USC: Nate Whitaker

5 things to watch: Stanford-USC

October, 28, 2011

1. GameDay and a sellout crowd. USC is expecting a sellout crowd -- or very close to it -- to turn up at the Coliseum on Saturday, which will likely make for the Trojans' biggest home crowd since September 2008. Yes, USC hasn't sold out a home contest since the Ohio State home opener that year. And to add to the craziness, ESPN College GameDay is going to be broadcasting outside the Coliseum starting at 6 a.m. PT -- 11 hours before kickoff. The atmosphere is going to be a blast from the past. Who will handle it better: the Cardinal or the Trojans?

StanfordUSC2. Barkley-Luck. It's been the No. 1 topic of conversation this week around this game, maybe the No. 1 topic in all of college football. Who's going to outplay who on the Coliseum field Saturday? Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck played fairly evenly in Palo Alto last season -- Barkley throwing for more yards but on more attempts and a worse completion percentage. Neither player threw a pick in that game, although Barkley threw three in the Trojans' loss to Stanford back in 2009, a game people have forgotten to add to the discussion this week. Luck wasn't asked to do much back then, but he quietly completed more than half of his passes, threw two touchdowns and stayed mistake-free. The truth is that he doesn't have to do much more than that in order for Stanford to win on Saturday. Barkley, on the other hand, has to have a legitimate big game. But if there were ever a time to show up on a national stage, this will be it.

3. The respective run games. Stanford has three capable running backs plus Luck in the backfield; USC has two, Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler. Both units had impressive performances in the teams' last games, but both the Cardinal and Trojans' front sevens are better than the units they posted those games on. The talk surrounding this game has been all about Luck and Barkley and hardly about McNeal, Tyler, Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney. But Taylor may be the best back USC has seen this season, and he's going to get the ball a lot against the Trojans. Tyler and McNeal had never really been an old-fashioned 1-2 tandem before, but they did against Notre Dame last week and it worked perfectly. It will be interesting to see if Lane Kiffin rotates the two in and out as fluidly as he sometimes did against the Irish.

4. Woods' percent USC's No. 1 receiver and only true offensive playmaker, Robert Woods, is not fully healthy. We don't know what is ailing him, so we can only speculate that it's his ankle and elbow again, but we do know that it kept him from participating fully in practice this week. Obviously we don't know exactly what percent it takes him to be successful, but if Woods is not up to around 75 or 80 percent by game time Saturday, it's going to be extremely tough for USC to beat Stanford. Who else will Barkley target when he's pressured by the Cardinal? Who's going to pull in the tough third-down grabs to extend drives? The Trojans need Woods, and they need a healthy Woods.

5. Sacks Luck and Barkley have dropped back to pass nearly 500 times this season, considering pass attempts and scrambles and all. Only six of those times -- six -- have they been sacked by the opposition. These offensive lines and these play-callers know how to keep the two golden boys off the ground. If either team can get to the quarterback even two or three times on Saturday, that could throw off a lot of things for both players. And, as a corollary, pay attention to the dominant play by the two teams' left tackles, Matt Kalil and Jonathan Martin. Both guys are likely to be picked in the top half of the first round next April.

And a bonus thing: The kicking games. Stanford's senior kicker -- Nate Whitaker, the guy who redeemed himself from a PAT miss to beat the Trojans last year -- is gone. But sophomore Jordan Williamson has come in right away and been almost perfect. USC faces questions at the position this week with Andre Heidari nursing a sprained right ankle, which will be a game-time decision. If he doesn't go, the Trojans likely won't kick a field goal longer than 30 yards, which would obviously affect their game plan in a big way.

The personal foul penalty

October, 27, 2011
Remember how Stanford's game-winning drive got started a year ago in Palo Alto?

The Cardinal got the ball at their own 26-yard line with 1:02 left, down 35-34 after Allen Bradford's touchdown gave the Trojans the lead. Odds of a comeback looked long as they'd have to travel 40 or 50 yards in 60 seconds to have a shot at winning the game.

Then USC middle linebacker Chris Galippo committed a key personal foul penalty on the first play of the drive, and the Cardinal were off running, starting at the 45-yard line. Five plays later and Andrew Luck and Co. were calling a timeout at the USC 13-yard line for Nate Whitaker to kick the winning 30-yard field goal.

The personal foul played a bigger role than some realized, stopping the clock and giving Stanford a huge boost. But it has been sort of selectively erased from a lot of memories of that game.

Not Galippo's, though. The redshirt senior said this week he has thought of that play many times since last October, thinking over what could have been done differently on his end and why it worked out the way it did.

"There wasn't a whistle," he said at the time. "I was trying to bring him down. I saw he was in the grasp, but he was still standing up and I knew every yard counted so I was trying to drive him back.

"At the end of the day it could have gone either way."

He says now he understands why it was called -- even if he and the rest of the Trojans didn't understand it at the time. And, although some of his teammates may have forgotten about it, he certainly hasn't.

"I know me, personally, I forgot about the ... thing until Sunday night when I went back and I was doing my film studies and I went back and watched the game," said linebackers coach Joe Barry. "I was like, Oh, gosh, I forgot about that.

"Maybe it sticks in a player's mind a little bit more, maybe he remembers -- it was an unfortunate deal, obviously -- but I don't think players really dwell on things like that."

