Tough talk: stopping Stanford

Lots of conversation this week on how far this USC defense has come since it got kicked to the curb by Kevin Hogan, Christian McCaffrey and the rest of the Stanford team the first time they met in Week 3. Here's what they're saying.

The talk you're hearing this week isn't the norm around USC football. And no, we're not talking about Clay Helton's first full week as official head coach of the Trojans. It's hardly been mentioned since Monday morning's press conference.

The talk is about Stanford. Usually the emphasis here is on Trojan talk. Because that's what matters. What USC does. How well it does it.

Maybe it's the rematch element. Probably it's the reality that the Cardinal program has figured out some things about football, some things it showed USC in Game 3 when it whacked a favored Trojan team 41-31 and sent the early season in a tailspin.

But that's the case. Stanford has become the measuring stick even if a scholarship-limited USC program did beat the Cardinal the last two years in low-scoring, defense-first games under Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian.

Which is how they're thinking this week. Time for the USC defense to step up and take over. "We're going to be more run heavy," Su'a Cravens says, in a comment that could be describing the change in the USC offense under Helton. But it's not, Su'a says..

"We're a different team now," Su'a says. "Our physicality . . . especially in the fourth quarter. "We can't let them have six/seven yards a carry and run through tackles. We can't let them get to the edge."

Which of course puts the focus on Stanford sophomore tailback Christian McCaffrey, the nation's leading all-purpose ball-carrier. "He's like their Adoree' . . . he's fast, he's athletic, he broke so many tackles . . . we may not spy him but you gotta' tackle him."

There's a difference now. "That was early in the season and we didn't trust each other," Su'a said. "Now we trust each other.

"If we can turn this into a passing game, that favors us," Su'a said.

Another first-team ll-Pac-12 Trojan defender, senior nose tackle Antwaun Woods, says that's exactly right. "We're playing assignment-sound football now," he said, sounding more like a coach. "We're more disciplined [than in the first Stanford game]. I know I'm working harder, staying late and watching film.

But it's more than that for Woods, who said he was "surprised" at his All-Pac-12 selection. "It's going to be a big man's game," Woods said. As it almost always is with Stanford.

But it's also about those back line guys who had trouble disrupting Stanford's big receivers down field the first time. "We want them batting the ball down this time," secondary coach Keith Heyward said. Just being there doesn't get it done.

They're working on pulling their hands apart and making catches impossible as they get to the ball. Last time they may have been in position, Heyward said. They just didn't get to the ball or make the play.

"I'm excited," Heyward says. Unlike a week ago after Oregon. He was vocally and loudly not happy with the play of his guys. "I don''t know anybody who was," he says.

The change to so much man coverage against UCLA helped, says Adoree' Jackson, another first-team All-Pac-12 defender who played lots of single safety in that game. "That's what we want to be doing . . .and to have our coaches have confidence in us."

This is where Helton stands out, Adoree' said. "To get a guy who is a players coach, that's what we wanted . . . I thought he would get it [the USC coaching job]. We needed somebody who would bring that confidence to us . . . he reminded me of Coach O," Adoree' said even though he was still at Serra High for the season Orgeron took over.

It's also a guys-waiting-their-time-and-taking-advantage-of-it game like linebackers Olajuwon Tucker, Uchenna Nwosu and Don Hill, none of whom were all that much featured in the early going but by the UCLA game when they got their chance, they stepped up and stepped in.

So much so that Helton showed their cut-ups this wek in practice. "It wasn't that they just showed up on Saturday," Helton said, it's what they did every day in practice to be ready to play Saturday. Because when you get that chance, "you only get one or two of those" to show you're ready, Helton says.

That's advice that applies to this entire Trojan team. They're getting that second chance against Stanford. And this is the one that counts. Win Saturday and you're the Pac-12 champions heading to the Rose Bowl.

It doesn't get any better -- or bigger -- than that.

24 of 50 All-Century Pac-12 team Trojans

Helton saluted the 24 USC players (out of 50 named) to the Pac-12 All-Century Football team as well as the team's coach, John McKay, and top defensive player, Ronnie Lott. Said the link from those players to USC's All-Pac-12 players named earlier Tuesday is a sign of passing the torch from one generation of USC football to the next.

The 24 Trojans on the Pac-12 All-Century team are: QB Matt Leinart, RBs Marcus Allen, O.J. Simpson, Charles White, Reggie Bush and Mike Garrett, WRs Keyshawn Johnson, Lynn Swann and Marqise Lee, TE Charles Young, OLs Ron Yary, Tony Boselli, Anthony Munoz and Brad Budde, DE Willie McGinest, DT Leonard Williams, LBs Junior Seau, Richard Wood and Chris Claiborne, CB Joey Browner, SS Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu and Mark Carrier and RET Reggie Bush. Bush was the only player selected at two positions.

WEDNESDAY QUICK HITS: Another shorts, shoulder pads and helmets practice Wednesday . . . focus here was on third downs -- both ways . . . stopping Hogan from making the plays he made the first time these teams played, Helton said, and improving USC's efficiency on third downs that was not there the last time . . . Viane Talamaivao remained concentrating on backup center role as Nico Falah got the first-team work with Khaliel Rodgers out at least through Thursday with a high ankle sprain after a PRP injection to speed healing . . . Leon McQuay back for more team work on his knee . . . but DB Jonathan Lockett, in gear, looks a ways away on his sprained knee.

CHECK THIS OUT: For Wednesday's practice report, check out WEDNESDAY PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK GHOST NOTES.

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