USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Coach Lane Kiffin will look to avenge last… (Rich Schultz / Getty Images )
USC is in the Bay Area for its Pac-12 Conference opener, seeking its first victory over Stanford since 2008. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at the game's matchups and story lines:
USC quarterback Matt Barkley insisted all week that the game against the Cardinal was no different from any other.
In terms of his approach, that's correct. But a Trojans victory would end the senior's three-game losing streak against the only Pac-12 opponent he has not defeated.
Barkley had his team positioned to win in each of the previous two seasons, only to have two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck foil the Trojans' efforts.
Now, Barkley is the Heisman Trophy front-runner. He has passed for 10 touchdowns in two games. Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee face a Cardinal defense that ranks 99th among 120 major college teams against the pass, though safety Ed Reynolds has three interceptions.
Luck is in the NFL, so Stanford is relying on junior quarterback Josh Nunes to lead a fourth consecutive victory over the Trojans, which would be a first in a series that dates to 1905.
Nunes, who played at Upland High, has passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.
USC's pass defense was adequate against Hawaii but suspect in the second half against Syracuse.
Silas Redd has carried the ball 24 times for USC, Curtis McNeal 16.
And while USC Coach Lane Kiffin said that nothing should be read into the numbers, Redd's 107-yard effort against Syracuse showed that he could emerge as the starting tailback.
USC's offensive line would welcome the opportunity to run block and establish a rhythm and confidence.
Redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi played in place of senior center Khaled Holmes last week against Syracuse after Holmes was carted off the field with an apparent leg injury in the fourth quarter.
Stanford's 3-4 defense, featuring nose guard Terrence Stephens and linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov, presents multiple fronts.
"With that odd look that they have, you never know really who's coming," Barkley said.
Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is averaging 92.5 yards rushing per game.
The Cardinal's offensive line is not as experienced as last season's dominating unit but remains solid. Freshmen Kyle Murphy and Andrus Peat, who chose Stanford over USC on signing day in February, have played and could have larger roles Saturday.
Stanford is among the least-penalized teams in major college football.
The Cardinal has committed only six penalties for 37 yards, which ranks 10th best.
USC has been flagged 20 times for 156 yards, ranking 112th.
"We've got to make better decisions," Kiffin said. "We've got to coach better and we've got to play better and we will this week."
Best foot forward
This is exactly the kind of game that injured USC kicker Andre Heidari was looking forward to possibly deciding.
Now, the late-game pressure could fall on the leg of freshman walk-on Alex Wood, who kicked six extra points but did not attempt a field goal last week against Syracuse.
USC punter Kyle Negrete has been effective, and kick returners Woods, Lee and Nickell Robey are capable of scoring every time they touch the ball.
Stanford's Jordan Williamson has made five of six field-goal attempts.
Teammate Drew Terrell returned a punt for a touchdown and also has caught two touchdown passes.
USC is an 8 1/2 -point favorite. But the Trojans found out in 2007 that point spreads don't always mean much.
They were 41-point favorites over Stanford before the Cardinal won at the Coliseum, 24-23, to start a run of four victories over the Trojans in five seasons.
USC won at Stanford, 45-23, in 2008. But Stanford routed the Trojans, 55-21, in 2009; won in 2010 on a last-second field goal, 37-35; and prevailed last year in triple overtime, 56-48.