Stanford Football: Trojans-Cardinal-091512

Matt BarkleyEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's defense pressured Matt Barkley all game and never allowed him to get in sync.
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Whenever Stanford head coach David Shaw opens a news conference with: “As you know, I’m not one for making opening statements, but …” you know he wants to get something out there.

Shaw couldn’t say enough about his defense’s performance in Saturday’s 21-14 win over then No. 2 USC that propelled the Cardinal back into the top 10 and sent shockwaves through the college football landscape.

“[Defensive coordinator] Derek Mason and our defensive staff were phenomenal,” Shaw said. “We were playing a great team and those guys made some plays. We tried to make them one dimensional and throw the ball.”

Hold up ... you wanted to make them throw the ball? Matt Barkley. Robert Woods. Marqise Lee. You wanted to make those guys beat you? This all smacks of Rocky standing up to Clubber Lang shouting "You ain't so bad, you ain't so bad."All that's missing is some hackneyed movie dialogue: “It’s crazy, crazy enough that it just might work.”

Well, Shaw isn’t crazy. Mason isn’t crazy. Turns out we were the crazy ones for thinking that USC’s troika was unflappable. But Barkley, who turned in one of the worst performances of his career, was flapped. He completed 21 of 40 passes for 254 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Only twice in his career has he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, and both came in 2009.

Lee, the master of yards after the catch, never really broke free, despite eight catches for 100 yards. Woods was a non-factor with four catches for 38 yards. And though both of USC's touchdowns came on the ground, the Trojans were limited to 26 yards rushing because the Cardinal had nine tackles for a loss. USC had just two plays that went for more than 25 yards.

Stanford might have disguised some coverages and blitzes, but the Cardinal never disguised their intentions.

"That's one of the best front sevens in the country and they showed it [Saturday]," said USC coach Lane Kiffin. "You go back to last year an almost all of them coming back. I know [with Shayne Skov] returning in there, they're even better than last year."

Stanford’s front seven has a little saying. They like to throw a “party in the backfield.” Saturday night was a swinging soiree with Barkley as the unfortunate guest of honor. Stanford sacked Barkley four times and kept him under duress most of the game.

“We heard the talk all week about Barkley and Woods, and rightfully so,” said Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner, who had five tackles including a sack and two tackles for a loss. “They’re a talented bunch. But we were really confident about playing them all week. We felt good about what we had and the way that guys were practicing. We knew that if we came out there with a lot of energy, played our hardest at every snap, good things would happen. "

Certainly, some of Stanford's success can be attributed to the fact that USC was without center Khaled Holmes, an All-American candidate and a favorite for the Rimington Award.

"If there was a game on the schedule you'd pick that you wouldn't want to be missing your senior center, this is it," Kiffin said. "One, because their nose [guard] is really good. Two, because of all the different fronts and all the calls that have to be made up there. I don't care who the backup was. You're going to miss it when you play this game."

But it wasn't just the pressure up front that was so devastatingly effective. It was also a banner game for Stanford safeties Jordan Richards and Ed Reynolds. Perceived as a preseason question mark for Stanford, which had to replace veterans leaders in Michael Thomas and Delano Howell, the secondary played physical and fearless. Richards had two interceptions -- on consecutive Barkley passes -- to go with four pass breakups. Two of the breakups came on third down, where the Trojans were an paltry 1-of-13.

Maisel: No Hollywood finish for Trojans

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- It is only Sept. 15, USC. Jan. 7 in Miami is 11 games away. It is entirely possible that you Trojans will run out of the tunnel at Dolphins Stadium and play for the school's third national championship in the last decade, give or take a vacated trophy.

