USC: Stepfan Taylor

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall will be the Pac-12's leading returning rusher in 2014.
Arizona State: The torch was passed from Marion Grice to D.J. Foster toward the end of last season, and Foster will have a full offseason to prepare to be the No. 1 guy. He showed impressive flashes in spot playing time in the past two seasons, and ran for 318 yards (6.2 yards per carry) in three starts after Grice was lost to injury.

California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.

Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.

Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.

Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.

Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.

UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen will likely head up USC's running back committee next season.
USC: After watching Bishop Sankey turn into one of the nation's premier backs under the tutelage of new coach Steve Sarkisian, USC's deep stable of running backs has to be intrigued. The Trojans will return four of their top five leading rushers from a year ago -- Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac -- when they were predominantly a run-first team. Allen, who was named the team MVP in 2013, figures to get the first crack at being the starter, but that could be just in name only as a running-back-by-committee scenario seems likely.

Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.

Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).

Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.

Previous positions


What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
A few storylines to keep an eye on in the final week of the regular season:

  1. Home-field advantage: Who will host the Pac-12 title game? That’s up to Arizona State (and Arizona, for that matter). The scenario is pretty simple. If Arizona State wins, the Sun Devils will finish with an 8-1 record in Pac-12 play and will host Stanford in the championship game. If Arizona wins, the Sun Devils will be 7-2, the same record as the Cardinal, and Stanford will host the championship game by virtue of its tiebreaker over the Sun Devils.
  2. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Kevin Casey/Getty ImagesArizona tailback Ka'Deem Carey has rushed for 1,559 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
    Home-field advantage (Take 2): Oregon hasn’t lost at home to Oregon State since the overtime game in 2007. Washington hasn’t lost at home to Washington State since 2007. UCLA hasn’t won at the Coliseum since 1997. The Cardinal have a 15-game home winning streak, longest in the country. Arizona State has a seven-game home winning streak. Home-field advantage is obviously important. And for the reasons listed in the first bullet point, the location of the title game is still unknown. But it hinges on the Territorial Cup, and the visiting team has won the past four.
  3. Battle of strengths: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, along with his 155.9 yards per game and 14-game streak of rushing for 100 yards or more, heads to Tempe to face an Arizona State defense that is third in the league against the run, yielding 123.4 yards per game.
  4. The Kelly factor: There are a lot of reasons why ASU is riding a six-game win streak heading into its showdown with Arizona. But one key reason has been the increased use of quarterback Taylor Kelly in the running game. Through the first five games when the Sun Devils were 3-2, Kelly averaged 7.8 rushes per game and 25.8 yards per game with zero touchdowns. Over the past six games, he’s averaging 12.5 rushes per game and 47 yards with eight touchdowns.
  5. Showdown in Tinseltown: The Trojans have won 12 of the past 14 meetings, though the Bruins took out the Trojans last season. Unlike last season's game, there is no bearing on the Pac-12 South title since ASU has already wrapped it up. But there is no shortage of storylines. Is this the game that ends Ed Orgeron’s magnificent run as head coach? Or is it the game that convinces Pat Haden to drop “interim” from his title and make him the guy. It’s a game with massive recruiting implications in Southern California and is always the best game in town, since there is no other football.
  6. Rocky Mountain blues: Neither Colorado nor Utah are going to a bowl game -- again. There is certainly more disappointment in Salt Lake City for a team that had high hopes. But after beating Stanford in October, the Utes have dropped five in a row. Colorado has four wins so far -- which was the total from the past two seasons combined, so coach Mike MacIntyre has things moving in the right direction. At this point, it’s about either team trying to build up some momentum.
  7. Civil showdown: Oregon is looking to extend its Civil War winning streak to six straight over Oregon State. Both teams had a rough November, but an Oregon win would give the Ducks a sixth-straight 10-win season. The Beavers, meanwhile, are trying to snap a five-game skid. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks second in the country in ESPN’s Total QBR ranking, while Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks leads the country with 141.8 receiving yards per game.
  8. Will the real Kevin Hogan please stand up: Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kevin Hogan had a career-high 98.9 Total QBR in Stanford’s 63-13 win against California. Hogan had career highs in passing yards (329), passing touchdowns (five) and 15-yard completions (15). Hogan bounced back from his career-low 23.1 Total QBR in Stanford’s loss to USC last Saturday.
  9. Stanford-Notre Dame quotable: Of course, we all remember how last year’s game ended in South Bend. Notre Dame’s goal-line stand in the rain, Stepfan Taylor failing to cross the goal line in overtime, etc. Coaches love to be reminded of stuff like that, and our own Ted Miller was kind enough to ask coach David Shaw about that play. His response: “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t watch that play again. I think I watched so many times last year that I don’t need to see it again. I know what happened.”
  10. Apples and apples: Washington State reached six wins for the first time since 2006 and could go to a bowl game for the first time since 2003. The Huskies are at the seven-win mark, a hump they’ve failed to get over of late, so this game has a tremendous impact on bowl pecking order. The Huskies are coming off a blowout win over Oregon State where Bishop Sankey rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He’s third in the nation in total yards. WSU safety Deone Bucannon, the Pac-12’s leading tackler, became the first Cougar to post back-to-back seasons of at least 100 tackles since the turn of the century.

