USC Trojans (4-1, 1-1) at No. 16 Stanford (4-1, 1-1)
Stars: QB Andrew Luck, FB/LB Owen Marecic
Time: :00 PM PDT
Radio: KXSC (listen at kscr.org), 710AM
Andrew Luck is a superb quarterback for Stanford. He has thrown four interceptions in his last two games, but his accuracy is still something to fear. He tore up USC’s secondary last year, and a repeat of that performance isn’t out of the question. Furthermore, USC must worry about the running ability of Luck. He can drop back and find holes to run through and move the chains if the secondary has good coverage. The Cardinal have found a suitable replacements for Toby Gerhart at running back. They utilize a running back by committee approach, but Stepfan Taylor leads the team in rushing with 378 yards (5.0 yards per carry). For those who love old-school football, Stanford linebacker and fullback Owen Marecic is the ideal player. He plays both sides of the ball at linebacker and fullback. At Notre Dame, he scored a touchdown on consecutive plays by running it in and then returning an interception for a score.
Stanford’s defense is a question mark heading into the weekend. There are some possible injuries in the secondary, and that wouldn’t bode well for a young and inexperienced unit. The Cardinal went the first four games playing physical defense, but Oregon exposed some weaknesses up front. The defense was presumed to be the weaker side of the ball in 2010, and if USC is going to pull off the upset, they must take advantage of the defense.
Allen Bradford is the starting tailback for USC on Saturday after turning in an unbelievable performance against Washington. The offensive line blasted Washington off the ball, and they will need to do the same to put up points and establish a running game early. Also likely to see more action is Dillon Baxter, whose attitude has seemed to have turned around after being suspended for the first game.
Matt Barkley missed two key passes in the loss to Washington and cited his reluctance to turn the ball over as the reason for not turning loose. The gut feeling here is that he abandons his inhibitions and plays without fear at Stanford. With a weak secondary and a strong running game working in his favor, Barkley will likely air it out to Ronald Johnson and look to stretch the field and gain momentum.
For USC to slow down the Stanford attack, the linebackers and secondary must improve. The linebackers have been nearly non-existent when it comes to making big plays, and they will need to be around the football. Furthermore, the secondary can’t allow wide receivers to have 5 yards of space to operate untouched. With problems in the secondary, USC isn’t allowed to blitz because they must commit too heavily to coverage. As a result, the pass rush hasn’t been overly effective. Working in USC’s favor is the fact that Stanford runs a relatively pro-style offense. Monte Kiffin earned his reputation stopping that style of offense, and the game plan should be impeccable. The defense is on the hot seat this week and needs to show the fans that it isn’t soft.
The battle will be an uphill one in Palo Alto, but not an impossible one. If USC comes out focused and executes with discipline, they can escape Palo Alto with a victory and rejoin the conversation as a Pac-10 contender.
Stats of the Week: The line this week is the largest amount of points USC has given since 1998 against Florida State. Meanwhile, USC has only lost to Stanford four times in Palo Alto since 1956.
Final Score Prediction: USC 45 – Stanford 42