When the USC Trojans take the field against the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday night, they’ll be facing one of the elite defenses in college football.
The Cardinal check in at 20th in total defense nationally. Their defending against the run this season puts them ninth in the country and first in the Pac-12, giving up just under one hundred yards per game and conceding just five rushing touchdowns all season. They hold opposing runners to a Pac-12 best 3.25 yards per carry. They’re also fourth in sacks and 11th in tackles for loss.
However, the Stanford pass defense trails behind significantly. Giving up an average of 250 passing yards per game, they rank 97th nationally. They’ve given up 15 touchdowns through the air while nabbing just nine interceptions.
At the front of defense, the Cardinal boast four senior starters. However, they will be without Ben Gardner, the standout defensive end. Henry Anderson has been called in to replace Gardner along with Blake Lueders and Luke Kaumatule, though Lueders is a converted linebacker and Laumatule is a converted tight end.
Meanwhile Josh Mauro has logged four sacks this season and leads the defensive line in tackles. He was a massive part of the Stanford win over Oregon with eight tackles, three of which dropped a Duck behind the line of scrimmage.
Trent Murphy, another senior, headlines the line backing corp. He leads the Cardinal with 10 sacks, matching his 2012 total, and is a semifinalist for the Benarik Award. However, he only has 37 tackles this year. Outpacing him in that category is Shayne Skov, whose 72 tackles top all Cardinal defenders. Skov was a menace against Oregon, forcing two fumbles and finishing with nine tackles, including two tackles for loss. A.J. Tarpley also covers the middle of the field with 66 tackles, second best on the team. James Vaughters, the only third year player in the front seven, has three sacks from the second outside linebacker position.
In the secondary, Alex Carter may be the lone sophomore in the starting defense, but he has 17 career starts to his name. On the right side, Wayne Lyons makes his name. He has 48 tackles, including four for a loss, which is best among defensive backs.
Stanford’s two safeties were collectively on nearly every preseason All-America team possible. Strong safety Jordan Richards leads the team with three interceptions, two of which came against Brett Hundley in the UCLA game. Ed Reynolds, the free safety, comes in third on the team with 58 tackles.
Projected Starting Lineup:
DE #90 Josh Mauro
DT #58 David Parry
DE #91 Henry Anderson
OR #43 Blake Lueders
OLB #93 Trent Murphy
ILB #17 A.J. Tarpley
ILB #11 Shayne Skov
OLB #9 James Vaughters
LC #25 Alex Carter
FS #29 Ed Reynolds
SS #8 Jordan Richards
RC #2 Wayne Lyons
NB #15 Usua Amanam