Utilize the Receiver Advantage -- On the Ground
Stanford did an excellent job taking advantage of the fact that its wide receivers weighed 40 pounds more than USC's cornerbacks -- outside of the red zone, of course (see below for that mess). Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste, and tight end Austin Hooper all enjoyed productive days in the intermediate passing game, and the trio all effectively blocked in space for other big plays (Eric Cotton's successful screen scamper comes to mind). It all added up to extremely productive offensive day outside of the USC 30-yard line: Stanford averaged 8.9 yards per play in this part of the field. Once they passed the USC 30, though, the Cardinal only gained 2.1 yards per play. A timid, messy approach in the red zone ruined eye-popping work elsewhere and cost David Shaw's team the game.
Remember 2013 Midseason Adjustments: Set the Edges on the Perimeter
Stanford did an excellent job against USC's stable of talented wide receivers, holding an offense that had racked up 705 total yards the week prior to only 291 yards on Saturday. The Trojans averaged only 4.9 yards per play and 6.1 yards per pass -- both very respectable figures for the Cardinal's defense. Duane Akina's secondary came to play; it stymied USC's high-powered attack and gave Stanford's offense multiple chances to win the game.
Prevent Buck Allen from Looking Like Bishop Sankey
This is the one area where the Stanford defense experienced some difficulties. It appears as if Lance Anderson conceded some yardage to USC in the run game in an effort to suffocate the pass, as Stanford employed a smaller nickel package for much of the contest. Overall, that strategy worked, but it did help Javorius Allen to rack up 154 yards on 23 carries (6.7 yards per rush). Allen did rush through some Cardinal tackles, and his big 50-yard pick-up in the second half led to USC's game-tying field goal. On the whole, though, it must be re-emphasized that Stanford's defensive performance was very good: Limiting USC to 13 points should have been more than enough for a Cardinal win.
Pounce on a Trojan Weakness: Unleash a Disciplined Pass Rush
Stanford didn't exactly light up the defensive stat sheet (5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks), but they did a great job keeping USC quarterback Cody Kessler uncomfortable throughout the game. Early in the 2013 game against the Trojans, the Cardinal had issues with edge discipline on their pass rush, and Kessler was able to buy time outside of the pocket to make big plays. Beyond USC's opening scoring drive Saturday, this rarely happened in 2014. The Cardinal pass rush was solid, though the Trojans' rushing success was likely able to mitigate some of its effect on the stat sheet.
Red Zone, Red Zone, Red Zone
Grade: Zero (worse than F)
Stanford officially entered the red zone five times. They scored only 10 points. The Cardinal crossed the USC 30-yard line on all nine of their possessions. They scored only 10 points.
In short, Saturday's game was an unmitigated disaster for Stanford when it came to executing scores. This was a failure of epic proportions that featured botched Wildcat plays, numerous penalties, bad play calls, blocking breakdowns, and punts from inside the 30-yard line. This was a nightmare, plain and simple.
The Great Equalizer
Stanford hoped that special teams would provide a boost Saturday. Aside from some nice Montgomery return action, this phase of the game also provided a massive disappointment. Jordan Williamson missed two field goals. Two other times, Shaw chose to punt instead of sending Williamson out to attempt tries of under 50 yards (he was 18-for-20 from that distance last year). One of those punts ended in a Ben Rhyne touchback, so Stanford only netted nine yards of field position. Unlike the case in last year's win against Steve Sarkisian's Washington team, special teams did not come to the Cardinal's rescue against USC.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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