Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

USC vs. Stanford: Previewing the Cardinal Defense

USC vs. Stanford will headline the Pac-12 slate on Saturday, as the Trojans look to find a way to move the ball on a powerful yet inexperienced Stanford D.

Despite losing key starters like Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner, the Stanford defense will be tasked with once more providing the bedrock for the Cardinal in 2014.

Still, it will be an uphill battle to maintain a place as one of the West’s elite defenses.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With senior lineman Henry Anderson leading the defensive front along with seniors David Parry and Blake Lueders, the Cardinal will field a formidable rushing defense just as they did in 2013 when they allowed just 89.71 yards per game.

At linebacker, senior A.J. Tarpley has stepped to the forefront after sitting in the shadow of Murphy and Skov at the center of the defense. Meanwhile juniors Kevin Anderson and Blake Martinez will attempt to replace the two departed defenders respectively.

Of course, that will be a tough ask. Skov led Stanford in tackles in both 2012 and 2013. Meanwhile, Murphy accounted for the largest chunk of their tackles for loss and sacks, an arena Skov contributed to as well. Between Murphy, Skov, Mauro and Gardner, the Cardinal lost nearly half of their tackles for loss in 2013. That group accounted for 29 of Stanford’s 44 sacks as well.

Junior cornerback Alex Carter headlines the secondary, which will hurt after the dual loss of Ed Reynolds and Devon Carrington.

Those losses are of particular concern considering the Cardinal’s less-than-spectacular pass defense in 2013.

Though there are holes in the defense, the Cardinal still boast four players on the Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch lists for the coming season — one at each level of the defense. Anderson, Carter, Tarpley and senior safety Jordan Richards all made the cut.

In the opening game of the season, the Cardinal faced an outmatched UC Davis team, so the dominant performance has to be taken for what it was — a massive mismatch.

Stanford did what they were supposed to do, forcing three turnovers and logging eight tackles for loss including four sacks.

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