No. 4 Stanford vs. USC
Stanford's (8-1 overall, 6-1 Pac-12) most impressive win of the season has it in the driver's seat for another berth in the Pac-12 championship game. Resurgent Southern California (7-3, 4-2) is looking to rekindle its own chances.
Cardinal ground and pound
In last week’s 26-20 win over previously unbeaten Oregon, Stanford established its run game, rushing for 274 yards while holding the ball for more than 42 minutes. The Cardinal offense was led by running back Tyler Gaffney, who carried the ball a school-record 45 times for 157 yards. Stanford now ranks No. 28 in the country, averaging 205 rushing yards per game. In the past three games quarterback Kevin Hogan has seen an increase in running responsibility with a combined 100 yards and one touchdown.
Trojan run game
USC starting running back Silas Redd has officially been ruled out (knee) for Saturday’s contest. It will be his sixth missed game this year, and linebacker-turned-running back Tre Madden has stepped up in his place, and leads the team with 671 rush yards on 128 carries. Madden and fellow running back Ty Isaac -- 11 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns in Trojan’s last game versus Cal -- are physical runners, both over six feet and 220 pounds. They pose a daunting task for the Cardinal defense, especially in comparison to the shifty backs Oregon featured last week.
USC pass attack
Like Stanford, the USC offense will attempt to establish the run, but when they throw, the Trojans will count on sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler. During the Trojan’s current three-game win streak, Kessler is 52-70 passing for 647 yards with four touchdowns. Kessler’s top targets this year are wide receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor. Lee is battling a knee injury, but when healthy, he is one of the nation’s best receivers with 229 career receptions in his two plus seasons in L.A. Agholor is the speed threat for the Trojans, averaging a team-high 18 yards per reception.
Both USC and Stanford possess two of the nation’s best return men. Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery leads the NCAA in kickoff return average at 33.6 yards. USC receiver Nelson Agholor is no scrub himself; in last week’s 62-28 victory over Cal, Agholor had two punt returns for touchdowns. In the kicking game, Stanford has a big advantage as kicker Jordan Williamson is 13-for-17 on field goals this year. USC kicker Andre Heidari is 11-for-18, including just 5-for-12 over 30 yards.
Most of the NFL talent on USC consists of lower-classmen, but they have three players who should expect to hear their name’s in April. On offense USC is led by receiver Marqise Lee, a first-round talent as one of the best collegiate receivers and winner of the 2012 Biletnikoff Award. On defense the Trojans have potential mid-rounder redshirt juniors Dion Bailey at safety and Hayes Pullard at middle linebacker. Stanford has its NFL lineman in senior David Yankey. On defense they are led by senior defensive linemen Trent Murphy and senior linebacker Shayne Skov, both of whom should hear their name’s within the first two rounds.