Stanford is the only Pac-12 team USC quarterback Matt Barkley hasn’t beaten, but the USC Trojans football team plans to change that this weekend when they take on the Cardinal in Palo Alto.
Last season, #20 USC took on Andrew Luck and #6 Stanford at the Coliseum, losing 56-48 in triple overtime, in the highest-scoring game in Trojans’ history.
This year, the roles are reversed: it’s USC with the veteran quarterback and the higher ranking coming into Stanford’s house, while the Cardinal aims to derail the Trojans’ national title hopes.
Last year, Luck and Barkley went toe to toe, each throwing three touchdowns and one interception. Luck, the future #1 overall draft pick, had only a slight edge in passing yards and completion percentage.
Barkley has the clear advantage over new Cardinal QB John Nunes. The Trojans’ four-year starter leads the nation with ten touchdown passes in just two games, while Nunes is still finding his stride after winning the starting role in preseason.
Don’t be surprised if the Cardinal tries to test USC’s secondary, which has struggled in the first two games. The second cornerback spot, especially, has been a cause for concern, as Brian Bauchum and Torin Harris both missed most of fall camp. Stanford’s senior wide receiver Drew Terrell has caught touchdown passes in both games this season, while sophomore Ty Montgomery leads the team in receptions and receiving yards.
Without Luck, Stanford might’ve wanted to rely on the run, but the team is currently ranked 93rd among FBS schools in rushing yards, averaging 123.5 yards per game. Senior running back Stepfan Taylor has most of them – he’s averaging 92.5 yards per game and needs just five more to hit the 3,000-yard career mark. He should get more help this week with the return of fullback Ryan Hewitt, who missed the first two games of the year with a sprained ankle.
The Cardinal offensive line is strong, with fifth-year senior center Sam Schwartzstein, junior right tackle Cameron Fleming, and junior David Yankey, who moved to left tackle this season after starting at left guard last season. All three were first-year starters in 2011, but they’re now the veterans on the line, replacing first-round guard David DeCastro and second-round tackle Jonathan Martin.
USC also has a more experienced offensive line than last season, although there might be a big question mark in the middle this Saturday. Fifth-year senior center Khaled Holmes went down with what looked like an ankle injury during last week’s game against Syracuse, and while USC does not provide injury updates, it would be a surprise if Holmes was on the field at the Farm.
Redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi came in for Holmes last Saturday, but redshirt senior Abe Markowitz also took reps at center in practice this week. After Thursday’s practice, USC head coach Lane Kiffin said the coaches have “great confidence no matter who goes in,” but the leadership and knowledge that Holmes, a senior captain, brings to the line can’t be understated.
The line needs to do a much better job of protecting Barkley and giving him time to throw than it did against Syracuse. USC has two of the best receivers in the country in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and Stanford’s secondary doesn’t have a lot of experience, but if Barkley continues to be pressured repeatedly pressured, he won’t have the chance to get the ball in their hands.
It’ll be important for USC to open up the passing game more than they did against the Orange, because the Trojans’ running backs will be going up against one of the top run defenses in the nation. After two games, the Cardinal has only surrendered 99 total rushing yards.
The Trojans just have to hope the game doesn’t come down to a late field goal try again. In 2010, Stanford won on Nate Whitaker’s 30-yard field goal as time expired. Last year, Trojans’ kicker Andre Heidari didn’t get a chance to win the game, as USC and Stanford traded overtime touchdowns before the Cardinal recovered a USC fumble.
Heidari won’t have a shot to win it this year, either. The Los Angeles Daily News revealed the kicker had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and will be out for the next few weeks, so Barkley’s best hope at an elusive win over the Cardinal is probably to hit Woods and Lee downfield early and often.
The game kicks off at 7:30 EST and will be nationally televised on FOX.