Daily Trojan sports editor Will Laws interviewed Do Hyoung-Park, the sports editor of the Stanford Daily, earlier this week to give USC fans a better feel for the Cardinal ahead of Saturday’s showdown at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
DT: Some thought that the Stanford offense would take a dip this year after the graduation of tailback Stepfan Taylor — but the Cardinal haven’t missed a beat, and have unearthed another gem in Tyler Gaffney. Taylor absolutely ripped USC last year for 213 total yards and two touchdowns. How does Gaffney compare to his predecessor?
SD: Most of us at Stanford thought that the running game — and by extension, the offense — would take a big hit with the graduation of Taylor, too. But Gaffney emerged early as a power back that had the vision and raw physical drive that could give the Card that production again and forced Shaw’s hand to make him the clear number one — after a year off for baseball, no less. I don’t think he’s quite on Taylor’s level — after all, you can’t simply replace a school’s all-time leading rusher and expect there not to be a dip in production — but Gaff has been an absolute workhorse this year. His ability to run downhill and smash for yards after contact has paid off in a huge way for the run game. It also helps that he runs behind Stanford’s monster offensive line.
DT: USC’s offensive line isn’t nearly as big as Stanford’s, but it has shown improvement over the past couple weeks. Do you think Stanford can afford to hold off on blitzes and depend on their defensive line to pressure Cody Kessler into mistakes?
SD: Stanford’s defensive line got a huge boost last week when senior defensive end Henry Anderson returned from an injury suffered in Week 3 against Army, and it definitely showed against Oregon, even with Ben Gardner out for the rest of the season. Anderson, Josh Mauro and David Parry are a formidable force up front and even though the depth on the line is a lot shakier than it was at the beginning of the season, all three of them have been making huge plays every game and have consistently brought pressure on quarterbacks. I definitely think that the defensive line can get enough push and we’ve been seeing that in the last few weeks. I really think that this Stanford front seven is one of the best this school has ever seen and that it can get good pressure against any line in the country.
DT: For the second straight year, Stanford wrecked Oregon’s hopes for a national championship and now control their own destiny in the race for the Rose Bowl. What’s the mood on campus like right now after last week’s big win? Are the Cardinal faithful taking USC seriously as a potential challenger?
SD: The thing about Stanford is that there’s a significant portion of the campus that is relatively ambivalent about football, so everyday life and mood hasn’t been affected too much. Within the football-aware crowd, though, it seems like everybody is reasonably confident and hopeful for the rest of the season.
That being said, though, a lot of people here are worried about the USC game. The last four Stanford-USC matchups showed that regardless of the differing levels of success of both teams in any given year, the games themselves have been tense nail-biters. None of those games disappointed in terms of matchup value and challenge in any way. Everybody knows that and everybody knows the extent and significance of the rivalry between the two teams, and so I think one would be hard-pressed to find a fan expecting anything less than a close, gritty matchup at the Coliseum on Stanford’s campus. It’s definitely a trap game after the huge Oregon win and a full Coliseum after College GameDay egging on a resurgent USC team that still has Rose Bowl hopes will definitely be a big challenge.
DT: In the end, how do you see Saturday’s showdown shaking out?
SD: I think that it’ll be a physical, defensive game dictated by the battle in the trenches as each team tries to establish a running game. I mentioned earlier that a lot of people are really worried about the matchup, but I do think that Stanford’s going to take a lot of confidence into the Coliseum after the Oregon win and I expect Hogan to be able to find receivers open for some big plays in the passing game, especially if it can get a running game going. I think it’ll be relatively close, but I’ll take the Cardinal.
Prediction: 21-10 Stanford
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