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Tuesday, October 25, 2011
First look: Stanford

By Pedro Moura

On the day after every game USC has played this season, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin has introduced his team to the next squad  they'll face by playing a cut-up clip of highlights from the team's games that season.

It typically comes right after the Trojans have finished reviewing the film of their game from the day before, so the players are usually very excited to move forward and stop looking back. Each week, Kiffin said, they have "oohed and aahed" as he flipped the switch to the new unseen footage and discarded the previous game's.

StanfordUSCNot this week, though. This week, they were silent and focused on the task at hand: beating the fourth-ranked team in the country in the Coliseum, the Stanford Cardinal.

"Nobody even made a noise," Kiffin said of showing Stanford's tape inside Heritage Hall on Sunday. "They've really finally understood that it's not about hype, it's about the prep.

"I was really proud of the way the players handled themselves."

USC has learned its lesson about the sliding scale between hype and prep, the sliding scale between focusing on one's own game and worrying too much about the opponent. It has probably cost the Trojans a perfect 7-0 record, as they succumbed to it on the road at Arizona State last month.

But this game is a bit different. Stanford just smacked around a pretty good Washington team last week in Palo Alto, beating the Huskies by 44 points. The Trojans could be similar victims on Saturday at the Coliseum

They have to keep up they way they played against Notre Dame to even have a chance to win, and they have to keep up the mindset all week in practice, too, as they prep for the multi-faceted Cardinal.

"Well, we don't have a choice," Kiffin said Monday. "This is arguably the best team in the country coming in here, and I can't imagine there's a more complete team in the country.

"They're hitting on all cylinders."

Some of those cylinders first-year coach David Shaw has keyed in on: Their passing game, where Heisman-favorite Andrew Luck calmly operates like few other college quarterbacks in recent memory; their running game, which just set a school record for yards in a game against the Huskies; and the defensive line, which has produced more than 12 times as many sacks (25) as the Cardinal offensive line has allowed (2).

USC has had a lot of success stopping the run this season. The problem, then, is that Shaw has so many options on offense that there's almost no way the Trojans will be able to successfully stop them all. Limit Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney, the three Cardinal RBs, and Luck will find one of his four receivers with more than 300 yards receiving on the year. Limit Luck, and, well -- Washington saw exactly what happened when you do that.

Shaw has received little fanfare in replacing departed coach Jim Harbaugh, who has found success in the NFL right away with the San Francisco 49ers, but he's done a surprisingly impressive job limiting the turnover on the offense.

It appears to have been a seamless transition.

"They really challenge you, come downhill at you," Kiffin said this week. "And they play really hard. And then the playcalling -- they do a great job.

"I think people thought maybe with Jim leaving and their offensive line coach leaving, that would suffer, but it didn't at all. There's still playing very tough, very physical and give you a lot of problems."

And it's not just the playcalling. Part of Harbaugh's success in Palo Alto, many thought, was due to his unusual fire on the sideline and ability to pump up his players more than the rest of his coaches out there. So far, Shaw has proved that may have been overstated.

"I think that's what surprising," Kiffin said. "Everybody thought they were going to lose the Jim effect and they haven't shown that at all."