Since Ed Orgeron took over as interim head coach more than six weeks ago, “fun” has been his preferred buzzword for USC football. This week, however, a different term has come en vogue: “physical.”
That’s exactly the sort of game expected on Saturday against No. 5 Stanford. In their upset over then-No. 3 Oregon last week, the Cardinal ran the ball an incredible 66 times, including 45 by running back Tyler Gaffney alone. They held possession of the ball for 42:34 of the game’s 60 minutes, and went 15-for-22 on 3rd and 4th down, often on simple handoffs right up the middle.
“It’s a challenge to go in there and have then execute their blocking schemes as well as they do,” said Ed Orgeron. “It’s nothing real fancy, it’s just a matter of them doing it with real good players and doing it really well.”
Orgeron has deemed Saturday’s matchup a “line of scrimmage” game, and he smiled when asked about it at practice Wednesday evening.
“I love it,” Orgeron said. “It presents a challenge. It’s what football’s about.”
Stanford does not pose the same type of schematic challenges as the Trojans have faced in weeks past against some of the Pac-12’s more pass-happy attacks. But that doesn’t make them any easier to prepare for.
“You gotta be assignment perfect [against Stanford],” senior defensive lineman Devon Kennard said. “Because they’re good at what they do. And they trust what they can do is better than what you can do.”
Stanford often lines up with not a single wide receiver on the field. The defense knows it will be a run play. Stanford knows that the defense knows. And they run it anyways, with great success.
“They line up and they tell you what they’re gonna run and they run it still, fourth-and-one or first-and-20” junior linebacker Hayes Pullard said. “You just know they’re gonna run that play. You gotta get your cleats in the ground.”
As dominant as their rushing attack is, the Cardinal are not a one-sided team. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is among the steadiest performers in the conference, and while many feel he’s not in the Pac-12’s elite echelon of quarterbacks, Orgeron says they are not taking Hogan lightly.
“He is a darn good quarterback,” Orgeron said of Hogan. “The plays he makes, he’s one of the better quarterbacks we’ve seen all year. He’s big, he’s strong, can thrown the deep ball, and can run.”
Stanford is one of the most disciplined teams in the country, committing just two penalties against Oregon. And coach Orgeron knows USC will have to be nearly perfect to knock off the Cardinal.
“We have to stop the run. But we also have to stop the deep ball,” Orgeron said. “We have to tackle well and play well on the line of scrimmage. They’re gonna make plays, we can’t get discouraged. This is a good football team. It’s gonna be a battle until the very end.”
Sophomore defensive lineman Leonard Williams remained probable for Saturday, as Orgeron did not have any updates on injuries. Williams said he received a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) shot on Tuesday.
“Overall I feel like I’m getting a lot of my strength back,” Williams said. “I should be ready to go Saturday.”
Williams said the injury — his right shoulder blade — occurred during fall camp, and has been nagging him all season. However, he aggravated it more severely against Oregon State and had to sit out last Saturday’s contest against Cal.
“It was a smart decision to just rest it,” Williams said.
Coach Orgeron said he expects Williams to play Saturday, calling him “very important” to the Trojans chances against Stanford.
“We’ve been working on as many things with him as we possibly can,” Orgeron said. “But he’s gonna have to play and play well for us.”
The pressure is on for Williams to play, especially given the opponent and their style.
“Guys in the locker room are telling me to make sure I’m ready to go, so it’s adding pressure.” Williams said. “But not too much. I love physical games, so I’m pressuring myself to be ready to play.”
Williams said he believes he might need surgery when the season is over.
Not Created Equal
“Treat every game the same” is a common mantra among all athletic teams, and a fair one too. But the reality is, no two opponents are the same. And while this game counts just as much as the last one in the standings, the team knows it many other ways, it counts a little more.
“We all know the importance of this game,” Orgeron said. “What it means to the Trojan fans, the type of team we have coming in. Everything surrounding the game.”
USC has lost four straight games to Stanford, the Trojans’ longest losing streak in the history of the rivalry.
“There’s just a whole different level to this type of game,” Williams said. “We haven’t beaten them in a few years. It’s a home game. They just beat Oregon. It’s a lot bigger game.”
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