Back in the early 2000s, a matchup on the gridiron between USC and Stanford usually resulted in an easy victory for the former. The Trojans boasted a 5-1 record with four victories by more than 20 points against their rivals from Palo Alto between 2001-2006. But in 2007, the Cardinal marched into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as 41-point underdogs and knocked off USC 24-23 — and nothing has been the same in the rivalry since.
Stanford has won five of those six games against USC, including the last four contests between the two schools. Two of those victories came when the Trojans were ranked in the top 10.
Now, with the Cardinal ranked No. 5 in the nation and fresh off an upset win against then-No. 2 Oregon, unranked USC is eager to return the favor.
“I know the team’s excited for the challenge,” said senior linebacker Devon Kennard. “I’m really, really excited for this opportunity to play them for my fifth year. They’ve beaten me the last four years.”
To reverse that trend, USC will have to find a way to put points on the board against a vicious defense that held Oregon to 62 rushing yards and is allowing just 99.2 yards per game on the ground, the best mark in the Pac-12. Stanford boasts a disruptive pass rush, too — the Cardinal rank seventh in the nation with 30 sacks, and senior linebacker Trent Murphy ranks third in the nation with 10 of his own.
“It’s gonna be a tough game,” senior right tackle Kevin Graf said. “That just shows how good of a team they are, and how great their defense is.”
Fortunately for the Trojans, they seem to be hitting their stride on offense at just the right time, having racked up 93 total points in their last two victories against Oregon State and California. And even though their running back corps has been depleted with injuries to senior Silas Redd and redshirt sophomore Tre Madden, who are both questionable for Saturday’s showdown, USC seems to have unearthed another speedster from its seemingly endless stable of tailbacks in redshirt sophomore Javorius Allen.
Allen has scored six touchdowns in the past two games, and gained 192 all-purpose yards against Cal on just seven touches. Allen’s breakout has been a pleasant surprise after he was buried on the depth chart under former coach Lane Kiffin.
“[Running backs coach] Tommie [Robinson] saw it in him, and Tommie was always fighting for him,” interim head coach Ed Orgeron said. “His opportunity came and he took advantage of it.”
Allen and the rest of USC’s offense will be facing their toughest opponent yet in the Cardinal, who rank 20th nationally in total defense (348.8 yards allowed per game).
But the Trojans’ defense should prevent a stiff challenge for the Cardinal offense, too — USC actually has a better mark in total defense (17th in the nation, 339.5 yards allowed per game) and is expected to have sophomore defensive tackle Leonard Williams back from a shoulder injury.
If Stanford does succeed in halting USC’s rushing attack, the Trojans will have to rely on the arm of redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler (197.7 passing yards per game) and a passing attack featuring junior receiver Marqise Lee. The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner has just 521 receiving yards this season and has battled several injuries, but declared he was back to full strength at practice earlier this week.
Even with USC facing Stanford at a seemingly ideal time in its schedule, it’s not hard to imagine the Cardinal having their way with a Trojan offense that has struggled to move the ball against the defenses of Notre Dame and Utah.
But the Trojans themselves are confident they have what it takes to halt Stanford’s longest winning streak in the long-standing rivalry between the two schools.
“We still have flaws here and there. But as a team, I think the mindset is there,” Lee said. “[Stanford] is gonna be ready. We just gotta be ready, too.”
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