USC and Stanford again march to war in a series that has been extremely fun to watch, thanks to good storylines, exciting playmaking, and close games. This year is no different as multiple narratives have been drawn up, including the one about Stanford faking injuries against Sarkisian's UW Huskies last year. Although they claim that they are over the dispute of last year, the close nature of the Washington-Stanford contest and the upset USC pulled on the Cardinal last year both influence the game played this Saturday.
College Football differs to Pro Football when it comes to playing with emotion, and that emotion can hamper or help teams punch above what their numbers speak about them. That said, this Series seems always to have every player perform at their max capacity, which makes for a great watch and a great PAC-12 North vs South showcase. The Cardinal has taken the last 4 of 5, with the only exception being last year, where an inspired Trojan team led by Coach Orgeron won a low-scoring affair.
So, operating at their max capacity, who is taking it this year? A quick pass-and-review of the match up on both sides of the ball compared to difference in coaching styles, playmakers, and previous games should give us a favorite.
Throw your "2013 Stanford/USC" VHS tape out the Window
Then go beat on it with a bat because it's probably still intact. Concerning the USC offense Steve Sarkisian runs a very different game than Ed Orgeron did in '13, as well as Lane Kiffin years previous. Unfortunately in that aforementioned game the Huskies lost, but offensively put up better numbers than the Trojans did in their victory-and it is a perfect summation of Sark's offensive style and why he isn't a 'New Kiffin'. Washington scored 4 TDs and had 30 first downs, a 6/14 3rd down efficiency and 489 total yards., compared to USC's 2 TDs, 18 first downs. 4/14 3rd down efficiency and 311 total yards.
Steve Sarkisian's Pro-Style hurry-up offense is going to be on full display this Saturday, especially his tendency to go off-script when things are not working correctly. This may be good or bad, because Stanford is already squirming ready for Kessler to make a mistake. The Huskies faltered in their quest for upsets in 2013, but that was in part due to their inability to execute what their dear leader had in mind, but this time...
The Mad Doctor Sarkisian has Keys to Superweapons
The teams were a tad mismatched sure, but USC absolutely rolled over Fresno State with their platoon of wideouts. Nelson Agholor, JuJu Smith, Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell, and Adoree' Jackson all showed immense talent and affinity for Sark's speedy offense. Even Kessler, who never gets his fair share of the spotlight has picked it up well so far. Can they pick up the learning curve from Fresno State to Stanford? Well, they aren't going to have the same type of game, but they can definitely open up coverage and exploit seams. Problem is, Stanford has a very good mid-field secondary and with corners Wayne Lyons and Alex Carter, it's going to be difficult for Kessler to find a reliable pattern, even with Stanford's Pass Rushing ability regressing from last year.
Josh Shaw is not playing, and Ty Montgomery is.
Last year, the Trojans held Montgomery to 4 catches for 23 yards, but that was thanks to CB Josh Shaw, who has picked a criminal defense attorney instead of an interception. The Trojans now have to shuffle around to cover all their bases, which is bad against an attack as prolific as The Cardinal. Montgomery has looked better than ever, and is aiming for an All-American caliber game. Underrated Kevin Hogan is also back, but he has 4 missing Offensive Lineman, which will mean USC will get to him even quicker than they did last year Kevin Hogan did terrible last year when he was pressured within 2 seconds of hiking the ball under center, completing just over 40% in those scenarios where he was able to get rid of the ball. USC has a returning line that is quick and experienced, but playing a different style than last year. So don't look to last years tape. Burn it already.
Stanford's Run Defense and Bhut Jolokia: Two things Never to Test
With D-lineman Henry Anderson leading the front-line with Seniors David Parry and Blake Lueders, the Cardinal has a impregnable rushing defense just as they did in 2013 when they allowed only 89 rushing yards per game. USC's Tre Madden is also injured and could be out for the game. That leaves Javorius Allen with possible looks from James Toland and Justin Davis with a daunting task to gain at least 100 yards on around 35 carries the ground to assist in opening up air corridors.
Senior LB A.J. Tarpley has stepped up to the plate after waiting in the wings while players like Skov had their years, but now Tarpley is planning on not missing a step when it comes to locking down the center of the defense. He will have Blake Martinez and Kevin Anderson who are also replacing lost defenders with him, all who have massive talent and strength capable of stifling the Trojan advance.
Stanford is favored by 3.5, which tells me a lot of people are picking them to win by a late Field Goal. I have that flipped at USC winning by 3, only because I am seeing the high side of what could tragically go wrong to the hands of a worth Ty Montgomery and brutish Stanford defense. This game is a near unknown due to USC's new coach and style, even the defense USC used to hold the Cardinal in 2013 is gone and replaced. I think USC will come out of the gates on a blitz after Stanford scores an opening touchdown, but will be stifled late nearly blowing a 20 point lead in a offensive shootout favoring play-makers with large gains
Prediction: USC 34 - Stanford 31