WeAreSC staffers discuss Saturday's USC-Stanford game:
What is the key matchup?
Garry Paskwietz: You can really pick either side of the line as the key match-up for this game because both will be so important. I’ll go with the Trojans' D-line against the Stanford O-line as my choice, and I think it will be a fascinating battle to watch. The Trojans should be able to feature an interior front of Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods and George Uko. That is a pretty formidable trio, but they will be going against a Stanford group that is as physical as any in the country, especially when they bring in extra linemen or tight ends to help reinforce their efforts. Bring the big-boy pants for this one.
Johnny Curren: The USC offensive line vs. the Stanford front seven. The Trojans' offensive line has put together two consecutive solid performances, but they haven’t faced anything close to what the Cardinal possess up front. Headlined by outside linebacker Trent Murphy, the Stanford front seven is the driving force behind a defense that averages 3.3 sacks per game and allows less than 100 yards on the ground. They played a pivotal role in Stanford’s victory over Oregon last Thursday, limiting the vaunted Ducks rushing attack to just 62 yards. No matter how well the Trojans perform defensively, if the offensive line can’t open up some rushing lanes while also keeping the Cardinal defenders out of the face of Cody Kessler, USC won’t stand a chance in this one.
Greg Katz: The key matchup will be the Stanford offensive line vs. the Trojans defensive line. We will find out if the Cardinal O-line’s physical play can overpower the Trojans' D-line, especially in the fourth quarter. Stanford lives to take 2-yard gains in the first quarter and turn them into 7-yard gains in the fourth quarter – especially during crunch time. If the lack of depth along the Trojans' defensive front is still in question after 10 games, we’re sure to find out the answer on Saturday night. Assuming the Trojans can score just enough points on offense to get a lead into the final quarter, it really gets down to whether Clancy Pendergast’s defensive front seven can hold up to the physical pounding the Cardinal will surely bring.
What is the moment or play that stands out to you from 2011 game?
Paskwietz: As much as I would like to pick the Robey interception, since it recaptured an energy that hadn’t been seen in the Coliseum in a while, I have to go with the penalty call against T.J. McDonald for the hit on Chris Owusu. I’ll grant that it was a bang-bang play that featured a hard hit, but I also firmly believe that it was not a foul on McDonald. The unfortunate thing for the Trojans is that the play call absolutely was a turning point. The USC defense had been playing so well against the Cardinal but couldn’t stop Andrew Luck and company from that point on in the game.
Curren: The play that sticks out to me is Matt Barkley’s pass to Robert Woods in Stanford territory at the end of regulation. With the game tied 34-34 with nine seconds left, Barkley hit Woods on a play that took just a little too long to develop. After running completely across the field following his catch, Woods was tackled at the Cardinal 33 with what appeared to be one second left on the clock. And with one timeout remaining, it looked as though USC would get a shot at a game-winning field goal. Ultimately, however, the referees determined with some controversy that time had expired before a timeout could be called, and USC wound up on the losing end of the triple-overtime thriller.
Katz: Boy, that game had such great memories, even though the Trojans lost in triple overtime. The moment that stands out here is when Trojans corner Nickell Robey picked off Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and ran it 32 yards into the end zone to give the Trojans a 34-27 lead with 3:08 to play. It seemed almost too good to be true, as it sure looked like the Trojans were about to pull it out. In the end, however, it was too good to be true because Luck was too good and marched his Stanford team right down the field to tie the game in regulation and eventually the triple-overtime victory.
Which player or position group will rise up in a big way for the Trojans on Saturday?
Paskwietz: The Trojans offensive line. It's group that has been maligned at times this year but has shown steady progress despite some injury-related shuffling among the starters in recent weeks. This game offers a step up in competition with a strong Stanford defensive line, and it’s a challenge that the USC group will need to accept if the Trojans are to have a chance in this game. If the offensive line can give Kessler time and open up holes for the run game, it will go a long way toward a USC victory.
Curren: The USC wide receivers. While the Stanford defense has been absolutely stellar against the run, the Cardinal secondary has had temporary lapses in coverage, giving up 250.1 yards per game, which ranks No. 98 in the country. Because of that, I think that the Trojans might be able to find some success through the air. And with five healthy scholarship wideouts now at the disposal of the USC offense, there’s reason to believe that Marqise Lee & Co. could play a large role in the outcome.
Katz: I believe the player that will rise up in a big way for the Trojans on Saturday will be quarterback Cody Kessler. Kessler has been getting better and more confident each week, and the players around him have also improved dramatically. The reason Kessler will play big is because he knows the type of pass rush he will get from Stanford, and the Trojans will have a game plan with more play-action passes and improvised quarterback runs. Because of his underrated ability to run, Kessler will have the green light to take off and run downfield, which will force the Stanford defense to stay at home and play honest. I expect Kessler to play the best game of his young career on Saturday.