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Stanford Football: How the Cardinal Can Beat USC Yet Again

Peter ChenContributor IIIOctober 15, 2016

Stanford Football: How the Cardinal Can Beat USC Yet Again

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    September 15 has been circled on Stanford’s calendar for a while now. We noted that date earlier in the spring and last week highlighted that date as a major challenge for the 2012 Cardinal. 

    That’s when USC visits The Farm, in what could be a preview of the Pac-12 championship game, just three weeks into the season. 

    What must Stanford do to topple mighty USC? 

    Turns out the easy answer is, just show up on time for kickoff, as Stanford has beaten USC four of the last five times they've met. The streak began during the sad slide of the Pete Carroll regime and has continued into the Kiffin-Barkley era.

    The Cardinal began with the improbable 24-23 upset in 2007. Then there was the 55-21 "what's your deal?" rout in 2009. The last second 37-35 victory in 2010. And the thrilling 56-48 triple overtime win last year. 

    SC’s last win over the Cardinal was back in 2008. That was when Mark Sanchez was the QB. Current Trojan QB Matt Barkley has thrown for 870 yards, seven touchdowns—and an 0-3 record—against Stanford.

    Pop quiz: how many of the Trojans’ current starters have ever walked off the field a winner against the Cardinal?  Answer: That would be zero.

    So really, USC has no chance.  End of story.

    But wait, there's more. Turn the page for a few more keys to another Stanford win over USC.

Pressure Matt Barkley

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    Matt Barkley is everyone’s preseason choice to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy. His 2011 statistics were positively Luck-like (69 percent completion rate, 7.91 yards per pass attempt, 39 touchdowns and only seven interceptions).

    But Barkley lacks Luck’s mobility. Stanford should have one of the best front sevens in all of college football this fall. A strong pass rush led by outside linebackers Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy could knock Barkley out of synch, especially on the long timing patterns where he and his receivers excel.

Contain the WRs

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    USC has the nation’s best wide receiver tandem in Robert Woods and Marquise Lee. In the 2011 loss to Stanford, they combined for 16 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns. 

    Stanford’s secondary will have at least three new starters. Whoever ends up starting will need to execute the coverage schemes to perfection in order to keep Woods and Lee in check. 

    The only glimmer of good offseason news for the Cardinal is that Woods’ chronically sore ankle is still not healed from his surgery last December. He missed spring practice and, according to ESPN, will miss summer workouts leading up to training camp. 

    His prolonged absence may affect the passing attack’s timing, and he might not be 100 percent by September 15. Lee also missed some of the spring practices to compete in track and field.

Power Running Game

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    Stanford has had great success running the ball during its four-of-five stretch. Who can forget Toby Gerhard rumbling for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2009, or Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney combining for 135 yards and two touchdowns last year.

    Taylor is back, and will run behind an offensive line that is shaping up to be nationally prominent again, with two All Pac-12 returnees and a slew of incoming 5-star freshmen. 

    Pound the rock.

Ignore Any Empty Seats

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    The scheduling gods put the USC game in mid-September. That’s before the Stanford undergrads return to campus from summer vacation. 

    Memo to Larry Scott: This is a marquee Pac-12 matchup. Why schedule one of your conference's best games before school starts? Did you not attend a college where they played BCS football? 

    Anyway, the September 15 game date raises the specter of a sparse student section at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal will need to remember that during their recent 4-1 streak over the Trojans, three of their victories have come in the hostile confines of the Coliseum. So it's not as if a full house on The Farm has been the key to beating USC.

Karma

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    Aside from the fourth quarter of the 2009 win, when the Cardinal blew open a close game, Stanford's four recent wins over USC have been fiercely contested, with razor-thin margins--a one-point win in 2007, a late field goal for a two-point win in 2010, and an OT triumph last year.

    Some might say the Cardinal's luck against USC has run out (yes, pun intended). Yet, Stanford would've won the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma State but for a rare off night from kicker Jordan Williamson. So maybe there's still some karma due on The Farm.

    Kickoff on this game is less than three months away. There will be more to come as we approach September 15.

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