Of the 88 times USC and Stanford have faced each other on the gridiron, the Trojans have dominated the series with 58 wins, but when the two meet this weekend in the Coliseum, Stanford will be the higher-ranked team riding the nation’s longest winning streak. It’s a streak that began against the Trojans last season, when a field goal as time expired gave the Cardinal the win, 37-35.
Behind future number one draft pick Andrew Luck and a hard-nosed rushing attack, Stanford is still at the top of its game, even with a new coaching staff following the departure of Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers. USC, though, nearly beat them last year – and this year’s USC team is much better than it was a season ago.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck gets all the press, but his USC counterpart, Matt Barkley, boasts nearly identical stats heading into their matchup.
The Trojans have their own top-tier quarterback in junior Matt Barkley, who could potentially follow in Luck’s hypothetical Heisman-winning footsteps in 2012, should he decide to stick around.
The two QBs boast nearly identical stats: Luck has 20 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a 71.8% completion percentage, while Barkley has 19 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a 68% completion rate.
Despite all the hype surrounding Luck, he hasn’t had any standout performances in 2011, just game after game of sharp throws, smart plays, and wins. He hasn’t had to do too much, thanks to airtight protection from his offensive line, which has surrendered just two sacks this year, and running backs who carry most of the load in Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney, who led the Cardinal’s 446 yard offensive onslaught against Washington last week.
Barkley, on the other hand, has had to take over on and off the field since he was a true freshman. As a third-year junior, he matched the own school record for touchdowns in a game for the second time in his career, with five against Syracuse in September. In the shootout against Arizona, Barkley broke former Heisman winner Carson Palmer’s school record for passing yards in a single game with 468.
In the Trojans’ best game so far, the 31-17 win over Notre Dame, tailbacks Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal stepped up, combining for 185 yards on 37 carries. It was the most consistent and well-balanced rush USC has fielded this season, while the passing game was less of a factor. Tyler and McNeal will need to repeat their performances against Stanford for the Trojans to have a chance, especially with receiver Robert Woods’ playing status unclear.
USC's leading receiver, Robert Woods, could be limited against Stanford due to an ankle injury, which would greatly affect the Trojans' chances against the Cardinal.
USC is just one week removed from the bye week, but not everyone was able to recover fully yet. Barkley’s main target, one of the Woods, is questionable due to an ankle injury. Without him, USC will turn to true freshman Marqise Lee, who is second on the team in total yards with 440; Woods, with 902, also leads the conference with 72 catches for 8 yards. Woods had a phenomenal game against the Cardinal last season, with 12 catches for 224 yards and 3 touchdowns, but given his injury status, it’s unlikely he’ll have another day like that.
He’s not the only key Trojan who might be affected by injuries this week. His high school teammate, George Farmer, who just switched from receiver to running back, is also fighting an ankle injury. Even more significantly, Trojans’ kicker Andre Heidari is still healing from a sprained ankle suffered against Notre Dame. He missed a 32-yarder against the Irish because his ankle was heavily damaged, but he returned to kick an extra point later. USC will have to hope he’s ready to go this weekend, just in case this game comes down to a field goal.
USC has to hope its offense can score and the defense can help give them a bigger cushion. Even with two excellent quarterbacks, the game might ultimately be decided by the strength of the defenses. Stanford’s is tough against the run, one of USC’s weaknesses to this point, allowing just 75.5 rushing yards per game. The defense has also been averaging 3.75 sacks per game, which will be a big test for the USC O-line that’s just starting to hit its rhythm.
USC’s defense, the team’s Achilles’ heel throughout 2010, has a powerful offense to try to stop. The secondary isn’t the best, but Stanford’s gotten to this point with a run-first offense, and the Trojans’ defense is eleventh against the run, only allowing 91.9 yards per game. Bottling up the run this weekend will put more pressure on Luck, something that hasn’t happened much (if at all) this season, and will give USC’s offense the advantage.
It won’t be an easy task, but if last year’s squad could go on the road and almost get the win, this year’s team, which is playing its best football of the year right now, has a good chance to pull the upset at home.