Grades: No. 21 Stanford 21, No. 2 USC 14

September, 15, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. -- For the fourth straight season, Stanford upset the USC Trojans, this time by a 21-14 score in another thriller between the two rivals. Here's a report card for the previously No. 2-ranked Trojans.

Matt Barkley made some really questionable decisions -- in particular the second straight interception he threw in the second quarter. This might have been D-caliber work for Barkley, honestly, but given that the Trojans' line struggled to protect him, he earns a low C.

Silas Redd continues to get the opportunities, but he did very little with them. Sure, he got into the end zone twice, but he averaged about a yard on the rest of his carries. When Curtis McNeal was on the field and not immediately stuffed, he showed the same burst he always has had.

Pretty much USC's entire offensive line struggled the entire day, and that was by far the biggest reason USC lost this game. Injured center Khaled Holmes was sorely missed. On defense, a short-handed line produced some pressure on Stanford's Josh Nunes -- but not near enough, obviously.

Considering everything that happened, the Trojans' defense actually didn't play poorly. Stepfan Taylor is an elite running back, and he used his skills to break through the front seven on a consistent basis. USC's secondary still has some serious tackling issues, the same ones that have plagued the team in recent years.

Kyle Negrete was fine -- not as good as last week but still good. The opening kickoff return didn't end up costing the Trojans, but it was still a poor play from the kick coverage unit. There weren't really any other impact chances for USC's special teams.

USC was outcoached in this game, clearly. Lane Kiffin really had no idea how to keep the pressure off of Barkley in the fourth quarter, and David Shaw and his staff dialed up all the right moves series after series. Can the Trojans' coach keep the wheels from falling off going forward?

Five things to watch: USC-Stanford

September, 14, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- The No. 2-ranked USC Trojans begin Pac-12 conference play Saturday against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium (4:30 p.m. PT). Here are five things to watch:

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley and Robert Woods
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillMatt Barkley and the Trojans hope to turn around a trend that has seen them stumble early out of the blocks in conference play ... as well as lose three consecutive contests to Stanford.
1. No Luck. How much of a problem? By now, just about everybody knows the Cardinal are without former all-everything quarterback Andrew Luck, who graduated to the NFL after last season and now starts for the Indianapolis Colts. What not everybody knows is the name of his replacement: Josh Nunes, a fourth-year player from Upland, Calif. He's been good so far, making few of mistakes that often plague first-time starters. But many of the Trojans weren't afraid to say this week that Nunes is not yet comparable to Luck. For the Cardinal, the obvious narrative after they barely snuck by the San Jose State Spartans to win their opener was growing pains with a first-year signal-caller. But Nunes demonstrated improvement against Duke in Week 2. If they were to upset the Trojans, that would obviously be a sign his growth process has accelerated quite a bit.

