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Stanford Cardinal at USC Trojans: Preview and Pick
Stanford Cardinal at USC Trojans: Preview and Pick
At the start of the college football season, this game would have been a headline game for the week with possible BCS Championship implications on the line. But a slow start to the season for the USC Trojans changed all of that as they fired their head coach. That change inspired this team and they have played much better football, but this week they will get their biggest challenge of the season when they go up against the Stanford Cardinal. The Cardinal will have extra rest after defeating the Oregon Ducks on Thursday night.
Stanford Cardinal at USC Trojans Odds
The college football odds for this game will be interesting to watch. Stanford is the better football team and they have the higher ranking in the college football polls, but the Trojans will be at home playing in front of their fans. Make sure to check out your top rated online sportsbooks leading up to this kickoff of this Pac 12 thriller.
The Trojans beat a weak Cal Golden Bears team this week even though they were dealing with injuries. USC senior outside linebacker Morgan Breslin will undergo surgery for a hip injury, interim coach Ed Orgeron announced after practice Wednesday. Breslin led the Trojans in sacks in 2012 with 13 and was named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team.
USC's Homecoming game against No. 6 Stanford in the Coliseum will kick off at 5 p.m. PT and will be aired nationally on ABC. That makes this a big game for the Trojans from a recruiting stand point among other things. Southern Cal has barely registered in the polls since early September; the Trojans got a single vote in last week's USA Today Coaches Poll, and were left out of the AP Top 25 completely. Despite the slow start the Trojans still have a shot at a title.
They helped their cause with the win over Cal. Southern Cal annihilated the Cal Golden Bears 62-28 Saturday, racking up 500 yards of total offense, returning three punts for scores, and reasserting their position in the Pac-12 South Division race. USC maintains its position in a four-way race for the division title, and a win against Stanford would make waves in conference as well as across the college football landscape.
A win would make the Trojans relevant again for the first time since they lost their head coach.
Stanford Cardinal at USC Trojans Pick
With plenty of time before kickoff we will wait for more information to come in before we select a side on this contest. Make sure to check back on the day of the game to see who we select as our winner for this big game.
USC has not defeated Stanford since 2008, a four-game losing streak that began with the infamous "What's your deal?" blowout at the Coliseum and continued with last season's loss at Stanford Stadium.
Ed Orgeron, the Trojans' interim coach, has been a part of the last three games, including the Trojans' triple-overtime loss at the Coliseum two years ago.
On Sunday, Orgeron reviewed last year's 21-14 defeat, and also took stock of another physical Cardinal team that moved up to No. 5 in the polls and No. 4 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
"You have to fight with them toe to toe," Orgeron said during a teleconference with reporters. "You need a complete game."
Stanford is 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the Pac-12 Conference after defeating Oregon, 26-20, last Thursday.
USC improved to 7-3 overall, 4-2 in the Pac-12 and 4-1 under Orgeron with a 62-28 victory at California.
The effort did not push the Trojans into the Top 25, but they did garner votes.
They will have a national stage to make their case when they play Stanford at the Coliseum on Saturday. ESPN's "College GameDay" show will originate from USC.
"It's good for the university, it's great for recruiting, it's great for the crowd," Orgeron said.
Orgeron again praised USC's offensive line and described the punt return unit as "superb" after the Trojans tied an NCAA record by returning three punts for touchdowns against Cal. One of the punts was blocked.
The Trojans' first-unit defense "played OK," Orgeron said.
The defense will be bolstered against Stanford if end Leonard Williams returns from a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined against Cal. Orgeron said the sophomore is expected to play Saturday.
Tailback Silas Redd, however, is questionable because of a knee injury suffered against Cal. If Redd does not play, and Tre Madden remains sidelined because of a hamstring injury, Javorius Allen and freshman Ty Isaac would be the only available scholarship tailbacks.
Trojans players sounded confident after the victory over Cal.
"We handled our business, and Stanford is coming off a big win," freshman safety Su'a Cravens said. "We've got momentum rolling. It's going to be a great game."
Said junior tight end Xavier Grimble: "Man, I just love college football. You're going to get a great opportunity to play against a great team in a great atmosphere — that's what it's all about."
Stanford is one of the most physical teams in college football, boasting a deep and stout offensive line and an aggressive defensive front.
So USC players are eager to prove they can go toe to toe with the fifth-ranked Cardinal in Saturday's Pac-12 Conference game at the Coliseum.
