Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller looks at two steps USC needs to take to upset the Cardinal. Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmell counters with two steps Stanford must take to avoid the upset on the road.
Ted Miller: There are two steps that USC needs to take to upset Stanford. The first is to at least approach a stalemate at the line of scrimmage. That's easier said than done. Seven previous opponents have tried, and all seven badly failed. The next step is for Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley to attack a Cardinal secondary that has shown some vulnerability at times and will be missing its leader, safety Delano Howell. Start with the line of scrimmage. Stanford faces another highly rated run defense in the Coliseum after it utterly trenched one a week ago. Before Washington gave up 446 rushing yards to the Cardinal, it ranked 17th in the nation in run defense, yielding less than 100 yards per game. Now it gives up an average of 147 yards per game. USC boasts the nation's No. 11 run defense, surrendering just 91 yards per game. How might that number look on Sunday? Forget shutting down the Stanford ground attack. But what about holding it to, say, 150 yards? Same thing on the other side of the ball. Stanford ranks third in the nation in run defense (75.6 yards per game). What if the Trojans, who showcased a suddenly potent running game at Notre Dame, can get at least, say, 125? That seems like it would be enough to slow down the Pac-12's best pass rush, which should give Barkley time to connect with Robert Woods and company. In last season's 37-35 loss at Stanford, Barkley outplayed Andrew Luck, throwing for 390 yards and three touchdowns. If he can be as efficient again Saturday, and the Trojans' lines hold their ground, USC has a chance to end the Cardinal's 15-game winning streak and national title hopes.
Kevin Gemmell: There are two steps that Stanford has to take to avoid the upset. And the first starts on offense. Trees Company, Tree Amigos, whatever you want to call them, the tight ends are the difference-makers in this game, as they have been all season for the Cardinal offense. USC has an athletic secondary, and maybe outstanding safety T.J. McDonald (6-foot-3, 34 tackles, two interceptions) can take one of the three tight ends out of a play. But what do you do when the other two are on the field at the same time? It's the formations with Coby Fleener (6-foot-6), Zach Ertz (6-6) and Levine Toilolo (6-8) that make the Cardinal so difficult to defend. And then when they motion fullback Ryan Hewitt (15 catches, 143 yards, three touchdowns) out of the backfield, the 6-4, former tight end gives Luck a fourth receiving option that towers above the rest of the USC secondary. Plus, USC has been susceptible to big games by other tight ends this season. That's a mismatch the Cardinal will likely exploit every chance they get. The second step should be fairly obvious to anyone who has watched a Stanford game this season. Defensively, it all comes down to tackling. Stanford head coach David Shaw said after Week 1 that missed tackles in the secondary is what loses games. His players haven't proven him right yet -- specifically because they have been able to make the proper adjustments mid-game. But USC is faster than any team the Cardinal have faced this season, so one or two missed tackles could quickly turn into seven or 14 points. Last week we saw the Cardinal miss several one-on-one tackles that led to big plays for Washington early in the game. The emphasis this week has been on gang tackling, wrapping up and not simply dropping the shoulder. USC's offensive skill players will just bounce right off of that. Wrap up on defense, wrap up the win.