If the Trojans thought Jake Locker of Washington was a handful, wait until they get a look at what Andrew Luck has done up on the Farm this season.
The redshirt sophomore, now regarded as the top draft prospect at his position, has thrown for 1,523 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He is also Stanford's second-leading rusher with 202 yards and two touchdowns on an impressive 8.1 yards per carry average.
Even though USC quarterback Matt Barkley actually moved ahead of Luck in passing efficiency and now leads the Pac-10 on the basis of two Luck interceptions against Oregon, he has also been working with a makeshift receiving corps as senior Ryan Whalen (elbow) and junior Chris Owusu (knee/concussion) have been in and out of the lineup because of injuries.
In short, the Trojans pass defense, which has shown vulnerabilities all year long, will have to step up to have any chance against the Cardinal on Saturday.
Safety T.J. McDonald summed it up best.
"We got to execute," he said.
USC ranks No. 116 nationally in pass defense, having surrendered 288 yards passing per game and 10 touchdowns.
"Obviously those numbers speak for themselves," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "We're not playing very well. Maybe early on I didn't account for how inexperienced they really were. Maybe my expectations were a little high for them."
Most troubling has been the inability of the secondary to tackle in space, something McDonald was a point of emphasis last week.
"Defense's lack of tackling, that was one thing we stressed throughout the week and we didn't get it done," said McDonald, who leads the team in tackles. "We weren't in the places we needed to be."
Corner Shareece Wright said after the 32-31 loss to the Huskies there were too many times when defenders went for big hits instead of sure tackles, an observation McDonald agreed with.
"We tried to kill people and in that situation you have to make sure tackles. When you make a third and long, fourth and long situation, you have to get the guy down and that's something we didn't do well," he said.
"As a defense, you work hard to get off that field and when you get to third down or fourth down, you got to finish."
Where Are They?
USC fans might be ready to put out an all points bulletin for their starting linebackers, Devon Kennard, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith.
Kiffin agreed, pointing to the lack of game-changing plays from that position.
The three have combined for just six tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery, no forced fumbles and no interceptions through five games.
"We've not gotten significant plays from that group," Kiffin said. "It hasn't been where you watch the film and say, wow, they're blowing a bunch of assignments or missing a ton of tackles. They're playing OK. But there's been no significant plays – the big sack, the big fumble, the big interception, the big play on a ball that's going to be a first down and they knock it out. For whatever reason, that's just the way it's been."
-DE Wes Horton (back) and FB Stanley Havili (shoulder) did not practice Tuesday. Havili, who has dealt with chronic shoulder issues, said he expected to play against Stanford.
Wright, DT Da'John Harris, DE Nick Perry, WR Robert Woods and OL Butch Lewis and Khaled Holmes were limited.
-Kiffin said he would continue to evaluate running backs Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler before deciding on a starter.
Bradford has rushed for 438 yards and three touchdowns in his last three games.
-Jacob Harfman connected on four of six field goal attempts, while Joe Houston hit just two of six tries.
"It'll be a weeklong (competition)," Kiffin said. "We did some opportunities with them today, more than normal. Basically all we got out of that is we'll be going for it a lot in the red zone."