Stanford-Southern Cal Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated October 26, 2011
While much has been made about Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck's tremendous play under center, Stanford's running game is starting to emerge as one of the best in the country. With their offense clicking on all cylinders, the fourth-ranked Cardinal try to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 16 games when they visit No. 20 USC in a prime-time matchup Saturday night. Luck, who ranks fifth in the FBS with a 180.0 quarterback rating and eighth with 20 touchdown passes, has Stanford (7-0, 5-0 Pac-12) off to its best start since opening 9-0 in 1951. The likely No. 1 overall pick in next year's NFL draft, however, took a back seat to the Cardinal rushing attack during last Saturday's 65-21 rout of then-No. 22 Washington, throwing for a season-low 169 yards and two touchdowns. Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and Jeremy Stewart combined for five rushing TDs as Stanford compiled a school-record 446 yards on the ground. "We were very aware of it when we broke (the record)," Luck said. "What a testament to the o-line, to the coaches, to the tight ends, to the receivers. It was a total team effort on the ground, and most of all to the backs making it happen. "As a quarterback, it's real fun to get the snap, hand it off and see those big guys work. And it's somewhat of a thing of beauty to see those 300-pounders move on their feet." The Cardinal's 219.4 rushing yards per game rank 17th in the nation. They are tied for 12th in the FBS with 20 rushing TDs. "We're more than just Andrew Luck," coach David Shaw said. "We've got a good team. We've got a physical team. We've got backs after backs. We can play both styles of football." Stanford, the first team to win 10 straight by at least 25 points in 75 years, could be in for its toughest challenge of the season against the Trojans (6-1, 3-1), who enter Saturday riding a three-game winning streak. "This margin of victory thing, we could care less about it," Shaw said. "That doesn't do anything for us. We've got to find a way to end up with at least one more point than USC by the end of the game." While the Trojans own the edge in the all-time series, Stanford has taken three of the last four meetings. Luck completed 20 of 24 passes for 285 yards and three scores as the Cardinal defeated USC 37-35 on a field goal as time expired Oct. 9, 2010 - the first of Stanford's school-record 15 straight wins. As if having one of the top teams in college football coming to town wasn't enough to worry about, USC has had to deal with two off-the-field distractions this week. The Trojans came under scrutiny after linebacker Chris Galippo accused Notre Dame of quitting in the final minutes of USC's 31-17 road win last Saturday. He later apologized on his Twitter feed and in a statement from the school. On Tuesday, coach Lane Kiffin announced that running back Dillon Baxter, once considered one of the nation's most prized recruits, is no longer part of the team. "There was no word in there (like) suspension," Kiffin said. "We're done talking about it. ... This is all about no distractions, so it's why we're not answering questions. We don't want our players or our coaches dealing with it. Our team has had great focus over the last couple of weeks on the road, and the last thing we want to do is get distracted. "We're focused on the guys that are here. We're focused on getting ready to play maybe the best team in the country." The Trojans will likely need another big game out of Matt Barkley if they hope to pull off an upset. The junior quarterback has thrown nine touchdowns and just one interception during USC's three-game winning streak. Barkley will surely continue to look Robert Woods' way early and often. The sophomore wideout, who ranks second in the nation in both receptions (72) and receiving yards per game (128.9), hauled in 12 passes for 119 yards and two TDs versus the Irish. Barkley had 390 passing yards in last season's meeting with Stanford, while Woods had 12 catches for 224 yards and a career best-tying three scores.
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