"It's going to be a big man's game," said quarterback Cody Kessler, a phrase echoed by several teammates after the Trojans' victory over California last week.
USC has lost to Stanford four years in a row. But Trojans defensive lineman George Uko was respectfully matter-of-fact about the Cardinal in the immediate aftermath of the Cal game.
"They're not a high-powered offense," Uko said of a Stanford team that has averaged 31.9 points and 388.2 yards a game. "They're not a team that comes in and puts up 40, 50, 60 points on the board.
"What they do is physically try and demolish their opponents. ... Just BCS national championship defense is what they try to do."
Last year at Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal rushed for 202 yards — and limited USC to 26 — in a 21-14 victory.
Stanford has averaged 205 yards rushing a game this season. In last week's victory over Oregon, running back Tyler Gaffney rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown in 45 carries. The Cardinal finished with 274 yards rushing.
"They're going to come in and try and run the ball," Uko said. "But we've got a new defense this year, so it's different."
Defensive end Leonard Williams participated in Monday's brief workout, which was conducted without helmets or pads.
Williams sat out against Cal because of a shoulder injury, but interim Coach Ed Orgeron has said he expected Williams would play against Stanford.
Tailback Silas Redd (knee) did not attend practice.
Tailback Tre Madden (hamstring) and tight end Randall Telfer (knee) performed light drills with team athletic trainers.
Coaches and players are not made available to the media on Mondays during regular game weeks.
Getting lost in a crowd is easy. Such was the case for USC running back Buck Allen during the first half of this season.
Allen was lost in a sea of players, all competing for playing time at running back in the Trojans offense. A third-year sophomore, Allen spent the previous two years working out on scout team.
With senior running back Silas Redd nursing a knee injury sustained in spring practice, former head coach Lane Kiffin turned primarily to sophomore Tre Madden, with speedy true freshman Justin Davis providing an alternative option.
And the duo worked. But both were injured shortly after interim head coach Ed Orgeron took over, following Kiffin's firing on Sept. 29. Enter Allen.
He's been a breakout performer since, prompting an oft-repeated question, including from CBSSports.com reporter Bruce Feldman.
Orgeron passed the buck on Allen's emergence elsewhere within the staff.
"I really give all the credit to Tommie Robinson," Orgeron said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches call. "Tommie, since he came here as running backs coach, has liked Buck. Seems like he's going to be a pretty good player for us."
Orgeron said Robinson helped develop Allen on the field, while Allen fine-tuned his physique and power in the weight room. Robinson's work with him had Allen ready when offensive coordinator and new play-caller Clay Helton dialed up his number.
And indeed, the tweaked offensive philosophy USC has employed since Helton assumed the in-game duties has made the most of Allen's abilities. He's buoying the Trojans run game, if not improving it, as his running back mates heal.
USC's abundance of backs proved to be hugely beneficial. That a player of Allen's caliber was ready to step in with Madden nursing a hamstring injury and Davis lost to an ankle injury is a testament to the staff's recruiting.
"When [the coaching staff] arrived at USC three years ago, we thought one of the deficiencies on the roster was the big, USC tailback," he said. Orgeron alludes to the many backs in the program during its run of dominance in the mid-2000s, including Hershel Dennis, LenDale White and 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush.
"We went out and recruited some guys, and we're very proud of the guys we have," Orgergon continued. "It seems like we have a nice [group] of guys who can be great USC tailbacks."
The 6'1", 215-pound Allen is emerging as one of them.
Injuries may have provided him with his opportunity, but he's more than capitalized. His performance since landing more playing time is ensuring that he has a prominent role in the Trojans' final stretch of games this season and beyond.
"He fits well in the type of the scheme we have," Orgeron said. "Sort of a slasher. He can pick the hole well, break tackles. He does a good job of catching the ball out of the backfield. He's becoming a well-rounded back."
Allen bullied Cal's defense Saturday for his second straight game 100-yard game and third multiple-touchdown performance of the season. He reached the end zone three times, twice on runs and once on a 57-yard reception.
So where does Allen measure when compared to the many great running backs to come through USC?
"It's a little too early to tell," Orgeron said. "He's just came on the scene for us. We've had some of great backs here that have done a lot of great things for a long period of time. Let's see how consistent he can be for years to come. But I think he can be a really good one."
No matter what the future holds for Allen, he's presently a testament to how much an athlete can accomplish when afforded an opportunity.
