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Saturday, November 4th 2006

Preview: Stanford

Wow, I’m getting this in just under the gun. What can I say? It has been busy.

This will be short and sweet. Which is nothing like you can expect for the Trees today.

“Bring The Pain! I’m Used To It!”

Stanford Offense v. USC Defense

So much to look forward to for the Trojan defense. They should consider this week an opportunity to improve on their turnover ratio which has been disappointing, to say the least, this season. Without Trent Edwards expect Harris to try to keep the ball in the hands of Kimble and company. I say this despite the fact that they are 114th in the nation in rushing, behind just a god awful offensive line. But the passing game isn’t much more promising,

Stanford ranks No. 117 in total offense and No. 119 in scoring offense (out of 119 Division I-A teams). Senior quarterback T.C. Ostrander became the starter after fellow senior Trent Edwards, the long-time starter, was lost for the season on the third play of the game against Arizona on Oct. 14. In the past two games, Ostrander has completed just 15 of 38 passes, with no TDs and two interceptions. Needless to say, he’s struggling, but Harris’ other options, sophomore athlete Tavita Pritchard and junior Garrett Moore lag far behind Ostrander.

As the San Francisco Chronicle bemoans,

USC’s last four games have been decided by a touchdown or less. But the idea that the Trojans are vulnerable, ripe for the kind of 31-28 scare that Stanford gave them in 2004, seems like a stretch considering the Cardinal’s average margin of defeat against Pac-10 opponents is 28.6 points.

In order for the Cardinal to have any hope of playing close, they are going to have to put points on the board. And that means jump-starting an offense that’s stalled out in recent weeks against a team that leads the Pac-10 in scoring defense.

After a record-worst offensive day against Arizona three weeks ago (52 yards of offense), the Cardinal followed up at Arizona State with 145 yards.

Hopefully the Trojan secondary can pick off some balls if the Stanford rushing game is stuffed early (not much of an if).

Last week I expected the running game to be the presence for Oregon State (and was clearly wrong about that). But, I’m arguing again this week that Harris will not try to slug USC in the mouth, but instead work on limiting USC’s opportunities by avoiding turnovers. With no chance, probably, to keep Orstrander upright, they’ll try to run the ball early and go to the air late. Harris, Thomas, Mays and company will have to hold onto some interceptions (there seems to me to have been a lot of dropped ones this year).

Actually they probably don’t have to this week. But com’n…strop dropping interceptions.

I don’t think USC will blitz as much as they did last week. They shouldn’t need to. Maybe a weak opponent will allow Ellis and LoJack to get started (even though we’re halfway through the season).

Last week it really was the incredible blitzing package (something, shamefully, I had been calling for) which opened up all those holes. USC had to drop back into those deep zones because we were bringing extra guys at the QB and Moore made us pay. Clearly our secondary was shown up.

But if USC forces some turnovers, especially after the first few possessions when Harris puts the ball in the air, then this game will get out of hand early.


USC Offense v. Stanford Defense

Athlon sports has some ridiculous comments about the USC offense,

[S]ome rough spots need to be smoothed out. Junior quarterback John David Booty has been hot and cold, not doing much for a half against Oregon State before putting the Trojans in position to tie the game and go to overtime. His season passing totals aren’t bad, 155 of 246 for 1,763 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he didn’t finish off the comeback the way predecessor Matt Leinart used to do it. Junior running back Chauncey Washington, while leading his team in rushing with 481 yards on 105 carries, fumbled twice against the Beavers.

The Trojans still should have way too much firepower for Stanford, which seems headed for the worst season in school history, possibly running the table with 12 consecutive losses. The Cardinal are young, but not that young. Nine seniors are listed as starters entering this game, just one freshman, though six first-year players have been on the field a lot. The talent is down, especially with senior quarterback Trent Edwards injured and lost for the year.

It is hard to predict what USC will try to do on offense. Clearly I’ve been wrong multiple times this season predicting the Trojans to finally open it up.

With Stanford’s weakness against the run, expect Washington, Emmanuel Moody and C.J. Gable to have plenty of opportunities to atone for those mistakes. I can’t imagine Carroll, Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian would be able to ignore Booty’s effectiveness throwing those deeper patterns down the middle late in the Oregon State game. I expect a more vertical passing attack this week to complement what should be a power running game. USC’s offense has a chance to establish an identity this week against a poor opponent. It’s crucial that it does so going into the final stretch.

The front seven for Stanford could make your eyes shrivel up from their poor play. Especially Washington, should be able to run through his share of arm tackles today.

Then again as Rivals points out, it is difficult to ignore Booty’s performance in the closing minutes of last week. My chastising of the USC offense has undergone a continuing evolution over the season. Like many I questioned if Sar-Kiffin knew what they were doing, keeping the throwing game short and relying on the running game, even on some situations where you would imagine them to try to spread the field.

And of course some of the blame needed to go to Booty, especially early in the season sticking with his underneath routes, throwing short on third downs, getting balls tipped.

But against Washington, some of the shots downfield seemed to lack the touch necessary to open up a consistent deep passing attack and I wondered if Kiffin didn’t know more about Booty’s deep ball than the rest of us.

And then USC went down by 20 last week, and Booty had to throw it deep constantly. It should’ve silenced anyone’s questions about Booty and the deep ball.

I’ve heard some criticize his touch throws during that game, but I thought I saw some beautiful Matt-esque fade route throws.

It would be a shame if USC didn’t try to put this game out of reach early, early, early. Take some shots down field. Kiffin and company should view this game as a laboratory experiment – clearly they need to “experiment” with some things to improve this offense and they should try to early…mainly by taking some shots downfield. The season Steve Smith is having why in God’s name wouldn’t you?

Other Stuff

“Dwayne Jarrett said he still has not decided whether he will remain at USC after this season.”

[Action News Week 10 Rankings]
[Scout PAC 10 Picks]
[Steve Smith & Dwayne Jarrett are Top 15 Receivers]

What do I think? Closer than some think, but I wouldn’t call it a struggle.

USC 38 – Stanford 10