The last time USC faced Stanford, former running back Toby Gerhart ran through, around and over the Trojan defense, which powered the Cardinal to a 55-21 victory at the Coliseum.
After failing to avenge last year’s loss against Washington last week, USC hopes it can turn its fortunes around and redeem itself on the road against No. 16 Stanford on Saturday.
“Every game that you lose, you come back with the mentality of payback time,” junior defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. “This whole week, everybody worked hard and was focused, so we’ll be prepared to play.”
Gerhart won’t be around this time, but that doesn’t mean Stanford has gone away from its bruising, grind-it-out style of play.
“We’re going to have to play physical because these guys are as physical as they come in all three areas of the game,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “They’re going to attack you on offense — the quarterback is extremely good — and on defense they’re playing way better than they were a year ago. Their special teams are extremely sound and physical, so this will be a good matchup for us.”
Offensively, Stanford is led by running back Stepfan Taylor and quarterback Andrew Luck, who could present problems for the Trojans defense.
As a dual-threat quarterback, the Trojans are all too familiar with players that can pass and run, such as Washington’s quarterback Jake Locker last weekend.
“They’re a similar type of quarterback, but when Luck scrambles, we got to make sure we stay on our guy,” sophomore safety T.J. McDonald said. “[Luck] can scramble, keep his head up and throw the ball, so we’re going to have our hands full this weekend.”
To make things even more difficult, Stanford’s offensive line has only allowed two sacks in five games this year.
“It’s tough to win one-on-one matchups because their offensive line is as good as anybody’s in the country,” Kiffin said. “They don’t let you get to the quarterback very often because they’re very sound. The key is … somehow, we got to find a way to stop them on third downs. They’re No. 2 in the country on third-down conversions, so we’re going to have our hands full on defense.”
Though the Trojans will be challenged defensively, they will also need to find a way to string together some consistency on offense.
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The Trojans were given many opportunities to score against Washington last weekend but often settled for field goals or failed to convert.
But if the Trojans are engaged in a close game like they were against Washington, the coaching staff hopes they’ll be able to convert on their offensive opportunities in the red zone.
“Matt looked good [in practice] this week,” Kiffin said. “If we have a shot again like last week, we’ll finish them off and he can make that next step from being a good quarterback to a great quarterback.”
In recent games, the Trojans have also employed the Wildcat formation to try and give defenses different looks, and in practice this week, freshman running back Dillon Baxter was utilized in that role, which could be used against the Cardinal.
“The Wildcat is in our game plan this weekend,” Baxter said. “We worked on it enough and we should be able to execute.”
Though payback is in mind, the Trojans must play sound football both offensively and defensively to have a shot at winning, but the team is sure of itself going into the weekend.
“You have to be confident,” Casey said. “If you’re not confident, there’s no point in playing football. Every week, we got to come out with the mindset that we’re going to win.”