USC vs. Stanford Match-Up

A national audience will watch Saturday to see how USC bounces back after their first regular season loss since 2003, and the Trojans could scarcely ask for a better game teed up than winless Stanford. USC's margin in their last four games is just +4.25 points, but the Cardinal are struggling mightily with injuries, offense and stopping the run.

LAST WEEK:  Stanford mercifully had a bye in their schedule, interrupting the 0-12 train that has a full head of steam.  The previous weekend, the Cardinal went to Tempe and were handled by Arizona State, 38-3.

Stanford had quarterback T.C. Ostrander under center for his first start since 2004, and the redshirt junior connected on just 28% passing for 66 yards.  In the Cardinal's last two games, they have notched two of the four worst all-time passing performances in school history.  It's a serious struggle.  Redshirt sophomore Anthony Kimble hit a 58-yard run that was Stanford's longest offensive play from scrimmage in 2006, though the drive stalled three plays and four yards later for a field goal.

The defense gave up 200+ rushing yards for the third straight game and seventh time in eight games this year, while also being hit for 89.5% passing by ASU's quarterbacks.

LAST WEEK:  The Trojans suffered a rare loss last week, as they fell to the Oregon State Beavers 33-31 in Corvallis.

USC turned the ball over four times in the game, while the Beavers did not turn the ball over at all.  Several of the Trojan turnovers helped Oregon State build a 33-10 lead late in the third quarter, but the Trojans came back behind terrific play from John David Booty and Steve Smith.  Only a failed two-point conversion attempt as time was running out prevented the game from going to overtime.

Booty ended the day with over 400 yards passing, while Smith had 11 catches for 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Smith, who had been bothered by an ankle injury, had been limited during several practices leading up the game.

KEY INJURIES:  QB Trent Edwards (foot, out), QB T.C. Ostrander (knee, probable), FB Emeka Nnoli (chest, probable), FB Nick Frank (spine, out), WR Mark Bradford (foot, out), WR Mike Miller (questionable), TE Matt Traverso (out), C Tim Mattran (leg, out), OG Jon Cochran (staph infection, probable), S/CB Brandon Harrison (shoulder, probable), S David Lofton (foot, out), ILB Pat Maynor (staph infection, out) KEY INJURIES:  RB Hershel Dennis (knee, out), RB Michael Coleman (hip, out), FB Brandon Hancock (knee, out), FB Ryan Powdrell (ankle, out), FB Stanley Havili (leg, out), WR Chris McFoy (shoulder, out), WR Jamere Holland (shoulder, out), OL Jeff Byers (back, out), DL Travis Tofi (foot, out), LB Rey Maualuga (groin, probable), DB Josh Pinkard (knee, out), DB Kevin Thomas (foot, out), DB Will Harris (knee, out)
WHEN STANFORD IS ON OFFENSE:  It's very bad, folks.  The history books are being rewritten by the Cardinal "O" this year, who have nine touchdowns through eight games.  Five of those came in a 35-34 loss at San Jose State, with only one offensive score in the last month-plus.

Injuries have been the leading story of the season, taking out the Cardinal's most experienced and talented starters at quarterback, wide receiver (times two), fullback, tight end and center.  Golden boy Trent Edwards is done for his college career after breaking his foot, which has ushered in the T.C. Ostrander era.  The new starting quarterback has had great difficulty in his two games since Edwards went down, and any hope of an offensive turnaround starts with his arm.

Wide receiver Mark Bradford was lost on the third play of the second game, and 6'7" Evan Moore went down seven days later.  Moore has mostly recovered from his stress reaction and made his return in Tempe.  The redshirt junior had more drops than catches and must be greatly improved for Ostrander and the passing game this Saturday.  Beyond Moore, Stanford plays walk-ons and true freshmen.

The running game has been modestly better than the aerial attack, with better run blocking and scattered inspired efforts by Kimble and freshman Toby Gerhart.  The former starts and is the quicker of the two, though the latter can be an effective power runner on both first and third downs. 

WHEN USC IS ON OFFENSE:  It will be interesting to see how the Trojans approach this game from an offensive point of view.  The dramatic comeback attempt last week was led by basically putting the playbook away and letting John David chuck the ball all over the yard.  We know it's not as simple as that, but you can't deny that Booty was at his best when the Trojans started throwing at all costs.

You can be sure that Smith is going to get plenty of balls thrown his way on Saturday, and we will probably see a big performance from Dwayne Jarrett - he is due for a huge number day.

The Trojan running game, which had propelled the victory over Arizona State two weeks earlier, was hurt last week by a pair of fumbles from new starter Chauncey Washington.  Chauncey had been gaining momentum all season long before laying the ball on the ground against the Beavers, but we still think his hard-running presence is critical to establishing any kind of consistent flow on offense.  With a tough four-game stretch coming up after the Stanford game, many Trojan fans are looking at this game as a point where the offense needs to come together.

