Stanford survives in 3OT thriller at USC

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Stanford survives in 3OT thriller at USC

BOX SCORE
LOS ANGELES -- A few minutes after his Stanford teammates left the field, Andrew Luck sprinted toward the Coliseum tunnel with both arms thrust triumphantly skyward, his heart still pounding from 56 points, three overtimes and a season's worth of drama packed into one crazy night.

After nearly a full calendar year of blowout victories, Luck and the Cardinal (No. 6 BCS, No. 4 AP) might have forgotten what a thriller feels like.

Luck loved it all, right down to the final Southern California fumble that ended Stanford's 56-48 triple-overtime victory over the 20th-ranked Trojans on Saturday night.

"I might need a couple minutes to digest it, but it's definitely up there," Luck said when asked where the night ranked among his football memories. "More than anything, I'm just happy to get a win."

Stepfan Taylor ran for the tying touchdown with 38 seconds left in regulation and the go-ahead score in the third overtime, and Stanford's defense preserved its 16-game winning streak by forcing Curtis McNeal's fumble into the end zone to finish it.

Luck burnished his Heisman Trophy credentials by engineering four late scoring drives for No. 4 Stanford (8-0, 6-0 Pac-12), coolly keeping it together after he nearly cost the Cardinal the game by throwing a crucial interception late in the fourth quarter.

"I was very disappointed in myself," Luck said. "For a couple of seconds, I wanted to go dig a hole and bury myself in it, but guys believed in me. I was so happy to still see time on the game clock. It was another chance to get out there."

Four years after Stanford stunned USC (6-2, 3-2) with a one-point victory as a 41-point underdog, the schools played another classic on a cool Coliseum night -- and once again, the Cardinal ruled.

Both teams scored in the first two overtimes, compounding the tension in the sold-out Coliseum. After Taylor's run in the third OT, Coby Fleener caught the 2-point conversion pass.

USC quickly got to first-and-goal at the 4, but Terrence Stephens forced the ball from McNeal. It squirted into the end zone and A.J. Tarpley jumped on it.

"No excuse, I just fumbled," said McNeal, who rushed for 145 yards and made second-half touchdown runs of 61 and 25 yards to keep USC in it. "I feel like beating myself up, but I've just got to keep pushing. I'm going to face worse things in life. I just have to keep my head up."

Luck passed for 325 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a key score, but the Cardinal were in serious trouble after he made a rare mistake on his fourth interception of the season, just the second that wasn't off a tipped pass.

Nickell Robey sneaked in front of Chris Owusu and returned it 33 yards for a score to make it 34-27 with 3:08 left in regulation, but Luck swiftly engineered a 76-yard drive capped by Taylor's short score.

"He was so mad at himself," said David Shaw, who's still perfect as Stanford's coach. "He wasn't going to let that play lose the game for us. ... We put the ball in our quarterback's hands, put it on his shoulders, and the kid came through."

Matt Barkley passed for 284 yards and three scores for the bowl-banned Trojans in his third straight loss to Luck. He got the Trojans into Stanford territory in the final seconds of regulation, but Robert Woods used up the final 9 seconds running to the sideline, preventing USC from trying a long field goal.

USC coach Lane Kiffin said he was "really disappointed in the officials" when they didn't allow him to call a timeout before it ended.

The Cardinal were truly tested for the first time since the middle of last season, which ended with an Orange Bowl victory. USC nearly pulled off another upset last season at Stanford Stadium, sticking with the Cardinal until Luck engineered a last-minute drive ending in a field goal for a two-point victory.

"It's a great rivalry," Kiffin said. "We've had two great games with them that we haven't been able to finish off."

Although the Trojans fell agonizingly short of the biggest win in Kiffin's two seasons, USC chipped away much of Stanford's dominant aura accumulated during the nation's longest winning streak.

Stanford fell behind by 10 points in the third quarter, and the Cardinal won by fewer than 25 points for the first time in 11 games since last November. Stanford had limited its last 13 opponents to 21 points or fewer, the school's longest stretch since 1939-41, before USC scored 34 points in regulation.

Stanford had gone three-and-out on offense just four times all season before USC forced three more three-and-outs. Luck had been sacked just twice all season before the Trojans put him down twice, including a huge third-down sack by Devon Kennard that knocked Stanford out of range for a potential tying field goal with less than 9 minutes to play.

"We talked about fighting adversity," Shaw said. "I didn't know there was going to be this much adversity, but the kids fought through, and I love them to death for it."

USC took a 20-10 lead shortly after halftime, but Luck rushed for a go-ahead score in the third quarter. The Trojans pushed back ahead on Marqise Lee's 28-yard TD catch with 13:04 to play.

After Robey's TD, the Coliseum announcer warned fans in the sold-out stadium against rushing the field after the final gun.

Turns out, that gun was still about an hour away.

Luck threw early TD passes to Tyler Gaffney and Ryan Hewitt, but he was at his best on the Cardinal's final drive of regulation. He completed 10 straight passes down the stretch, yet still got help after throwing an incompletion on third down near midfield when USC safety T.J. McDonald needlessly leveled Owusu, keeping the drive alive with a personal foul.

Jeremy Stewart scored on a dive over the line to cap Stanford's first possession of overtime, but Barkley hit Woods in the corner for a 15-yard score to even it. Freshman tight end Randall Telfer turned a short pass from Barkley into a TD to start the second OT, but Luck found Levine Toilolo with a cross-field TD pass moments later, and Whitaker knuckled home the extra point.

Stanford is USC's oldest rival, and the schools have an eventful recent history during the Cardinal's improbable rise as a football power. Stanford posted one of the most shocking upsets in recent college football history here four years ago before a 55-21 rout of USC in 2009 that included the most points allowed in USC history -- until the latest unforgettable night at the Coliseum.

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

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Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.