On that happy night in south Florida, what happened at Stanford Stadium on Saturday will be a distant memory. Only the Cardinal fans will recall how No. 21 Stanford wore down No. 2 USC diminished by scholarship penalties, injuries and the sheer physicality of the Cardinal on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

That is how the Trojans and their fans must think. They must forget the reality of their 21-14 loss before a sellout crowd of 50,360. They must tuck away the disappointment in losing a fourth straight to Stanford for the first time since the rivalry began in 1905. They must ignore the other possibility, that for all the attention paid to Matt Barkley & Co., USC only looked the part of a national championship contender.

The Trojans appeared real -- blond, good-looking quarterback, playmaking wide receivers, hype out the wazoo. This may come as a surprise to anyone outside the moviemaking capital of the world, but appearances can deceive. Hollywood's Team played Saturday night as if it had been constructed by a Hollywood set designer. Behind the fašade, there wasn't a whole lot.

For Ivan Maisel's full column, click here.

Cardinal ride Taylor to victory

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
11:45
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PALO ALTO, Calif. – Stanford’s Kevin Danser was living an offensive lineman’s dream Saturday night.

“You finish your block and you’re on the ground, and then you look up and your running back is still going,” said Stanford’s guard. “Man, that’s a great feeling. How about that guy? Man, not a lot of people can do what 33 can do.”

That guy -- 33 -- is Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, who was the offensive catalyst in Stanford’s ugly-but-effective 21-14 victory over No. 2 USC in front of a sold-out (50,360) Stanford Stadium. Classes don’t start until next week, but that didn’t stop the students in attendance from rushing the field and celebrating Stanford’s fourth consecutive win over the Trojans.

It’s the second time in the past five meetings that Stanford has beaten USC when the Trojans were ranked second nationally. They did it in Los Angeles in 2007 on a last-minute touchdown pass by Tavita Pritchard, winning 24-23 when Stanford was a 41-point underdog.

Saturday night, the Trojans (2-1) weren’t as heavily favored, but they were still considered a grade above No. 21 Stanford (3-0). Taylor saw to disprove that. He chipped, chipped and then broke through. Then he chipped and chipped again. And then he broke through again. And when he was done chipping, he had broken USC’s defense.

“That guy is a rock,” said Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt. “I get to see his yards after contact because he usually blows right by me. And it’s impressive.”

Taylor looked like the best player on the field Saturday night -- not exactly a passing statement when he was sharing the field with USC quarterback Matt Barkley and A-list wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Taylor rushed for 153 yards on 27 carries (5.9 average) and a touchdown to go with five catches for 60 yards and a score.

“We were going to keep giving him the ball,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “He never gets tired. He drags people, he breaks tackles. By one out-of-town paper I was called 'the king of hyperbole' [when talking about Taylor] but that is why I love talking about him. We typically like to rest him, but when we need him, I told him two years ago, we are going to put a saddle on him and ride him.”

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor, George Uko
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezStepfan Taylor scoots away from USC's George Uko for the first of his two touchdowns.
And Stanford needed him Saturday. With a new quarterback still learning his way around the offense and a rebuilt offensive line, the Cardinal looked stilted at times on offense. Then again, so did Barkley, the Heisman frontrunner who probably lost a few voters with his 20-of-41 performance and two interceptions. But more damning to his campaign were the zero touchdowns -- almost unheard of with playmakers like Lee and Woods at his disposal. The Cardinal kept Barkley under constant pressure and sacked him four times.

“They played better football than us,” said an extremely despondent Barkley. “We were prepared. They played better.”

Taylor certainly had his share of highlights. His 59-yard touchdown run that knotted the score at 7-7 in the first quarter was pretty. So was his 23-yard screen pass that went for a touchdown, tying the score at 14-14 in the third quarter. But he saved some of his best running for the end of the game -- and he didn’t even get in the end zone. His 2- and 3-yard runs were turning into 7- and 8-yard runs by the second half. The final 8 minutes, 40 seconds was exactly the kind of football Shaw wants his team to play. The Cardinal started at their own 19 and pounded; Taylor for 1, Taylor for 7, Taylor for 2, Taylor for 8, etc., etc., etc. At the end of the scoreless drive, the Cardinal had run 10 plays and eaten 5 minutes, 56 seconds of clock.

