Week #10 Preview: USC

The Cardinal has an opportunity to "kick it up a notch" with regard to the 2009 season as the team travels south to try and prove it can win another big game on the road against an outstanding Pac-10 opponent, certain to be ready for this game. It will take some superb performances if the Card is to come away with another win over the Trojans.

Week #10 Preview: USC

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but myriad scenarios could place a piping hot Stanford team in its first Rose Bowl since 1999. The confident Cardinal, to call upon time-honored clichés, must remain focused and play one game at a time.


The Road to the Roses continues this Saturday with a trip to the Coliseum where Stanford will face the Trojans of Troy, who are the kings of the conference, but haven't looked exactly invincible in recent weeks.


Coming off a stirring upset win over Oregon, which provided the Cardinal with bowl eligibility and the team's first national ranking since 2001, Stanford cannot fall into the classic emotional let-down trap.


"There wasn't that, ‘Oh my gosh, I can't believe we won' feeling after the Oregon game," said running back Toby Gerhart. "There was kind of the feeling that this is what we expected. We're taking one game at a time and everybody's going to be fired up for this week. There isn't any satisfaction just beating Oregon and becoming bowl-eligible."


USC has won six of the last seven in this series, but the lone victory the Cardinal pulled out in 2007 was monumental. The last-second, 24-23 win signified the start of Stanford's reformation under the Harbaugh regime.


The Trojans were ranked No. 2 at the time and the loss snapped a 35-game home winning-streak. USC is ranked No. 11 heading into this weekend's game and will be the third ranked opponent Stanford has faced this season.


The other two were No. 7 Oregon and No. 24 Washington, which Stanford defeated, and coincidentally both teams were coming off wins over the Trojans.


But the Cardinal have not exactly been road warriors over the last few seasons. Stanford is 1-3 away from home this year and has gone 1-9 on the road the last two seasons.


"I think first of all you have to be good enough," said head coach Jim Harbaugh in regards to winning away from home. "There's definitely a mindset that's a professional thing. It's a pro thing where you don't care where you play, home or away. Sometimes you kind of enjoy playing on the road, you get offended if they don't boo you."


The "boos" will undoubtedly rain down from the Coliseum crowd on Saturday afternoon as most fans will recall the shocking upset administered by the Cardinal two seasons ago as 42-point underdogs.


The matchup this week will feature two of the best young quarterbacks the NCAA ranks have to offer. True freshman Matt Barkley and redshirt freshman Andrew Luck will meet in what could be a quarterback rivalry for years to come.


"I have a lot of respect for Matt Barkley," quarterback Andrew Luck stated. "I've never met him personally, but I've heard he is a great guy and I really enjoy watching him play."


Comparing the two gunslingers in their first seasons, Luck has dominated the statistical category despite all the hype surrounding Barkley coming into 2009.


Luck has posted a 153.1 quarterback rating which leads the Pac-10 and ranks No. 9 in the nation. In nine games, he has thrown 11 touchdowns and 2,076 yards against three interceptions on 126-of-216 passing.


Barkley has registered a 135.1 passer rating through his first eight collegiate games and thrown 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions. The 6-2, 230-pound signal-caller had arguably his worst outing of the season last week against Arizona State's stout defense, completing a paltry 7-of-22 passes for 112 yards, with one TD and one INT.


A key factor in each of these players' success on Saturday will be the strength of their offensive lines.


The Tunnel Workers Union of Stanford has surrendered only six sacks all season, the fifth-fewest in the nation, but will line up against one of the most aggressive front sevens in all of college football.


USC ranks No. 2 in the country in sacks, averaging 3.6 per game, and No. 8 in tackles for loss with an average of 8.0 per contest.


"Their D-line and linebackers are ferocious and fast," said Luck. "They bring different guys on blitzes so it's hard to key in on what they're doing. Sacks are huge drive-killers and we can't afford negative yardage."


Offensively, the Trojans operate a pro-style playbook under head coach Pete Carroll. After amassing 31.4 ppg through the first seven games, USC has only mustered 10 offensive points in the team's last six quarters of play.


After a bounce-back effort against Arizona State, Stanford's defense encountered a potent Oregon offense that recorded 570 total yards and 43 points. The Cardinal defense understands that it cannot rely on the offense outscoring the opponent every week.


"Our offense has certainly helped us a lot," linebacker Will Powers said. "I think that our defense has to improve from last week certainly. There's a difference between the Oregon offense versus a USC offense, which has very 'traditional' formations."


Fortunately for the Cardinal, USC will most likely be without some key players on both sides of the ball. The Trojans injury report is looking like that of the New England Patriots – everyone is 'questionable'.


Three offensive players that scored a touchdown in last year's game could be out. USC's leading wide receiver, Damian Williams, will most likely miss the game with a high-ankle sprain. Fullback Stanley Havili is 'probable' for the fourth-straight week (still yet to play) and outstanding tailback Stafon Johnson was lost for the season after a horrendous weight-lifting injury.


The Trojans still have two-time All-American Taylor Mays and linebacker Chris Galippo healthy on defense, but linebackers Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith are questionable.


For Stanford, cornerback Quinn Evans is still recovering from an undisclosed injury and the starting middle linebacker spot is still uncertain with either Owen Marecic or Nick Macaluso filling the hole.


The Cardinal led 17-10 late in the second quarter in last season's bout between these two teams. Stanford outgained the Trojans 210 yards to 90 in the first half, but then USC ripped off 28 unanswered second half points to secure a 45-23 victory.


In that game, Stanford went ahead early on an 80-yard opening drive with a four-yard Gerhart touchdown run. When the Cardinal has scored on the opening drive this season, the team is 4-1 and a fast start against USC on Saturday will be essential.

About the Author: Scott Cooley is a seasoned sports writer who was groomed as a reporter for ESPN.com, and he most recently served as the media relations manager for the San Jose SaberCats arena football team. He earned a Business and Economics degree from Hendrix College where he also played baseball. Cooley has a passion for producing sports content, and his writing evokes thought into the minds of his readers with a witty and entertaining style. He is a freelance writer who has been published on multiple media platforms and is always looking for additional opportunities. Cooley and

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