Preview: Stanford at No. 9 USC
What is the reward for upsetting 8th ranked Oregon in a wild west shootout? If you’re Stanford, it’s drawing BCS No. 9 USC the following week. The Cardinal will attempt to record consecutive victories over top-ten opponents in a span of just fourteen days.
For the Trojans, it’s a much needed homecoming, after spending the majority of the season clawing out victories in enemy confines. Unlike their opponent, USC doesn’t enter this game riding the emotions of a tremendous victory. They enter with personnel questions, after staving off another upset bid in the Arizona desert.
STANFORD CARDINAL (6-3, 5-2 Pac 10)
Last week: Defeated No. 8 Oregon 51-42
Now in his third year coaching the Cardinal, Jim Harbaugh has taken the program from conference doormats to legitimate title contenders. Stanford sits just one game behind conference leaders Arizona and Oregon in the standings. They extended a helpful hand to USC a week ago, giving the Ducks their first loss in conference to keep the Trojans in the hunt, but will offer no friendship on Saturday to a rivaled opponent blocking the path.
The Cardinal will enter the Coliseum with the nation’s 14th ranked offense (443 ypg). It is powered by Toby Gerhart, the Pac 10 rushing leader, and second most productive ground gainer in the country. Gerhart is a workhorse back that will wear down a defensive line as the game goes on. Here in the eleventh week, he’s already toted the rock 233 times for 1,217 yards and 16 touchdowns (2nd in the nation).
The rushing attack is complimented by quarterback Andrew Luck and the passing game. Luck’s 11/3 touchdown to interceptions ratio makes him the ninth most efficient passer in the country, best in the Pac 10. And though he isn’t viewed or credited for his mobility, Luck also averages 5.2 yards per carry.
Defensively, the Cardinal is ranked 82nd in the country, and have been miserable against the pass, allowing opponents 253 yards per outing through the air. The bulk of their problem may stem from the lack of a pass rush, recording just 17 sacks as a team to date. In comparison, The Trojans have sacked opposing quarterbacks 32 times, with Everson Griffen having 9 on his own.
USC TROJANS (6-2, 4-2 Pac 10)
Last week: Defeated Arizona State 14-9
Southern California has been sputtering, statistically fading in both offensive and defensive categories. An offense that was once ranked in the top-20 is now 40th, coming off their lowest output last weekend where they managed just 7 points against the Sun Devils. A defense once ranked among the top-5 has fallen to No. 38. But this may not be a call for alarm, as much as it’s a call for return.
When injuries began to mount, it brought about a decrease in offensive production. Tight end Anthony McCoy is on track to play in this weekend’s game. Wide receiver Damian Williams is doubtful. The line has been shuffled, while Kristofer O’Dowd tries to regain his health, and the running backs have performed with nicks and dings. Which offense will show up on Saturday? We won’t know until we view the personnel on the field. But a big plus for Pete Carroll and Jeremy Bates will be the return of fullback Stanley Havili, the pass catching threat out of the backfield.
Linebacker Malcolm Smith and defensive end Everson Griffen will return to the field after both sat out against Arizona State. Mike Morgan will participate with a cast on his broken wrist. Freshman Devon Kennard will fill the role of strongside linebacker.
If there’s one team in America that may find comfort in the L.A Coliseum, it’s the Stanford Cardinal, who represent the Trojans last three losses in the stadium. Certainly, the balanced offensive attack may pose a problem for the Trojans defense, but it isn’t anything they haven’t seen before. The difference between winning and losing may be determined by two X-factors shadowed by greater stars.
Chris Owusu powers Stanford’s special teams to be the nation’s best. Contributing an average of 164 all-purpose yards per game, he can hurt you in several ways. But where he stands out is in the open space of kick returns, where he’s taken three back for scores. Wide Receiver Brice Butler has played in the shadows of Damian Williams and will need to step it up in his absence. If USC can’t exploit a defense that has struggled in coverage, they will be in for a long afternoon.
Prediction: USC 21, Stanford 20
All-time series: USC leads 56-24-3
Streak: USC won 1
Last meeting: 2008- USC 45, Stanford 23 (Palo Alto)