Stanford will have another match up with a winning team for the second week in a row. Coming off a 65-21 rout of the Washington Huskies, the Cardinal have continued to impress and are currently ranked #6 in the nation. The USC Trojans are also coming off a big win after defeating Notre Dame in South Bend. Stanford is currently on a two game winning streak against USC. Though the Cardinal thoroughly defeated the Trojans in 2009, they only narrowly won 37-35 last year. USC definitely has something to prove against Stanford.
1. Barkley vs. Luck – This point comes first because of some media hype that USC cornerback Nickell Robey believes Barkley is just as good as Luck. A player having confidence in the abilities of his teammate should not be news. But regardless, this will be a big game for Barkley to prove himself against Luck because Luck is widely considered a sure thing at the next level. Their statistics are fairly comparable. The touchdown to interception numbers for Barkley and Luck are 19-4 and 20-3 respectively. Their yards and completion percentages are also fairly similar. They will both make some plays, meaning the key to the offense will not be in the passing game, but in the running game.
2. The Running Game – Anyone who saw last week’s game against Washington probably knows just how well Stanford can run the ball. The Cardinal had 446 yards in the game, more than doubling their season average. As the game has evolved to pass heavy sets and gimmicks through the spread, Stanford has once again proven that if you can’t stop the run, you can’t stop anything. Would you expect Stanford to score 65 points with Luck throwing for fewer than 200 yards? Well they did.
USC coach noted that if they want to have any chance of stopping Luck, they will first have to stop the run. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor has been having a monster year. Running backs Tyler Gaffney, Jeremy Stewart, and Anthony Wilkerson have all played their roles masterfully. USC also possesses a potent offense but they just have not been nearly as efficient. Part of the reason Stanford has 100% redzone efficiency is a result of their diversity. The superstar quarterback also has something to do with it.
3. Stanford Pass Rush – Aside from USC tackle Matt Kalil, the Trojan offensive line has been patchwork and inconsistent. They did, however, play much better against Notre Dame. They managed to run for 219 yards in the game, showing a strong physical dominance. Stanford’s front seven is their greatest strength. Stanford will get their points so the question is, can USC create long drives of their own? If USC fails to run the ball, they will be hard pressed to stop Chase Thomas and the other linebackers from getting to Barkley.
4. Tight End Attack – Stanford’s tight ends have proved a terrible matchup for any team. Defending three guys, all over 6’6″ when they are all on the field is a nightmare. Stanford’s strength is that they can run and pass out of the same formations. The Cardinal can also suddenly shift all their personnel around at the line of scrimmage. Stanford will continue to exploit their size advantage. Oh, and don’t forget that Terrel and Owusu can catch passes too (especially those pretty leaping ones in the corner of the endzone).
5. A Motivated USC – Remember that Stanford came down to Southern California and humiliated USC on national television. They have not forgotten. And they likely will not forget. The Trojans possess a great deal of talent and so one of their issues is getting all those guys to pull in the same direction. This week, they want to get back at Stanford, especially since Stanford is so highly ranked. They want to show up Luck and prove they are still a force. Watch out, these guys will be playing hard.
That being said, they probably won’t have the firepower to keep up for the entire game. But there will be no surprises this time around as to how good the Cardinal actually is. They’ll be ready.