STANFORD, Calif. -- Apparently, the Stanford students didn't get the memo the USC Trojans are no longer what they once were.
Because when Nate Whitaker kicked the ball through the uprights with no time on the clock, giving Stanford a 37-35 win, the fans rushed the field as though the Cardinal had just beaten the top-ranked team in the nation.
"It felt great," said Whitaker, who was buried in a pile of jubilant teammates, band members and fans. "I couldn't breathe."
And now the Trojans are having a hard time breathing easily. They took the football field this year defiant -- and defensive. They'd been punished, their reputation sullied. They were going to show the world by going undefeated, finishing atop the AP rankings and muddying the national championship picture. That dream vanished when Washington kicked a last-second field goal to beat the Trojans a week ago.
As a result, USC came into the Stanford game unranked for the first time in more than eight years. And it left with its first back-to-back losses since Pete Carroll's first season in 2001.
No entity -- except for the NCAA -- has been more deflating to USC's self-image than Jim Harbaugh's troops. In 2007, the unranked Cardinal shocked the mighty Trojans. Last year, Stanford again beat USC on its home turf, destroying the Trojans, 55-21. The trend continued Saturday and the Stanford fans finally got to rush their own field to celebrate.
"To beat a great team like USC three out of four years," Harbaugh said. "I couldn't be more proud."
The signature moment of last year's victory focused on the terse interchange during the postgame handshake, when Carroll asked Harbaugh, "What's your deal?" and Harbaugh responded, "What's your deal?" Stanford turned it into a clever marketing campaign for tickets to this season's game.
Stanford came into the "What's Your Deal?" rematch ranked higher than USC for the first time in 24 years, at No. 16. The Cardinal was 10-point favorites.
But Stanford was coming off its own disappointment, a Pac-10 wakeup call. Hoping to challenge for the conference title, Stanford lost 52-31 at Oregon, outscored 49-10 after jumping out to an early lead.
"We were aware of our shortcomings last week," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "Coming in, that was a focus. We can't have another debacle."
Tied 14-14 at the half, and 21-21 after three quarters, Stanford took the lead in the fourth quarter on Luck's second touchdown pass. But USC came right back, with a drive that ended with a touchdown pass to the Trojans' phenomenal Robert Woods.
The true freshman out of Carson, Calif., had a breakout game, catching 12 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns. The Cardinal defense couldn't keep up with the former prep track star.
Both defenses were porous. USC gave up 498 offensive yards and Stanford was right behind, giving up 478 yards.
After scoring the go-ahead touchdown, Whitaker missed a point after, giving Stanford a too-slim 34-28 lead. Running back Stephan Taylor fumbled on Stanford's next drive; USC recovered, drove in for a touchdown and PAT and took a 35-34 lead.
But Heisman candidate Luck -- who has yet to come from behind this season -- put together a game-winning drive with 1:02 to play. The Cardinal was aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on USC's Chris Galippo.
Lane Kiffin didn't use it as an excuse.
"We still didn't stop them," he said. "It was a tough situation."
Luck drove his team to the 12, where Whitaker kicked the field goal, the biggest kick of his career. Once again, USC couldn't stop an opponent's late desperation drive.
"This is the second week in a row that we lost like this," Kiffin said. "I thought we could have pulled it out, so that was disappointing."
Kiffin grasped at a slim silver lining, saying he was proud of how well his team played as 10-poiont underdogs.
"The papers were saying this week that the USC dynasty was over," he said.
The Stanford students didn't read those papers. They acted as though the USC dynasty had still been intact -- until their team toppled it on Saturday night. That's the deal.