The Pac-12 opener against Stanford this Saturday evokes some grim memories for USC. Perhaps the worst come from the midseason showdown at home last October, when the Trojans came close to upsetting the then-No. 4 Cardinal but fell in a 48-56 triple-overtime thriller.
Though few could blame the Trojans for wanting to exact revenge, No. 2 USC (2-0, 0-0) insists that those thoughts are not motivating the team come Saturday.
“[Luck] came out there and did what he did, but that was last year, and this year will be totally different,” junior cornerback Nickell Robey said.
Robey nearly won that game for the Trojans with an interception he returned 33 yards for a touchdown that gave USC a 34-27 lead with 3:08 remaining in regulation.
“I thought the game was going to be over at that point,” Robey said.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck then engineered a final scoring drive that tied the game, and three overtimes later, Stanford won their 16th straight game.
The rest of the team is trying to join Robey in his mindset: Move on from last year, and on Saturday, play even harder.
One of the players who has embraced such a mentality is senior safety T.J. McDonald. The 2011 Pac-12 first-team selection was called for a personal foul on a third-and-out that kept Stanford’s game-tying drive alive.
“Everything is in the past for me,” McDonald said. “Our coaches are going to put us in the position to make plays like they do every week. It will all come down to execution on Saturday.”
USC coach Lane Kiffin commented on some of the team’s defensive strategies for a Cardinal pro-style offense that now relies on running back Stepfan Taylor, but stopped short of going into great detail.
“We’re going to have to stop the run. We’ll have to play aggressive and really knock them back,” Kiffin said. “We have to play some really sound defense against these guys.”
One of the key players for USC’s run defense will be junior defensive end Morgan Breslin, who transferred from Diablo Valley Junior College in the spring.
Breslin has received a lot of recognition for his strong pass rushing skills in his two Division I games, but he still needs to prove he can withstand a stout Pac-12 running attack.
“I’m very impressed for him to come in his first Division I college game and make as many plays as he has. He’s been huge for us — probably our biggest surprise,” Kiffin said.
Breslin has 10 total tackles and two sacks as a starter and has helped fill the void left by senior defensive end Devon Kennard, who may be out for the season with a pectoral injury.
Stanford will no longer have the luxury of Luck’s passing, but Kiffin still anticipates a tough matchup against the Cardinal in Palo Alto, Calif.
“Every year is new,” Kiffin said. “Every team is new. We got to play really well on the road, versus a team that is really well-coached and is hard to beat. That’s why they’ve won a lot of games over the last couple of years.”