Prognostication Station: USC

Can't wait for the 2010 season? Us neither. So instead of the boring, old opponent previews we've written in years past, we figured why not introduce you to this fall's schedule virtually? Everything that follows is based entirely off video game simulation, but The Bootleg will not be blamed if reality follows the script…

Stanford, Calif. (Oct. 9, 2010)

If Stanford had its heart broken in a last-minute loss at Oregon last week, this week, it had its face stepped on by a hob-nailed boot.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley threw for one touchdown and ran for another, as USC took a 24-0 lead and ran away with a 31-7 victory.

"I wasn't here last year, but I knew about Stanford going for two," Coach Lane Kiffin said. "And I knew about that upset in L.A. a few years ago. We wanted this one, and we wanted it bad."

Kiffin may have made no friends in Palo Alto with a fake punt call while up 24-0 that went for USC's final touchdown, but the game was over far before that score in the late third.

After forcing one of five Stanford (4-2, 1-2) turnovers on the Cardinal's opening drive, USC (4-1, 1-1) marched 51 yards in nine plays, setting the day's tone with a methodical attack the Cardinal simply could not find a way to stop.

Allen Bradford finished that first drive with a one-yard touchdown, giving USC a 7-0 lead five minutes in that the visitors would enjoy the rest of the quarter. Then, in the second, a Barkley five-yard pass to tight end Blake Ayles and a one-yard Barkley scramble pushed the Trojans' margin to 21-0. Jacob Hoffman's 27-yard field goal as the half expired gave USC a 24-0 lead, and USC never looked back.

"What do you want me to say?" Coach Jim Harbaugh asked postgame. "They were better than us, and after these last few years, they gave us a taste of our own medicine. Luckily, they can't go to the Rose Bowl, so we've just got to focus on catching the rest of the Pac-10 now."

The offense and the defense disappointed equally in a bleak performance on an otherwise beautiful October afternoon, as the offense managed just 260 yards. The offensive coaches may want to write 260 on each player's locker and circle it, because the Cardinal had just 260 yards last week against the Ducks, and that total is the lowest in the Harbaugh era.

"It's hard to move the ball when you're always coughing it up," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I have one I want back, and I'm sure Stepfan wants one of his fumbles back, but we got a couple unlucky tips in the passing game, and Stepfan nearly got his head taken off on his other fumble. In my opinion, this is the best defense in the Pac-10, so you can't have the bad bounces we had and expect to win."

Defensively, Stanford played the role of a stoplight stuck on green, as USC scored on four of its six first-half possessions, and would have scored on a fifth if not for a Bradford fumble at the Stanford one. Despite blitzing heavily, the Cardinal sacked Barkley just once all afternoon – and with the linebackers providing little pass coverage, an exposed secondary got lit up for 344 yards and two touchdowns.

"Everything we tried to do, they had an answer," said safety Delano Howell, a lone bright spot on the D. "We don't blitz, they sit back and pick us apart. We do blitz, they pick it up and pick us apart anyway. Their run game was just good enough we couldn't sell out to the pass, and the one time we force a punt, they score on it again. I don't know what else our coaches could have done -- you've just got to give USC credit today."

Stanford receiver Chris Owusu accounted for the sole Stanford score on a 69-yard pump and go in the fourth quarter.

With back-to-back losses to conference co-favorites Oregon and USC, Stanford may have to run the table to remain in the Rose Bowl conversation – but with the Ducks and Trojans safely in the schedule's rear-view mirror and no one in the conference looking dominant, there's no reason to think Stanford couldn't string together such a streak. A bye week, and then a virtual bye week with a visit from Washington State couldn't come at a better time for the Cardinal, who'll enjoy the chance to take their minds off two bitter weeks on the field.

Scoring Summary
1st quarter
TD USC: A. Bradford, 1-yd run, 9:12 left. USC 7, Stanford 0.
2nd quarter
TD USC: B. Ayles 5-yd pass from M. Barkley, 14:03 left. USC 14, Stanford 0.
TD USC: M. Barkley 1-yd run, 6:02 left. USC 21, Stanford 0.
FG USC: J. Harfman 27-yd kick, 0:00 left. USC 24, Stanford 0.
3rd quarter
TD USC: T. Harris 50-yd pass from J. Harfman, 4:02 left. USC 31, Stanford 0.
4th quarter
TD Stan: C. Owusu 69-yd pass from A. Luck, 2:08 left. USC 31, Stanford 7.

Box score

First downs1020
Total offense260486
Passing (Comp-Att-Yards-TD)9-24-150-127-36-344-2
Rushing (Att-Yards-TD)16-110-040-142-2
Third down conversions1-95-12
Fumbles lost21

Key Stanford player stats
RB Stepfan Taylor: 11 carries, 110 yards, two fumbles lost
WR Chris Owusu: one reception, 69 yards, 1 TD
SS Delano Howell: 11 tackles

Stanford schedule
@Stanford 35, Sacramento State 6
Stanford 22, @UCLA 16
Stanford 52, @Wake Forest 14
Stanford 30, @Notre Dame 27
@Oregon 16, Stanford 7
USC 31, @Stanford 7
Stanford vs. Washington State
Stanford at Washington
Stanford vs. Arizona
Stanford at Arizona State
Stanford at Cal
Stanford vs. Oregon State

Inspired by reading stories like this as a kid in the Michigan student newspaper on game days, the author hopes you enjoy reading this series every bit as much as he enjoys writing it. The 2010 season is being simulated on EA Sports NCAA 2011, with the author playing all Stanford games and simulating the rest in a dynasty mode.
All statistics, game summary, rankings, player news and out-of-town scores are reported unchanged from game simulation. (I.e. Don't call the author pessimistic if Stanford struggles. Call him bad at video games.)
Got any idea for future weeks, especially if they're funny? PM dannovi.

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