Kalil leading resurgent offensive line

LOS ANGELES -- There has been a lot of talk about Stanford being a physical football team, and deservedly so. With the kind of numbers the Cardinal are putting up on both sides of the ball, it's hard to argue with what they've done so far this season.

USC, however, comes into the game with a lot of confidence about its ability to play physical football, too. Not too many people around the country thought USC could to go into South Bend and push around the Irish the way it did, and now the Trojans are ready to show that last weekend's performance was no fluke.

One of the catalysts for that physical style of play was the cornerstone of the offensive line, left tackle Matt Kalil. It always helps to have one of the elite left tackles in college football when going into hostile territory. The Trojans have gone into Notre Dame Stadium with some pretty good offensive linemen through the years, and Kalil was the latest to help lead his team to a victory.

"I think it was our first game really establishing ourselves as a run team," Kalil said. "We kind of struggled the first few games of the season, but I think we're coming along and the chemistry of the line is good now."

It's no secret that the offensive line was thought to be the most pressing concern for the team coming into the season. While there was a bit of a rough start finding a rotation, the line has been fairly consistent (only four allowed sacks of Matt Barkley through seven games) and is now becoming a solid unit.

"It was such a question mark at left guard," Kalil said. "I played next to three different guys in the first three games. Now Marcus [Martin] is finally established and we're able to get that relationship and that bond. That's been the biggest key to the line clicking in all phases."

The Trojans will need a line that is performing at a high level if they have any hope of moving the ball on the ground. While Stanford's defensive front might not be as dominant as it was last season, it's still a very good group.

Some of the numbers the Stanford defense has put up so far in 2011: rushing defense, 75.57 yards per game; sacks per game, 3.57; first downs allowed, 16.29; scoring defense, 12.57 points per game. Those marks, and four other defensive stats, lead the Pac-12 Conference. The Cardinal's rush defense ranks third nationally, behind only Alabama and Cincinnati.

There are some who will say the Cardinal haven't played the toughest schedule, somewhat skewing the numbers. That could be true, but it's also true that Stanford usually has jumped out to big leads, which means opponents are forced to pass more to try and catch up, resulting in fewer rushing stats. Even with all that, Stanford's stats aren't possible without playing some pretty fundamental football.

"Like Stanford always is, they're a bunch of tough, aggressive guys," Kalil said. "They've got a stout defensive front, fast linebackers. Overall just a well-rounded defense.

"They're high motor guys and they like to get after it. They're one of the top teams in the nation in sacks because they don't give up. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us."

This will be the biggest test of the year for the Trojans' offensive line, and for Kalil it will be a tremendous opportunity to show the national television audience that he is the next elite USC offensive lineman. The NFL draft experts think a lot of him. Todd McShay of ESPN/Scouts, Inc. recently projected Kalil as the No. 2 selection in his 2012 mock NFL draft. That's some pretty lofty praise for any player, but right now Kalil has his focus set squarely on the task at hand -- building on the momentum gained last week in South Bend.

"I think we showed against Notre Dame that we can be physical too," Kalil said. "We can impose our will on a defensive line and that's our mindset this week heading into Stanford."

Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at garry@wearesc.com.