Preview: Stanford at USC
USC suffered two final drive losses a year ago, and it was a field goal with no time remaining on the clock that allowed Stanford to escape 37-35 in Palo Alto. It was the first victory in a Cardinal streak that has now reached a school record 15 games, with the last loss occurring at Autzen Stadium on Oct. 2. The venue now flips to the Los Angeles Coliseum, where Stanford has been victorious on its last two visits.
Stanford Cardinal (7-0)
National Rank: 4 (AP), 6 (BCS)
Last Week: defeated Washington 65-21
Category Avg rank Rush 219.43 17 Pass 284.71 25 Pass Efficiency 180.82 3 Scoring 48.57 2 Total offense 504.14 9
Stanford ranks in the top-25 of each offensive category, but the numbers may be a bit skewed by less than formidable foes. Five of the Cardinal’s first six opponents are currently beneath .500, with each (including Washington) possessing a defense ranked in the lower tier of FBS teams.
The number that should alert you is pass efficiency, which demonstrates how Andrew Luck has dissected defenses with ease. The quarterback has completed 71 percent of passes, with a touchdown/interception ratio of 20 to 3. He is the Pac 12’s most efficient passer, and the top overall prospect for the 2012 NFL draft.
Somewhere hidden beneath the aura of Luck’s arm is a running attack that has done its share in registering victories. The Cardinal trampled the Huskies on the ground last week, with their quarterback recording a season low in pass attempts (21), completions (16), and yards (169).The bulk of the load is carried by Stepfan Taylor, who is averaging 6.3 yards per carry, with 697 yards amassed on the season.
Averaging just 4.29 per game, Chris Owusu leads the team in receptions, giving an indication of equal distribution among the receiving corps. Beware the tight ends in space, with the Cardinal lining up in multiple formations, including those with three tight end sets. Tight end Colby Fleener leads the team in receiving yards per game, averaging 54.86.
Category Avg rank Rush 75.57 3 Pass 238.57 22 Pass Efficiency 121.87 15 Scoring 12.57 50 Total defense 314.14 37
The category that should draw your attention is ‘scoring defense’, where the Cardinal has stingily allowed less than 13 points per game. The number is partly the result of Stanford’s ability to cause disruption in the backfield. The unit is averaging a Pac 12 best 3.5 sacks per game, and is fourth in the nation in tackles for loss, at an average of 8 per outing.
USC Trojans (6-1)
National rank: 20 (AP)
Last week: defeated Notre Dame 31-17
Matt Barkley poses the biggest threat to the Cardinal defense, throwing for 390 yards in the meeting last year. If the Junior opts for the NFL, he would join his weekend counterpart in the first round, ranked only beneath Andrew Luck on the majority of draft boards.
After an error filled effort in the loss to Arizona State, the Trojan quarterback seems to have found his stride. He has thrown just a single interception and nine touchdowns in the last three games, with USC victorious in each. The offensive line came into its own last week, allowing Trojan rushers to punish an Irish defense for a season high 219 yards. With Marc Tyler contributing, but still nursing a shoulder, it was Curtis McNeal inflicting the majority of the damage. The Junior rushed for a career high 118 yards, increasing his per yard average to 6.3 on the season, and 5.8 in the month of October.
Even with the struggles, USC will represent the best defense Stanford has faced all season. It’s a unit that surrenders big numbers in the passing game, but is also one that is very active. The Trojans have forced 8 turnovers in the last two games, allowing the team to ease to victories. They may need a couple of those against Andrew Luck, if an upset is in their future.
Analysis: Stanford has won three of the last four meetings with USC. It has no fear of the program or the L.A Coliseum. It is a confident group seeking a third victory in as many years over the one time conference power.
USC is riding the momentum of a three game win-streak, with Lane Kiffin recording his biggest win as a Trojan head coach last week in South Bend. A victory over the nation’s fourth ranked team would be even greater, and USC does have the talent to pull it off. It will all come down to execution, and the ability to do it for four quarters, because this physical Stanford team will not allow you to take plays off.
X-factor, Pass Protection: What you’ll find in Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck are two of the best protected quarterbacks in the country. Luck has been sacked only twice through seven games, giving Stanford the top rank in the category. Barkley has been planted just four times, allowing USC to place fifth. The Trojan trenches will be fully tested on Saturday, as the Cardinal also enter with a defensive line ranked fourth best in quarterback sacks, having registered 25 on the year.
All Time Series: USC leads 58-27-3
Streak: Stanford has won 2
Last Meeting: Stanford 37, USC 35 (Palo Alto)
- Stanford leads the nation in red zone offense, scoring on a perfect 38 of 38 drives within the opponents 20-yard line.
- Of those red zone scores, 30 have resulted in touchdowns, with the remaining 8 scores coming by way of field goals.
- Tight ends have accounted for 13 of Stanford’s 21 receiving touchdowns this season.
- Stanford’s 15-game win streak is currently the longest in the nation.
- Stanford is the first team in 75 years to win 10 consecutive games by a margin of 25 points or more.
- USC is trying to avoid a 3-game losing streak to the Cardinal. Stanford last won three straight over the Trojans with consecutive victories from 1999 to 2001.
- Stanford last won three straight games in the Los Angeles Coliseum in the years 1933, 1935, and 1937.