Stanford vs. USC Preview

By: Ben Leonard

Follow Ben on Twitter @Ben___Leonard

The Stanford Cardinal come into Saturday’s game fresh off of a 45-0 victory versus the FCS UC Davis squad, winning handily, as expected. Their opponent, the USC Trojans handled Fresno State impressively in its season debut, drubbing the Bulldogs 52-13. College Football Playoff hopes are on the line for both squads in their meeting on Saturday in Palo Alto at 12:30 PST. Revenge is at stake for Stanford, who lost to the Trojans 20-17 while being the fourth-ranked team in the nation in 2013, crushing their national title hopes and significantly altering the college football landscape. Will Kevin Hogan and Stanford be able to succeed at home versus a very similar Trojans team this year?

Key Stats:

5-2: Stanford’s record versus USC since 2007.

17: The number of consecutive home games Stanford has won, the longest active streak in the FBS.

23: The amount of rushing yards Stanford allowed in the rivals’ meeting in 2013.

37-28: The average score of the last five contests between the two teams, Stanford being the former.

701: The total offense (yards) that USC accumulated vs. Fresno State.

Matchups to watch:

Leonard Williams vs. Andrus Peat

Defensive end Leonard Williams is an absolute beast, a 6’5″, 300 pound freak of nature that has terrorized Pac-12 defenses. A First-Team All-American in 2013, Williams is projected to be a top-five pick in the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft. He had seven tackles and a fumble recovery that sealed the game against Stanford last season. Williams suffered an ankle injury during practice this week, and will play despite being around 70% physically.

He faces stiff competition on the other side of the line in Andrus Peat, a physical specimen at 6’7″, 316 pounds. Peat is a prototypical NFL left tackle, and potential top-ten pick in the upcoming draft, despite having another year of eligibility in 2015. The winner of the matchup between the two heavyweights will establish control of the line of scrimmage, and likewise, the game. If anyone can slow down Williams, it is Peat.

Stanford’s receiving corps vs. USC’s cornerbacks

Stanford’s receivers should physically dominate an undersized USC secondary. Devon Cajuste, returning from a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules, sits at 6’4″, 299 pounds and runs a forty time in the low 4.4’s, unreal speed for his height. Cajuste and Ty Montgomery, at 6’2″ and 220 pounds, should tear up a pair of USC corners both listed at 5’11”, Adoree Jackson and Chris Hawkins. Kevin Hogan will be able to exploit this mismatch and  throw downfield with ease against a defense that lost its best corner, Josh Shaw, because he lied. Hogan should be able to air it out much better than he did in 2013 against a shorthanded Trojan defense, when he had a QBR of 23.1 (50 is average, on scale of 1-100) and threw two interceptions. 

Cardinal offense vs. the Red Zone

In last season’s disheartening upset to the Trojans, Stanford dominated on the ground and at the line of scrimmage, but failed to take advantage of its opportunities once it reached the red zone. They only reached the end zone once in four trips. This should improve in this year’s matchup, with Hogan having another year under his belt and the home crowd behind him. Furthermore, in 2013, Hogan completed 64.4 percent of his passes at home, while only converting 57.7 percent of his throws on the road.

Steve Sarkisian’s new up-tempo offense vs. Stanford defense:

Steve Sarkisian brings his high-octane offense to the Trojans from his old post with the Washington Huskies. In USC’s first game against Fresno State, they ran no-huddle eighty-three percent of the time, in stark contrast with three percent last year. Stanford has proven it can shut down other no-huddle offenses, but Sarkisian’s Huskies have given Stanford some problems in recent years. Stanford barely scraped out a win with the help of a controversial replay review and rumors of feigning injuries to slow down the Huskies’ tempo. In 2012, Stanford fell 17-14 in Washington and scored only one offensive touchdown. 

Prediction: Stanford will control the line of scrimmage with Leonard Williams not at 100%, and Kevin Hogan will air out the ball with great success against a beleaguered Trojan cornerback corps. However,  Steve Sarkisian’s offense will give Stanford’s defense trouble and keep USC close. Stanford will pull out a 38-35 victory versus the Trojans in a highly-contested matchup between the two rivals.

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN and CFBStats.com. 

Cover Image: By Cynthia Yock (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons