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Looking for health at home : USC (7-2, 4-2) VS. STANFORD (6-3, 5-2) Today at the Coliseum, 12:30 p.m., Prime Ticket

November 14, 2009|Gary Klein

USC, with an outside chance of winning an eighth consecutive Pacific 10 Conference title, plays the first of three consecutive home games to end the regular season. Stanford, bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001, opened as a 10-point underdog. That's 31 fewer than the last time Stanford visited the Coliseum. And we all know how that turned out. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the game's key issues and matchups:

It's a showcase for freshman quarterbacks -- one less than a year out of high school, the other less than two.

USC's Matt Barkley started fast but has recently struggled. The true freshman has completed 57% of his passes with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Young guns

The offense has sputtered the last six quarters, and it won't get any easier for Barkley, with leading receiver/punt returner Damian Williams sidelined because of a high ankle sprain. The return of tight end Anthony McCoy and fullback Stanley Havili should help, however, against a team ranked 102nd in pass defense among 120 major-college teams.

Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh, never shy from making bold statements, said last month that redshirt freshman Andrew Luck was the best quarterback in the country.

Luck has played like it, completing 58% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has rushed for 227 yards and a touchdown.

If Luck is hurt or ineffective, Harbaugh can always turn to senior Tavita Pritchard, who etched a place in Stanford lore by engineering the Cardinal's 2007 upset of USC in his first college start.

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Power game

USC must establish its running game, with tailbacks Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford sharing the workload. McKnight has not scored a touchdown in the last three games, Bradford the last two.

Stanford's Toby Gerhart has rushed for 16 touchdowns, four shy of the Stanford single-season record set by "Touchdown Tommy" Vardell in 1991.

Gerhart is coming off a 223-yard rushing effort against Oregon, a Stanford single-game record.

Both teams feature good fullbacks.

Havili has recovered from a shoulder injury and is a threat as a runner and receiver.

Stanford's Owen Marecic is mainly a blocker for Gerhart. He also started last week at middle linebacker.

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Receiving line

With Williams sidelined, the Trojans are hoping that Ronald Johnson and Brice Butler can pick up the slack for a wide receiver corps that has nobody with more than 11 catches.

McKnight has 17 receptions, McCoy 16 and Havili 14. Butler, the son of former NFL cornerback Bobby Butler, makes his first start.

Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu have 43 and 30 receptions, respectively, for the Cardinal.

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Holding their ground

USC's offensive line, particularly tackles Charles Brown and Tyron Smith, struggled last week against Arizona State.

It should be easier against a Stanford defense that ranks last in the Pac-10 in tackles for losses, though end Thomas Keiser has seven sacks.

Stanford's offensive line is a veteran group that leads the way for Gerhart and has given up only six sacks, fifth-fewest nationally.

USC's defensive line ranks second nationally with 32 sacks, but end Everson Griffen is nursing a toe injury.

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Carroll vs. Harbaugh

It's not Southeastern Conference mudslinging, but Harbaugh and Carroll have bantered over the last few years.

Harbaugh said the 2007 season would be Carroll's last at USC. Then, at Pac-10 media day that year, he proclaimed that USC was perhaps the greatest team in college football history.

A few months later, Stanford upset the Trojans on Pritchard's last-minute pass to Mark Bradford.

Now, it's Harbaugh who is the subject of NFL speculation, especially with his brother, John, doing well as coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

"I think Jim would do a great job in the league," Carroll said, chuckling.

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By the numbers

*--* USC CATEGORY STAN 28.3 Scoring 34.0 18.0 Points given up 24.6 221.6 Passing offense 232.0 186.0 Rushing offense 211.0 407.6 Total offense 443.0 219.0 Passing defense 250.3 114.6 Rushing defense 138.6 333.6 Total defense 388.9 *--*

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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