2. The unkind road and the unkind team. In each of the past five seasons, USC has lost either its first or second conference road game, including its first in three of the past four seasons. That's kind of an alarming statistic, and it might help explain why the Trojans are favored by single digits in most locations for this game. Of course, it's an even more unsettling stat that this season’s crop of USC seniors -- Matt Barkley included -- hasn't beaten Stanford in their college careers. That hasn't happened to a USC class with a regular opponent in more than a decade. Stanford Stadium isn't the loudest, craziest opposing atmosphere in the conference. But many of the Trojans' older players may have memories of a 37-35 loss on a game-ending field goal two years ago at Stanford enter their heads at various times Saturday.

3. A real running back. Stanford's Stepfan Taylor hasn't played like a particularly elite running back thus far this season, but he's thought of as one around the country. He may be the best back the Trojans face all year, so it could be a telling test for the USC front seven. Linemen Morgan Breslin and Antwaun Woods have played better than expected through two games. But can they keep it up when a capable, varied running game is thrown into the mix? If this is the first game this season USC sees the originally planned linebacking crew of Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard on the field together shortly after kickoff, can they handle the Cardinal's run game as a group? Will the Trojans' secondary be unified enough to prevent long runs?

4. Media distraction? It's easy to overstate the impact here -- and let's first clarify that few of USC's players may have even heard about what happened this week with the status of injuries and the local media – but it's quite unlikely thee events will affect play. But if Lane Kiffin were to somehow lose this week, he'd get absolutely roasted in subsequent days by the national media for worrying about the practice suspension of a local reporter in the middle of an important game week. He'll of course say it wasn't a distraction, but the results will stand alone. It's kind of a ready-made critique of a college football coach: If they don't win, what's the point of being so secretive about your players' injuries, anyway?

5. The tandem. Most in-game signs are pointing to Silas Redd 's eventual takeover of the Trojans' No. 1 running back role and Curtis McNeal's quiet demotion to the second spot. If it's going to happen, this will be the week it does, with USC needing to establish a consistent run game early against Stanford's solid defense. Then again, there's always the possibility that Kiffin has been keeping McNeal extra fresh, what with 16 carries in two games, so he can succeed in a game like this one. If Redd again gets 60 to 70 percent of the total carries and performs well, it's safe to assume he's USC's top back -- regardless of whether he's officially defined as such by Kiffin and Co.

Prediction: USC 41-30.

McNeal makes Doak Walker watch list

July, 19, 2012
USC running back Curtis McNeal has made the Doak Walker Award watch list, it was announced Thursday.

The Walker Award goes to the nation's best running back each season. It's McNeal's first time being recognized for the award.

The senior McNeal ran for 1,005 yards and six touchdowns on just 145 carries last season, finishing the year averaging almost seven yards per carry.

Seven other Pac-12 backs were put on the list Thursday, including UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor.

There is just one more watch list set to be released this week, capping off the flurry of announcements over the last 10 days. The Walter Camp Award, which goes to the best player in all of college football, will release its watch list Friday.

5 things to watch: Washington-USC

November, 11, 2011
1. Back-to-back-to-back. Until this year, it had been a full decade since USC had lost three straight games to a single opponent. Stanford reset the clock on that last month at the Coliseum with its triple-overtime victory over the Trojans, but USC runs the risk of doing that once again this weekend against Washington. The last two times the Trojans and Huskies have met, Washington has pulled out last-minute victories on the foot of kicker Erik Folk. USC's favored by nearly two touchdowns this time around, but this isn't the typical game with that margin. The Huskies were just as easily supposed to lose each of the last two games, but Jake Locker buoyed them into victories each time.

2. Price and Polk. On the topic of Locker, Keith Price is no Locker, but Washington's Price and Chris Polk are up there this year among all the QB-RB tandems the Trojans have faced, probably behind only Stanford's Andrew Luck and Stepfan Taylor. Polk, a junior who once committed to USC in high school, has gotten at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season and has already surpassed 1,000 yards. Price started the season, his first as the starter, really hot but has since cooled down. He's thrown a combined five picks in his last two games, so the Trojans clearly have an opportunity to force turnovers against him.

