Few coaches are going to face as much withering pressure next season as USC’s Steve Sarkisian. Anything less than a Pac-12 South title will be an unquestioned and absolute failure. The lack of a Pac-12 championship — with Oregon no longer having Marcus Mariota — would be a modest disappointment at the very least. Sark can’t squander the considerable talent he’s stockpiled in L.A.

USC – Stanford Reaction: Trojan Defense Makes Plays When it Needs To

Is USC a contender to win the Pac-12 championship? If Saturday’s contest against Stanford is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.

Make no mistake about it: the Trojans were far from perfect in this game. The offense struggled for most of the first half, going three-and-out in its second series while shooting itself in the foot with penalties on the third drive. Similarly, the defense had its own set of issues, as only penalties and an errant wildcat snap kept the Cardinal out of the end zone during the first thirty minutes of the contest.

The second half was a completely different story, as the Trojan defense played like a championship unit. After a long Ty Montgomery punt return gave Stanford the ball at the SC 30, the defense hung tough, forcing the Cardinal to a field goal try. On the ensuing possession, the Trojan defense came up with an even bigger stop, stuffing Daniel Marx for no gain on fourth-and-one from the USC 3.

This goal line stand turned the tide of the game. Immediately after this stop, the offense – which had amassed just 39 yards of total offense since it scored on its opening possession – suddenly caught fire, marching 90 yards to knot the game at 10. In addition, the defense played like an entirely different unit after turning the Cardinal away, forcing two fumbles on Stanford’s last three drives, including a crucial turnover at the end of the game right as Stanford was matching for the game-tying field goal, again inside the 30.

In all, Stanford entered the red zone five times, plus the final 30 yards of the field four other times. USC held the Cardinal to just two scores. While that might not sound all that impressive, it’s worth noting that the Cardinal are 60-of-67 (89.55 %) in red zone conversions against ranked opponents since David Shaw took over in 2011.

That, my friends, is how a championship team performs when its back is to the wall. It might always be pretty, but it will get the job done.

Just like the elite Trojan teams under Pete Carroll did.

About Terry P. Johnson

Terry Johnson is the Associate Editor for The Student Section. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.