game winner as time expired, but Robey quickly reversed that.

However, the Cardinal scored with ease on the ensuing drive, and, after USC failed to get a field goal off in the final seconds of regulation, the teams went into overtime.

Everything was even until USC running back Curtis McNeal fumbled into the end zone in the third overtime and Stanford recovered to win the game.

Now, USC captains, including T.J. McDonald, are stressing the importance of winning this week's tilt for self-serving purposes and not any sort of revenge against Stanford after three straight losses to the Cardinal.

The Trojans are finding that proposition a tough line to toe, though.

"It's definitely in the back of your head," McDonald said Wednesday of not tasting victory against Stanford. "You never want to end your career knowing you never beat a team."

Robey said McDonald has told that to the rest of the Trojans this week.

"It's sort of a message to this team, to let us know that we really need this win," Robey said. "This is gonna start our Pac-12 season off, and so we need a good jump on it. It'll be live. I expect it to be sold out. And when we do take the field, we know it's gonna be a hostile environment."

McDonald also had something else develop out of the Stanford game last year: His fourth-quarter penalty on Chris Owusu allowed the Cardinal to force overtime and got him suspended from the Trojans' next game. He said at the time he'd have to make some subtle changes to avoid future penalties. But on Wednesday he said the penalty in question has had "no effect" on his current play.

"I learned my lesson a long time ago and put it behind me," McDonald said. "All I can do is play within the rules and play physical football."

And how's this for last year being forgotten: Sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey doesn't even remember losing the game. He suffered a concussion in the second overtime and was replaced by freshman Tre Madden for the conclusion.

"So I technically haven't even seen it. I haven't seen the ending of the game to this day,” Bailey said. “From my memory, we were winning."

Bailey said he's noted similar impressions on tape from new Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes as he got from Luck, with one significant exception: The senior from Upland, Calif., has not been changing plays at the line like Luck did.

"That's the only thing Luck [brought] to this team that this quarterback [Nunes] probably hasn't shown, yet: the ability to be like Peyton Manning out there," Bailey said. "That's the only difference."