In an interview with ESPN Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell, USC RB Javorius “Buck” Allen described USC’s transition to interim coach Ed Orgeron, “It hasn't been difficult. We all love Coach (Orgeron). He's a player's coach. He loves us, and he wants to see us happy and have fun. We really play off of that, and we want to win for him.”
USC is 4-1 under Coach Orgeron and its offense seems to have found an identity. USC has turned to its run game, led by Allen and Silas Redd, which has opened up the passing game for Cody Kessler and the Trojans.
- Orgeron’s return to the run
USC is averaging 181.2 rush yards per game under Ed Orgeron, which is comparable to its average in the first five games of the season under Lane Kiffin. However, the Trojans are running more often on early downs and finding success in doing so.
In their past five games, the Trojans have run on 70 percent of their first-down plays, an increase of eight percentage points from their first five games. They have averaged 5.8 yards per rush and gained a first down on 22 percent of their first-down rushes in those games.
Success on first down has resulted in increased efficiency on third down. USC ranked 112th in the FBS through its first five games with a 28 percent third-down conversion rate. With Orgeron at the helm, the Trojans have increased that rate to 36 percent, including 52 percent in their past two games.
- Buck Allen’s emergence
The biggest difference in USC’s running game has been the emergence Javorius “Buck” Allen. According to sources, Allen was one of USC’s most productive backs in training camp, but he did not get many carries at the start of the season. Those carries went to Tre Madden and Justin Davis, who were both productive, but recently went down with injuries.
Even before the injuries to Madden and Davis, Allen was given a chance by Ed Orgeron. In five games under Orgeron, Allen has gained 327 yards, including at least 130 in each of his past two games. He is averaging 8.8 yards per rush and has added an element of speed that complements the bruising style of Silas Redd.
Allen’s speed has allowed him to turn the corner on opposing defenses. He is averaging 11.4 yards per carry outside the tackles and seven of his 23 rushes have gained at least 10 yards. Overall, he leads the Trojans with seven rushing touchdowns, including four outside the tackles, despite ranking fourth on the team with 51 carries.
- Improved QB play
Under Orgeron, USC is attempting more passes per game and its average pass distance is one yard farther downfield than when Lane Kiffin was the head coach.
Orgeron and new play caller Clay Helton have cut back on USC’s bubble screens, which were a staple of Lane Kiffin’s offense. After attempting more than five screens per game under Kiffin, USC has attempted just nine screens in five games (1.8 per game) under Orgeron and have relied more heavily on the arms of their quarterbacks.
Cody Kessler has responded to the increased responsibility by posting a 65.5 opponent-adjusted QBR in his past five games. He completed 81.6 percent of his passes and averaged 11 yards per attempt in his past two games against Oregon State and California.
The most noticeable difference for USC’s quarterbacks is on third down. In their past five games, they have converted a first down on 32 percent of their passing plays (pass attempts + sacks) and have a 54.1 Total QBR on third down. In comparison, they converted 22 percent of their passing plays and had an 11.1 third-down Total QBR in the first five games of the season.
USC’s quarterbacks will be challenged on Saturday against Stanford’s stout defense. The Cardinal rank seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency and are coming off of a game in which they held Oregon’s Marcus Mariota to a season-low 46.5 Total QBR.
As its 26-20 win over Oregon proved, Stanford is just too dominant on the line of scrimmage for teams to dictate games on their terms. USC is going to have to manufacture a couple of big plays in the passing game with wide receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor to break a four-game losing streak in the series, a tough task with Cardinal linebackers Trent Murphy (10 sacks) and Shayne Skov (3.5 sacks, six hurries) bearing down on opposing quarterbacks. But just as critical will be the play of the Trojans defensive line.
Against the Ducks, Stanford was 14 of 21 on third down, with running back Tyler Gaffney churning out short-yardage conversions over and over again. The front line of George Uko, Antwaun Woods and sophomore standout end Leonard Williams, who is dealing with a shoulder injury, will have to hold tough against an offensive line that looks to have five future NFL draft picks.
USC running back Silas Redd was not able to practice this week after suffering a knee injury against Cal, and the senior has been officially ruled out of Saturday night's much-anticipated home game against Stanford.
Redd suffered the injury when the Trojans were up 21-0, well on their way to the routing Cal 62-28 in Berkeley. Redd carried the ball six times for 19 yards in the game, adding a 12-yard touchdown reception thanks to a shovel pass from Cody Kessler.