The Trojans took over with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left at their own 11, trailing 21-14. But penalties and a pair of Stanford sacks ended the drive, and the game. The Cardinal threw all kinds of blitzes and pressure at Barkley all night -- and without starting center Khaled Holmes, the Trojans were unable to adjust.

“If you sit back there, the quarterback is too good,” Shaw said. “Regardless of what happened tonight, that is the best quarterback in the country. If you give him too much time, he will kill you. You have to get after him. Those receivers are really good. We had to mix it up. Some plays we came after him and some plays we sat back. Our secondary made all the tackles.”

For Josh Nunes, tasked with replacing Andrew Luck as Stanford’s quarterback, having a back like Taylor has made life a lot easier. He was 15-of-32 for 215 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“He’s a quarterback’s best friend,” Nunes said. “This game was a testament to our style of football, the guys up front, and certainly Stepfan Taylor."

Video: Stanford-USC wrap-up

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
10:47
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Kevin Gemmell wraps up Stanford's 21-14 win over No. 2 USC.

Instant analysis: Stanford 21, USC 14

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
8:39
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Classes at Stanford don’t start until next week. But that doesn’t mean the students moving in couldn’t rush the field. And a field-storming was warranted when the No. 21 Cardinal shocked No. 2 USC 21-14. Here’s how it went down in Palo Alto:

It was over when: Matt Barkley failed to convert a fourth-and-40 (yeah, you’re reading that right) and the Cardinal took over on downs with nine seconds left. The Trojans took over with 2:44 left, trailing 21-14, and Barkley was sacked twice on a drive that included one fourth-down conversion.

Game ball goes to: Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. He also had four catches for 61 yards and a score.

Stat of the game: Stanford’s defense held USC to 276 yards of total offense, including just 23 on the ground. Conversely, Stanford totaled 415 yards.

Stat of the game take 2: 4 -- that’s how many interceptions were thrown between Barkley and Josh Nunes during an eight-play stretch in the second quarter, including consecutive interceptions from both quarterbacks on three straight plays.

What this means for USC: For starters, the Trojans' national title hopes are now in serious jeopardy. (Are Stanford's alive?) Not only did they lose, but they looked bad doing it. USC couldn’t run the football, nor could it stop the run -- especially in the fourth quarter, when Taylor wore the Trojans down. Barkley’s Heisman campaign just took a turn for the worse as well.

What this means for Stanford: It owns the Trojans, pure and simple. The Cardinal have now won four straight against USC. Moving forward, the Cardinal now have a signature victory and are back in the national picture.

Pregame from Palo Alto

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
7:00
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Some pretty good hype surrounding the first Pac-12 league game of the season. How much? According to Stanford officials, there are more credentialed media for today’s game against USC than there was for last year’s showdown with Oregon.

Folks are interested to see how the No. 2 Trojans (2-0) do in their first real test of the 2012 season. Most expect that center Khaled Holmes will not play for USC and Cyrus Hobbi will handle snapping duties for the Trojans.

No. 21 Stanford (2-0) plays its third straight game at home.

A few things to keep an eye on.
  • Stanford’s rushing attack vs. USC: The Cardinal haven’t run the ball great to start the year, but they have also faced nine-man fronts. The return of fullback Ryan Hewitt should help in run blocking and in the short-yardage passing game.
  • USC’s receivers vs. Stanford secondary: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are all kinds of good. Expect quarterback Matt Barkley to take plenty of shots down field.
  • Stanford’s front seven vs. USC’s offensive line: If Holmes isn’t going to play, and he’s not expected to, you have to wonder how much pressure the Cardinal will be able to get on Barkley. Do you turn up the blitzes to confuse Hobbi? Or do you hope that rushing four will get the job done.

Video: Stanford-USC pregame

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
3:20
PM ET

Kevin Gemmell and Ivan Maisel preview Stanford and USC.

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