3. A healthy defense. Those turnovers depend on the playmakers of this defense, and a couple of those playmakers were absent against Colorado last week. Strongside linebacker Dion Bailey, the biggest pleasant surprise of the unit this year, wasn't cleared to play because of a concussion but is now slated to move back into the starting lineup for Washington. And safety T.J. McDonald missed the first half of that game because of a Pac-12 suspension -- he'll be playing right away against the Huskies, and he'll be motivated after USC coach Lane Kiffin told reporters that McDonald played tentatively in the second half last week.

4. The USC RBs. Curtis McNeal has been handling himself just fine as USC's primary running back the last two weeks, except for the injuries that seem to come up every time he picks up more than 10 or so carries in a game. The good thing for the Trojans is that Marc Tyler is healthy again and will be available against Washington. Against Notre Dame, McNeal and Tyler made for a combination the Irish had no consistent answer for, so it'll be interesting to see if the Huskies have anything ND didn't. George Farmer is also expected to play for the first time since the Notre Dame game, so the Trojans could use him for a trick play or a mix-'em-up call.

5. Sarkisian-Kiffin. The two coaches, USC's Kiffin and Washington's Steve Sarkisian, managed to create some entertainment for Saturday's game with their back-and-forth barbs this week. There's something fun about their interactions, almost as if you can see the Pete Carroll influence in the both of them. Both have the opportunity to get one step closer to making their 2011 seasons unabated successes with wins Saturday. In Sarkisian's case, a win against the Trojans means his team is probably going to finish with nine wins, considering the Huskies' last two opponents. In Kiffin's case, a win against Washington means his team is going to enter into next week's matchup with Oregon a top-15 team, probably right around the same rank as the Ducks if they lose to Stanford on Saturday. A lot's on the line for both men, and there will surely be attention paid to their postgame interactions at the Coliseum.

Where the crossroads led

October, 30, 2011

USC dropped just one spot in the Associated Press poll following Saturday's 56-48 loss to No. 4 Stanford in triple overtime, from No. 20 to 21, a sign of just how much national viewers respected the Trojans' performance in a losing effort.

We wrote pre-game that the game would be a crossroads for Lane Kiffin and USC. Win, and the Trojans would go one way, skying up to inarguable success this season. Lose, and they'd trend significantly downward and be in danger of losing some fan support once again.

Well, we were wrong. They took the in-between route.

Kiffin's Trojans put up such a fight against Andrew Luck and the Cardinal that the outcome doesn't necessarily take them in a given direction from here. They'll face Colorado in five days, and they obviously need to win that comfortably to keep up the momentum, but they'll likely be ranked higher after beating the Buffaloes than they were entering the Stanford game, which is saying something.

What did USC prove in Saturday's four-hour tour de force on the Coliseum field?

For one, the Trojans' defense has improved from last season and the start of last year. Luck's numbers were nice and Stanford ended up with 186 yards rushing, but the Cardinal did not dominate the game on the offensive side like they've dominated every other game they played this season. Stepfan Taylor and the other backs only finished with a lot of yards because they ran the ball so many times -- Stanford got less than four yards per rush on average.

(Read full post)

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.

First look: Stanford

October, 25, 2011
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."

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Taking advantage of a weakness

September, 29, 2011
Arizona, USC's opponent this Saturday, is a 1-3 team that probably is better than than record considering the quality of its opponents.

But the Wildcats do have one easily discernible weakness: They struggle defending the run.

In its last three games, Arizona has given up an average of 285 rushing yards per game, a ridiculously high number boosted by LaMichael James' record-setting 288-yard performance last week. But Stanford's Stepfan Taylor and Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle had similar success too, gaining 7.4 yards per rush against the Wildcats' porous front seven.

But James, Taylor and Randle all have one thing in common: They're quick. USC's No. 1 running back, Marc Tyler, is not, as evidenced by his struggle to break most runs past the 15-yard mark. And that naturally lowers the Trojans' expectations for what they can accomplish against the Arizona defense.

"It is what it is," coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday. "You can’t all of a sudden make a guy really fast. We’re doing the best to put him in the best situations with his ability. Obviously you always want a home run hitter and a guy that last week on those runs has some explosive longer runs.

"We've just got to use what we have and make the best of him and find different ways to use him.”

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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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C. Kessler100718468
J. Allen603185.31
J. Davis26602.31
N. Agholor232129.23
J. Smith1117015.50