This is just the latest in a series of injury woes for the senior running back, who suffered a left knee injury in spring practice that kept him out of USC's first five games. Since returning to action, Redd has recording 76 carries for 351 yards and one touchdown.
With running back Tre Madden also out because of a hamstring injury, the Trojans called on redshirt sophomore Javorius Allen. Allen ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns last week against Oregon State, and kept thing rolling with 134 yards rushing and three total toucdhowns (two rushing, one receiving) against the Bears. USC's passing attack has stalled at times this season, but the ground game has been consistent most of the season thanks to a stable of talented backs.
The good news for USC is that Madden, the team's leading rusher, is listed as probable for Saturday's game along with defensive end Leonard Williams (shoulder) and tight ends Xavier Grimble (ankle) and Randall Telfer (knee).
Few rivalries in the last six years of college football have been as thrilling as the rivalry between Stanford and USC. From a historic upset to a triple-overtime thriller to a memorable postgame exchange at midfield, Stanford-USC has seen it all.
Though No. 4 Stanford (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12) has dominated the series lately by taking five out of the last six contests and winning three in a row at the Coliseum, the last three games between the two teams have been decided by eight points or fewer.
So it only seems fitting that after beating Oregon in one of the biggest wins in school history, the Cardinal’s biggest roadblock to its second straight Pac-12 North title is a battle with the Trojans (7-3, 4-2) — a battle that will be played out tomorrow night in front of a sold-out Coliseum crowd and attended by ESPN’s College GameDay crew. The storyline has completely flipped from what it was just six years ago: A Stanford team with everything to lose hopes to avoid a letdown against a USC team with nothing to lose.
Even amidst the pressure, the Cardinal wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said head coach David Shaw. “The crowd will be into it. This is a big game for both teams in respect to where we are in the conference. You go down there and expect everything. You expect it to be wild and crazy, and you expect it to come down to the end of the game.”
“[USC] always just seems to play a really good game against us,” added senior defensive end Henry Anderson.
Earlier in the season, the Men of Troy under Lane Kiffin seemed to be headed toward disaster after losing to Washington State at home and getting pummeled by Arizona State in the desert. But after USC athletic director Pat Haden gave Kiffin the red slip and appointed the fiery Ed Orgeron to interim head coach, the Trojans have come back from the dead with four victories in five games and become one of the best — if not the best — unranked teams in the country.
The Trojans defense has been at the heart of the team’s resurgence.
Headlined by outside linebacker Devon Kennard and defensive end Leonard Williams, USC’s front seven has given up just six rushing touchdowns all season. The Trojans run defense (112.5 yards per game) is the second stingiest in the Pac-12, behind only Stanford’s unit (98.4 yards per game). While inside linebacker Hayes Pullard leads the team in tackles, it’s been Williams and Kennard who have consistently ended plays in the backfield by combining for 13.0 sacks and 21.0 tackles for loss.
“[USC’s] defense is very good,” said fifth-year senior right guard Kevin Danser. “Their defensive line is outstanding. They’ve got a bunch of great athletes there. Their linebackers are also very impressive.”
Danser and the Cardinal offense rediscovered their identity last week against the Ducks in a season-best performance that allowed senior running back Tyler Gaffney to bruise his way to 157 yards on a school-record 45 carries and gave junior quarterback Kevin Hogan enough time to make plays with his feet at the most critical times. In what should be an interesting subplot, Gaffney will try to accomplish the rare feat of scoring in three different road games at the Coliseum.
On the other side of the ball, the Trojans offense has made considerable strides after its embarrassing futility at the start of the season. USC boasts two of the nation’s most dangerous players, wide receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, on the perimeter. Lee remains a dangerous big-play threat even with new quarterback Cody Kessler under center, while Agholor is coming off two punt-return touchdowns against Cal and putting up some staggering numbers, including his 18.0 yards per reception. And while Kessler is still inexperienced, his efficiency has improved drastically since Orgeron took over.
“[Kessler] is a good game manager,” Henry Anderson said. “They’ve got some really good talented running backs. They’ve kind of shoveled around the offensive line a bit from last year.”
The Trojans will have to make do without their three-headed rushing attack, as Tre Madden is expected to miss tomorrow’s game and Silas Redd is also questionable. However, halfback Javorius Allen has proved to be more than capable so far this season by averaging nearly eight yards per carry.
“We always take [USC] very seriously,” Danser said. “We always want to be — as we call it — the kings of California. That’s something we take pride in.”