STANFORD, Calif. — With Bryce Love and the key parts of Stanford's offense back, the Cardinal figured to be dynamic on that side of the ball.
Two games into the season, the defense showed it's capable of leading the way, as well.
Joey Alfieri and crew helped harass talented freshman quarterback JT Daniels into four sacks and three turnovers and the 10th-ranked Cardinal held No. 17 Southern California to its fewest points in more than two decades in a 17-3 victory Saturday night.
"That means we have an entire football team," quarterback K.J. Costello said. "I've being going against our defense a long time and I knew what these young guys were up to."
Stanford (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) has allowed just 13 points so far this season and has not given up a touchdown in the past seven quarters against San Diego State and USC (1-1, 0-1).
That kind of performance means the Cardinal haven't had to rely on big plays from Love to win. Love did bounce back from a 29-yard performance in the opener by rushing for 136 yards and a touchdown.
His 28-yard run sparked the opening drive that ended with his 6-yard score. He added a 59-yard run in the third quarter to set up a field goal.
"When he gets into a rhythm everyone else is better," coach David Shaw said. "When people try to stop him, we can make plays all over the place."
The defense did the rest, holding USC to its fewest points since being shut out by Washington in 1997.
Stanford took control of the game late in the second quarter with a strip sack on fourth down against Daniels that set up K.J. Costello's 9-yard touchdown pass to Colby Parkinson that gave Stanford a 14-0 lead.
Daniels made an impressive debut last week for the Trojans (1-1, 0-1) when he threw for 282 yards and a touchdown against UNLV. But duplicating that against Stanford proved far more difficult with the Cardinal using blitzes to pressure Daniels.
Daniels went 16 for 34 for 215 yards with interceptions by Malik Antoine on his final two passes of the night. He was forced to leave the game for one possession in the first half with a bruised hand after a hard hit by Joey Alfieri.
"He's a very smart person and a very talented person and will grow from tonight," USC coach Clay Helton said.
It was another big play by Alfieri that proved crucial late in the first half. Helton went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Cardinal 40, but Alfieri came free on a blitz and knocked the ball loose for Bobby Okereke to recover at the Stanford 49
"We have a saying around here that 'there's a party in the backfield,'" Shaw said. "I don't think we were that team last year. I challenged them to be that team this year."
The Cardinal drove down field to score on Costello's TD pass with 34 seconds left in the half.
USC: Daniels was sacked four times and pressured many more but still showed some promise at times. He connected on a well-thrown 45-yard deep pass to Michael Pittman to set up a field goal. He nearly had a TD on that drive but Amon-Ra St. Brown couldn't come down inbounds with a pass in the end zone. Daniels also made an impressive escape on a near sack, turning it into 8-yard gain to convert a third down.
Stanford: Costello showed he can succeed, even in situations when the defense knows a pass is coming. He converted a long third down to Kaden Smith on the opening drive to help set up a touchdown. He then found Smith for 25 yards on third-and-23 in the third quarter to set up a field goal. He finished 6 for 8 for 76 yards on third down.
The Trojans had plenty of chances to score but couldn't deliver. They drove to at least the Cardinal 40 six times and ended up with just one field goal.
"We have to be able to push it in and get better," Helton said.
BY THE NUMBERS
USC failed to score a TD for the third time in 25 years, having done it against Alabama in 2016 and Washington in 1997. The Cardinal held a ranked opponent to three points or fewer for the first time since beating No. 21 Penn State 24-3 in the 1993 Blockbuster bowl. Stanford allowed its fewest points against USC since a shutout in 1941.
USC S Isaiah Pola-Mao left the game with a dislocated shoulder.
USC: Visits Texas on Saturday.
Stanford: Host UC Davis on Saturday.