5 things to watch: USC vs. Stanford Cardinal

October, 9, 2010
10/09/10
7:42
AM PT
Five things to watch:

1. Can the Trojans stop the run? At times, Stanford will have seven offensive linemen on the field. It also has a fullback, Owen Marecic, who weighs 244 pounds and rarely blows his assignment. These guys are disciplined and stubborn. You can stop it 10 straight times, but they'll still try to run it an 11th. USC's defensive strength has been run defense, particularly between the tackles, so it's strength on strength here. Could be the ballgame.

2. Can the Cardinal stop the run? USC coach Lane Kiffin said, "We're going to have to run the ball. We're going to have to run it a lot." The idea is to keep a young and shaky defense off the field as much as possible by controlling the ball. Stanford's defense is susceptible out in space and Oregon may have exposed its lack of speed so look for Kiffin to use as many of his speedy playmakers as he can, including Ronald Johnson, Robert Woods and Dillon Baxter in some new looks.

3. Can the Trojans make a key field goal? The Trojans could be in trouble if it's close late. Kicker Joe Houston has made just two of his six attempts, throwing the competition open this week. He appears to have held onto the job, but he won't hold it long if he keeps missing. Stanford's kicker, Nate Whitaker, is 9 for 9.

4. Third-and-hold on! USC ranks 87th nationally in third-down defense. Stanford ranks second in third-down offense. This could be a problem. The Trojans simply haven't made plays in critical downs, while the Cardinal, led by poised quarterback Andrew Luck, seem to specialize in it. How USC does in this department will speak directly to the adjustments made by the coaching staff.

5.Who's less unhealthy? Sorry to use a double negative, but it seems appropriate the way both programs try to obscure their injuries. Two Stanford receivers, Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen, were limited in practice this week as was cornerback Richard Sherman. USC had its longest injury list of the year, but Kiffin wouldn't provide details and said he hopes they all suit up Saturday. The public's right to know might be the biggest casualty.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.
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