The University of Southern California will have its defense keyed into Stepfan Taylor on Saturday night. By centering their defensive goals on shutting down Stanford's run game, the Trojans will effectively neutralize the Stanford running back.
When you go into a game against a team that has only one true weapon, the objective of the defense is to render that element of the team useless. That means through scheme, game plan and execution.
Obviously, there are times where even knowing what's coming is not enough to stop it (see: Boise State trying to stop Le'Veon Bell in Week 1). However, in the case of Stanford hosting the Trojans, we're looking at a different animal: a Trojans defense that is top flight where talent is concerned and a squad that knows the true danger in the Cardinal's attack is Stepfan Taylor in 2012.
Unlike a year ago, when Taylor ran for 99 yards and two scores against USC, this season does not have a headliner pass attack to loosen the defense and pick up ground yards.
There is no Andrew Luck. There is no Coby Fleener. No Griff Whalen or Chris Owusu. In 2012, Taylor is the key. The Trojans front seven will have its eyes trained not on the quarterback and tight end pass threats, but on the running back. Outside of obvious passing downs, the Trojans will be sucked up into the box to force Stanford out of running the football.
The linebackers will be looking to attack the line of scrimmage, and players along the defensive line will be controlling their gaps instead of trying to get to the quarterback on the snap. Look for the defense to maintain true gap integrity and play to tackle Taylor as he hits the line or string him out wide, letting the linebackers flow and get bodies to the football.
For USC, the goal is to make Stanford a one-dimensional football team and force the Cardinals to use their weakest dimension: the passing game.
The Trojans have one additional weapon on their side when it comes to forcing Stanford to take the game from Taylor's hands and put it on Josh Nunes shoulder: their offense. Not only will USC stack the box, stuff the run and really key in on taking Taylor out of the game, but its offense will put points on the board and force the Cardinal to play catch up.
Tough to lean on the running game as the clock ticks and your team is down a couple scores.
If you're the Stanford Cardinal, this is where you have to hope Nunes is ready to captain the ship through the air. He has to be a consistent passing threat to multiple receivers to get USC out of the box and then open up some room for Taylor to run. Can Nunes be that guy? We'll find out on Saturday night, because USC's defense is going to force him to prove himself.