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USC vs. Stanford: Trojans face a tense present against Stanford and an uncertain future this season

Saturday's game against the 16th-ranked Cardinal looms as a pivotal test. After a home loss to Washington that knocked the Trojans out of the top 25, a second consecutive defeat could leave their season headed south.

October 08, 2010|By Gary Klein

As questions about its future abound, USC tries to bounce back from a last-second loss to Washington. Stanford lost last week at Oregon, but the No. 16 Cardinal remains in the race for the Rose Bowl. Staff writer Gary Klein looks at the matchups and issues surrounding the game:

Art of the deal

Last year's "What's your deal?" postgame exchange between former USC coach Pete Carroll and Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh spawned a popular ticket plan that generated $100,000 in revenue for Stanford.

But there seems to be no residual bad blood between Harbaugh and new Trojans Coach Lane Kiffin.

Harbaugh, who sparked Carroll's ire by going for a two-point conversion late in the Cardinal's 55-21 rout at the Coliseum, this week brushed off his "deal" with Carroll, now the coach of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

"That horse has been beaten pretty well," Harbaugh said during a weekly Pacific 10 Conference teleconference.

Kiffin dismissed it as irrelevant to Saturday's matchup.

"Unless they've got the Seahawks on the schedule this year or something, I don't think it really matters," he said.

Arms race

This game features the top-rated quarterbacks in the Pac-10.

USC's Matt Barkley continues to play effectively -- he leads the Pac-10 and is 14th nationally in passing efficiency -- but he misfired on his last two throws against Washington, either of which might have clinched a victory for the Trojans.

Stanford intercepted three Barkley passes last season, Richard Sherman returning one for a touchdown.

Stanford's Andrew Luck is regarded as a possible top pick in the 2011 NFL draft, which doesn't come as particularly good news for a Trojans defense that is ranked 116th among 120 major college teams in pass defense and was torched last week by Jake Locker.

Luck had one of his lowest passing-yardage totals against USC last season -- 144 yards -- but that was on a day the Cardinal called on running back Toby Gerhart 29 times. Luck has completed 63% of his passes this season and has thrown for 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. He leads an offense that is converting 58% of its third-down attempts, which ranks second nationally.

In a rush

Allen Bradford earned the start at tailback for USC after rushing for 223 yards and two touchdowns last week. The fifth-year senior is averaging 100 yards a game and 9.8 yards a carry.

With Heisman Trophy runner-up Gerhart gone to the NFL, Stanford relies on several backs. Stepfan Taylor has rushed for 378 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Gaffney has scored three touchdowns but sat out against Oregon because of injury. Owen Marecic starts at fullback and linebacker.

Luck also is a running threat -- he's the Cardinal's second-leading rusher -- as USC learned last season when he repeatedly escaped the rush and ran for first downs.

Front and center

Stanford center Chase Beeler, tackle Jonathan Martin and guards Andrew Phillips and David DeCastro are returning offensive-line starters and part of a group that has given up only two sacks.

Fifth-year senior Derek Hall and sixth-year senior James McGillicuddy also are part of a unit that shifts into various unbalanced alignments to confuse defenses and create mismatches.

USC's offensive line, led by senior center Kristofer O'Dowd, led the way for Bradford last week and was disappointed when Kiffin chose to pass rather than run for what could have been a game-clinching first down late in the fourth quarter. The line has given up five sacks.

Leg up

Kiffin spent the week quipping about the Trojans' kicking game but he won't be laughing if he sees no improvement.

Joe Houston has made only two of six field-goal attempts, prompting Kiffin to open the competition between Houston and Jake Harfman.

Stanford's Nate Whitaker has made all nine of his field-goal attempts.

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