Big difference in a couple of days

With the week's injuries mostly behind them, USC's Trojans were looking ahead Thursday to Stanford at The Farm this weekend. Big change in focus the last two days.

As USC's Trojans were finishing up camp a couple of weeks back, Steve Sarkisian said he meant it as no insult but that for most of the season, USC's pattern would be to focus on itself and what it was doing and not on the opponent.

But after two days of wondering and worrying about this Trojan team's health as it gets ready to head to Palo Alto for a Pac-12-defining game Saturday (12:30 p.m., ABC), it was a relief Thursday to be focusing on the folks on The Farm.

And not on Cody Kessler's toe or Leonard Williams' ankle or the knees of Damien Mama and Khaliel Rodgers. After all were at practice and in gear Thursday, with assurances that they'd be good to go, in one fashion or another Saturday, the talk was about Stanford.

Indeed, On checking into campus Thursday at the Exposition Gate, a visitor from was greeted with one word: "Stanford."

It's clear here that USC's oldest rival and also its newest nemesis, and luckiest some might say, winning four of the last five games in the series of missed calls and a slippery clock operator, that have seen three of those decided on the final possession.

But that's neither here nor there on this day. Eleventh-ranked Stanford's nation-leading 17-game home win streak is -- including a second-half 21-14 USC meltdown two years ago that many of these Trojans remember only too well.

It's just one more piece of evidence of just how successful the Cardinal's move to smashmouth football has been over the last decade and a half. Especially on defense where Stanford held USC to 23 yards rushing last year and 26 the year before.

"It's hard to beat anybody when you only rush for 25 yards whether it's Little League or the NFL," Sark said of the 1-2-3 Stanford defensive gameplan."

"They're big physical guys," Sark said. "They have a good scheme, they stop things you're good at, and they get a lot of sacks and in college football, sacks come out of your rushing totals."

The Trojans managed to overcome an anemic ground game a year ago in that 20-17 upset but not the year before. And probably not this year, if there's a repeat.

The Fresno State game was a start. Against a team that threw every sort of stunt at USC, "We stuck to it," Sark said of a run game that produced 294 yards on 64 attempts for a not-so-hot 4.3-yard average.

"We weren't perfect. But we didn't panic and change a bunch of things we were doing," Sark said. "Our coaches cleaned things up a bit at halftime . . . quite honestly I'd like our efficiency to improve . . . but for the first time out against a defense that gave us so many looks, I'll take it."

Buck Allen "performed well," Sark said of USC's leading groundgainer (133 yards on 22 carries (a 6.0-yard average) who "got a feel for what we were trying to do," as the game went on.

And Justin Davis (30 yards on 12 carries, 2.5) "was close," Sark said of the sophomore he calls "a little bit of a home-run hitter. They're a good combination . . . and they both catch the ball really well out of the backfield."

Part of Sark's enthusiasm was the continued development of a USC offensive line that plans to keep rotating heavily even with some recent health concerns. One reason is a freshman like Viane Talamaivao, the third starter listed at left guard in the last three weeks after knee injuries to Rodgers and Mama, who both will be available Saturday.

"He's very explosive," Sark said although that wouldn't be apparent when you walk past him. "He's got good hands, a good punch and is very athletic for a guy who weighs 330 pounds."

And he'll be in there against a Stanford team that's been talking of taking advantage of the inexperience and size of the right side of the USC offensive line where Talamaivao will line up next to the 6-foot-9, 345-pound Zach Banner.

"How far you can come from Tuesday to Thursday after you put in a gameplan," Sark said, "it was a very upbeat, energetic, enthusiastic Thursday."


Mama, Rodgers and Jordan Simmons all cleared for Stanford . . . Tre Madden didn't make it to practice Thursday and his turf toe has a ways to go before he's back.

For a wrapup of Thursday morning's pre- and post-practice observations, check out THURSDAY PREPRACTICE GHOST NOTES and THURSDAY POSTPRACTICE GHOST NOTES.

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