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Rebuilding The Coliseum Ends With Stanford

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Marqise Lee may be one of the best wide receivers in college football, but one man cannot win a football game against Stanford. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.
Marqise Lee may be one of the best wide receivers in college football, but one man cannot win a football game against Stanford. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.

Stanford faces off against the Trojans in the Coliseum on Saturday. Here's what you need to know about this weekend's game.

First Down: Another Step Forward For Stanford

Stanford is throwing elbows and fighting to sit atop the Pac-12 for a second year in a row. I wrote that this could be the year they assert superiority over Oregon. They have done that, but a loss to either USC or Cal would push the race out of their hands.

The win against Oregon was a great step forward for Stanford in the Pac-12. Now they battle for Northern California — and the recruits in the area. In many ways, USC’s downfall has been inversely related to Stanford’s rise to prominence; Andrew Luck had the opposite effect of Reggie Bush (who’s acceptance of improper benefits led to NCAA sanctions). This rivarly is important not just this year but for years to come, as Stanford needs to continue to beat out USC for the best recruits in the state.

Stanford’s David Shaw will prepare for USC with diligence equal to what the team did against Oregon, because for different reasons, it is just as important.

Second Down: USC Shows Its Coach O Face

Cody Kessler has four touchdowns and one interception in his last three games, which wouldn’t be all that impressive if he had not entered those games with eight touchdowns and five interceptions on the season.

Since interim coach Ed Orgeron took command of the Trojans, USC has gone 4-1. Again, not so impressive considering their schedule, but they had gone 3-2 with Kiffin. The improvements are not massive, but they are improvements.

Perhaps this USC team is climaxing at the right time.

Third Down: Get 'Em Off The Field

Both teams plan to get the other the heck off the field. Now that USC is a bit less turnover prone, Stanford will have to settle for punts. USC showed it can win a shootout (Cal and Arizona). They also can compete in a low-possession game (Utah and Notre Dame). Stanford is best dictating a slower, low-scoring game and it can do that by getting the USC offense off the field.

Stanford’s third-down defense is first in the country, but the Cardinal has only averaged 26 minutes 25 seconds of possession on the road this year, per TeamRankings.com. They will need to lengthen drives if they want to continue their bruising game plan, though I would not be surprised to see a few big passes. A Kevin Hogan bomb to a Cardinal reciever has been a weekly occurence.

Just like teams fear a quarterback finding a rhythm with his wide receivers in spread offenses, opponents must fear Tyler Gaffney finding a rhythm with the offensive line. It will kill the opponent and the clock in the fourth quarter. If USC has any chance of winning, it will be in the same way: Stopping Stanford on third downs. And it’s no mystery how to do so. USC must get off blocks and tackle Tyler Gaffney. Every Stanford first down in the fourth quarter against Oregon came via the run. The opponents know what is coming, but Stanford is too strong to be stopped.

Nelson Agholor And Marqise Lee

Each receiver could be a starter anywhere in the country. However, neither player has seen a defense this good since they lost to Stanford last year. Stanford’s secondary does an incredible job communicating between cornerbacks and safeties, which limits big plays on the outside and jams up the middle of the field. Hard-hitting Ed Reynolds and ball-hawking Jordan Richards have lived up to preseason hype and the comparison to Batman and Robin.

Agholor, however, gets it done on special teams too, bringing back two punts last week. The story is similar for Stanford. Special teams coach Pete Alamar said that Shayne Skov looks as if he might cry when his coach told him he couldn’t cover punts.

Prediction

I do not see this one staying as close as many analysts are saying.

Stanford 27, USC 17.