LOS ANGELES -- The play happened in a flash in the Coliseum last October.
When Andrew Luck threw to his right, the ball hung in the air just a bit too long and it gave Nickell Robey time to make his break. With nothing but green grass ahead of him, Robey made the interception and sprinted to the end zone amid an absolute roar from the Coliseum crowd.
That play was a program-changer, even if the Trojans didn't close out the win. The Robey touchdown had given USC a 34-27 lead in the fourth quarter, but Luck took advantage of a questionable penalty call against T.J. McDonald and the Cardinal eventually came away with the 56-48, triple-overtime win.
The loss didn't take away the feeling that had returned to the Trojans and their fans when Robey crossed the goal line. A certain feeling had come back, a swagger. It's a feeling the USC program knows well, even if it had gone away for a few seasons. Since that night, the Trojans haven't lost a game. A team that was supposed to be stumbling due to NCAA sanctions is ranked among the elite teams in college football with an offense that is as explosive as any around.
On Saturday night, they get a chance to settle a score.
The Trojans will enter the game having lost four of the last five meetings with Stanford, which is not a stat that USC is used to when it comes to this rivalry. But for the USC players, this one won't be as much about the past five seasons as it will be about last season. They feel they had one taken from them and there is only one way to get payback.
USC players also know that they have yet to wow through two games this year. There hasn't been that consistently high level of play to show the rest of the country -- and themselves -- just how good they can be. There's no better way to make that statement than to go into Palo Alto and prove it on the field.
Breslin is the big surprise
There was no way that anybody saw this coming.
Morgan Breslin came to USC last spring and did a commendable job in spring ball. He got a few more reps in fall camp due to injuries to other defensive ends. There were signs of inspired play, but nothing to indicate the role he would play through these first two weeks.
Breslin has started both games and is fifth on the team in tackles, first in tackles for loss and tied for first in sacks and pass breakups. He's also at the top of any list in terms of hustle plays and becoming a fan favorite.
"Morgan (Breslin) would have to be the surprise of our team," USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. "What he's done the last two weeks has given our defense a real boost. We needed him -- we had issues at that position."
It shouldn't come as a complete surprise to see Breslin providing pressure and making plays upfield -- he did have 28 sacks in two seasons at the junior college level. But there will be further tests ahead, such as this weekend against a Stanford team that prefers a more physical style of football.
There are five USC players with football roots in the San Francisco Bay Area; Breslin (Concord, Calif./Diablo Valley College), OL Jeremy Galten (San Mateo, Calif./San Mateo College), OL David Garness (San Francisco/San Francisco City College), DE Kevin Greene (San Francisco/Sacred Heart Prep) and DB Drew McAllister (Danville, Calif./Monte Vista).