WHEN USC HAS THE BALL:  Expect the Trojans to do almost anything they want against the Cardinal.  Stanford looked like it had rallied defensively after much-improved performances at UCLA and Notre Dame in the middle of the season, but their last two games against Arizona and ASU have reverted to early-season form with horrific run defense and unsightly tackling.  USC could set new season-high marks running the ball against the nation's worst rush defense (#119, 255.5 ypg).

Stanford has at times shown flashes of pressure from its linebackers in their 3-4 scheme, though they may take a step back on Saturday when starting a new redshirt frosh (Fred Campbell) in the middle due to injuries.  The defense is exceptionally young, with no seniors on the defensive line and eight true or redshirt freshmen who start or play in the front seven.  Senior linebacker Michael Okwo, is a playmaker worth watching.  Keep your eyes on #55, who has exceptional explosiveness and power.

The secondary has experienced safeties but new starters this year at cornerback.  They had a rocky September, but Wopamo Osaisai and Tim Sims are coming into their own as athletic playmakers.  No team has yet reached 240 yards passing against Stanford, due in part to the ease of running the ball.  Will Pete Carroll try to prove that his Trojans can trounce this defense through the air?  He shouldn't, but he probably can without much difficulty.

WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL:  The Trojan defense finally got some pressure on the quarterback last week; look for Pete Carroll to continue applying pressure this week against Ostrander.  The one area the USC defense has struggled with lately is interceptions, so Carroll is hoping that by keeping the heat on the quarterback it will help lead to more opportunities for picks for his defenders.

One position to watch on the Trojan defense will be middle linebacker, as Rey Maualuga is nursing a groin injury after sitting out the first half of the OSU game due to disciplinary reasons.  Oscar Lua got the start against the Beavers and played well - he provides the emotional fire of a team captain.

On the D-line, look for Sedrick Ellis to continue in his role as the dominant player on the line.  Chris Barrett and Fili Moala have also made a nice combination throughout the year.  San Jose native Jeff Schweiger has looked good in practice, and, if we see some multiple fronts in this game, he could get a lot of action in front of his hometown crowd.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  For a while, this unit was as bad as the defense (and later the offense).  They have become nearly respectable of late, with punt coverage on the uptick and a hint of a threat in kickoff returns.  The latter was manned by the explosive Osaisai at ASU after he proved his hands and speed to the coaching staff with a 72-yard interception return against Arizona.  Redshirt junior Jay Ottovegio has cleared 40 yards punting in each of his last two games.  Field goals and PATs have been an excruciating adventure, albeit rare in their attempts, with redshirt sophomore walk-on Aaron Zagory.  Kickoff coverage has not impressed, though it is rarely on the field. SPECIAL TEAMS:  The Trojans have worked a lot in practice this week on punt coverage after giving up a critical punt return for a score last week in Corvallis.  The good news for the Trojans is that the kicking game has been a bright spot this year with Mario Danelo, Troy Van Blarcom and Greg Woidneck all doing their jobs well.
STANFORD CAN WIN IF:  The NCAA drops a death penalty hammer on the Trojans before kickoff, SMU-style.  Barring such intervention, Stanford needs to do something very rare and score an opening-drive or first-quarter touchdown to establish some offensive success.  The best hope would be a replay of the 2004 Stanford-USC game.  The Cardinal could make a few stops on defense at opportune times, but they would need a huge turnover advantage and a couple big plays on special teams.  Stanford has had an extra week to prepare and the last few days have conducted their best practices this fall. USC CAN WIN IF:  They keep their turnover margin above minus-four in this game.  Seriously, it stands to reason that the Trojans should prevail in this game unless they self-implode with a barrage of turnovers or other such mistakes.  Chances are that isn't going to happen.  The stakes for this team are high right now, as we head into November and you get the sense that the team understands what is at hand.
STANFORD WILL LOSE IF:  Even if the stars align on offense, defense and special teams to make this competitive into the second half, USC showed last week that they could ultimately move the ball at will against Beavers defense more talented and athletic than Stanford's.  The available talent Stanford can put on the field Saturday is so lopsided compared to USC's as to defy description.  The real question is whether the outcome will take some time to unfold, or if the angry Trojans could throttle Stanford right out of the gate as we saw last November in Los Angeles (four turnovers and a 37-0 hole in the first 22 minutes). USC WILL LOSE IF:  They don't come ready to play.  This team has seen flashes of uninspired play this year and each time they have been able to come back for the victory or, in this case of last week, to make it close at the end.  Is it possible for USC to come out flat for a whole game?  I suppose it is.  That's about what it would take for this Stanford team to come away with a victory.
Mike Eubanks is the publisher for and has been covering Cardinal sports since 1998. Garry Paskwietz is the Publisher of and WeAreSC magazine and has been covering Trojan football since 1996.

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