Or maybe it's a good thing players dwell on it. Galippo hasn't committed a personal foul since, and it's clear he wants to stake his reputation to that in the future.

It's a safe bet he won't get called for a similar foul Saturday.

Heidari's presence is key

October, 24, 2011
If the kicking situation this season at UCLA is any indication, the health of USC's Andre Heidari heading into Saturday's Stanford game is much more important than many are realizing.

Heidari, the Trojans' impressive true freshman placekicker, sprained his right ankle on the 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Notre Dame's George Atkinson III in Saturday's win over the Irish, and he has been using crutches to get around campus since, which Trojans coach Lane Kiffin called "obviously not very good" for his chances to play Saturday.

USC doesn't have a men's soccer team to turn to for a last-second replacement. If Heidari can't go against the Cardinal, USC will use walk-on Craig McMahon for extra points and kickoffs and probably try to avoid most field goals outside of 30 yards. Even if he can, it's likely the Trojans' typical strategies will be changed to incorporate more going-for-it and pooch-punting and less kicking inside the opponents' 40-yard line.

It's hard to overstate the potential impacts of that, from USC's decision to punt from the Irish 30-yard line in the third quarter to the 32-yarder Heidari missed in the fourth quarter a few minutes after his first point-after attempt barely went over the bars.

USC is lucky his missed field-goal try didn't change the outcome of the game, because the Irish got the ball back after the miss down just seven points, 24-17, and with all the momentum on their side. If not for Chris Galippo's recovery of the incomplete pass from Tommy Rees to Cierre Wood ruled a rush and fumble, Notre Dame could easily have tied the score.

Heidari went back out and converted the extra point after USC's ensuing touchdown, but McMahon kicked off, allowing Notre Dame to get its next drive started at its own 36-yard line. Of course, that one ended soon after it started as well, with Nickell Robey picking off Rees' third pass to seal the outcome.

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First, first look: Stanford

July, 7, 2011
The weeks are counting down until fall camp begins for the USC football team the first week of August. During each of the in-between weeks, we've been offering up an early first look at the 12 scheduled opponents for the 2011 season, in chronological order. We began with Minnesota and Utah, continued the next three weeks with Syracuse, Arizona State, and Arizona, and added Cal and Notre Dame recently. We now present Stanford, who the Trojans will face at home on Saturday, Oct. 29:

History: USC and Stanford have matched up 88 times in their histories, dating to 1905.

On only five occasions have the Cardinal been ranked higher than USC entering the matchup. Last year was one of those times, and this year figures to be another, as the Cardinal enter the 2011 season as a likely preseason top-10 pick.

USC leads the all-time series between the schools by a margin of 58-27-3, and the Trojans have had win streaks as long as 12 games against Stanford. But, over the last dozen years, the Cardinal have actually been USC's toughest in-conference opponent.

Since 1999, the teams have split 12 games, and it has been streaky. Stanford won in 1999, 2000 and 2001; USC won five straight from 2002 to 2006 until Stanford pulled off the big upset in 2007. Then the Trojans won once more in 2008 before the Cardinal took the next two, including USC's worst home loss in three decades in 2009.

Half of those last 12 games have been tightly contested, with margins of victory of five points or fewer.

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Postgame extras: Robert Woods' big day and more

October, 10, 2010
Video interviews with USC's Chris Galippo and Robert Woods, plus several quotes that stood out from USC's 37-35 loss to Stanford at Stanford Stadium on Saturday:

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, on how the game ended: "You hope that your field goal teams can put the work in and that your kicker has the right frame of mind. That unit to make the kick -- elation."

Kicker Joe Houston, on his thought process when Stanford's Nate Whitaker missed a point-after attempt with 10 or so minutes to go in the game : "Well, I knew that when he missed it put them up by six. And I knew that we just needed a touchdown and I'd have a chance at redemption."

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Postgame thoughts: Stanford

October, 9, 2010
STANFORD -- Notes, quotes and video from USC's 37-35 loss to Stanford at Stanford Stadium:
  • Hey, now that was fun. For the second straight week USC lost on a last-second field goal, but this time the Trojans were more competitive than many expected them to be, matching almost every Stanford score until the final seconds. But while coach Lane Kiffin was "pleased" with the resolve his team exhibited Saturday, the Trojans weren't. "It is really disappointing to lose two games like this," said USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who completed 28-of-45 passes for 390 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in what was probably the best game of his young career. "We are at the lowest of lows and it is very tough because we were at the highest of highs just two weeks ago."
  • Added backup linebacker Shane Horton, on a more positive note: "We're growing. With the new guys and the new staff, we're growing together as one. So sometimes you gotta take these on the chin. Compared to last week, I think we know where we're going -- we're going in the right direction."
  • USC lacked discipline again late in the game, but the Trojans were not lacking one key aspect that looked to be at times absent earlier this year -- effort. "That's the one thing that Coach Kiffin said," linebacker Chris Galippo said after the game. "There's no one on the coaching staff that's gonna question anyone's effort. The bottom line is that we played our butts off. But, at the end of the day -- once again -- the ball didn't really go our way. That's not to say we couldn't have got better, that we didn't make [bad] decisions at times, that we didn't miss tackles at times, but our team fought until the very end and that's all you can ask."

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C. Kessler13295110710
J. Allen804335.42
J. Davis411423.52
N. Agholor262399.23
J. Allen1516410.91