Game Day Notes - Stanford

Apologies for the lack of posting yesterday. I got stuck at a one-day conference longer than I had expected.

It is hard to really know what team we are going to see today. Will it be the team we saw early in the season that seemed to have a certain spring it is step with a true-freshman QB at the helm or will the team we see today be the one that seemed to lose all sense of desire on both sides of the ball at different times during the past four games.

This is a different feeling for SC fans at this point in the season.

It is clear that the 2009 version of Pete Carroll's incredible run is not living up to the same  standards of success that we have been used to seeing in the past few seasons. The annual loss to a unranked team is almost a right of pasage now...it shouldn't be that way but it is what is. It is clear now that losing al that we lost on defense from last season was more than anyone wanted to admit. I know it sounds like a tired excuse but the numbers bear it out.

You know its bad when you have look at a defensive lineman to possibly play linebacker.

Pete Carroll seems a little bit "tighter" that I am used to seeing him. His control of the offense, or lack there of (see the Oregon game) coupled with the defensive struggles and you can see why many of us have some concerns...

Because of USC's visible struggles over the past few weeks there are some rumblings in a few places that Stanford has chance to upset USC. Of course that is a possibilty...Stanford is the only Pac-10 team to beat USC at the coliseum in the Pete Carroll era. Is this just another test for this team? I don't know...but how the team plays today will tell me alot about the last two games of the season.

Of course we all remember 2007. Stanford look's to repeat that feat while taking SC down another peg in the 2009 season...(emphasis mine)

But if Stanford beats USC on Saturday in the Coliseum, that result will resonate.

If the No. 9 Trojans (7-2, 4-2) suffer a third Pac-10 loss, it's a near-certainty their extraordinary seven-year run atop the conference --- and college football -- will end. One of the great dynasties -- two national championships, seven consecutive top-4 finishes -- the sport has known would tumble.

Boom! And then the big picture would transform. The Pac-10 and all of college football would feel an impact.

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has refused this week to wax poetic about the 2007 game. And he's also refused to use the "one game at a time," "every game is important" refrains that are so popular with coaches when they want to tamp down media hyperbole.

"This is put-up-or-shut-up time for Stanford football," Harbaugh said. "We win this game and we stay in the hunt for the conference championship. If we don't, then we are out."

I would agree with that sentence wholeheartedly. While no fault of their own, Stanford has lived off of that win in 2007 without anything else to show for it (kind of like ucla in 2006).

Stanford comes to USC looking for some respectability. A win in L.A. would do just that.

Yes, they beat Oregon, but as I noted earlier in the week this is a Stanford team, that while playing with a certain fury at home they have struggled on the road (outside of WSU). I think it is clear that Stanford is not intimidated by playing USC, let alone playing them in the Coliseum. Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh has obviously recruited well, gotten the most out of his players, changed the attitude of the program and not been afraid to say or do things are against the grain (kind of like Lane Kiffin).

Harbaugh is right...it is put up or shut up time. Once again it is clear that the Pac-10 plays some very solid football overall but so far...even this year, no one has stepped up to take the tile away from SC in any resounding way. Just beating USC in your "signature" isn't enough you have to do something more with it.

SC will have their hands full today. The defense will have to play in its old form if they expect to shut down Stanford's proficient offense.

When USC plays Stanford, a common question is whether this game is a physical mismatch.

That's the key issue today when the No. 11-ranked Trojans play the No. 25-ranked Cardinal at the Coliseum. But there is a twist to the question.

This time, there are doubts whether the Trojans can physically handle the Cardinal.

It's a unique position for USC but also a legitimate question when the Trojans average 228 pounds at linebacker while Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart is 235.

"Their foundation is a smash-mouth running game," USC linebacker Chris Galippo said.

"He is just a hammer back there," USC coach Pete Carroll added.

Whether the Trojans (7-2, 4-2) can stop the Cardinal (6-3, 5-2) will determine if the Trojans play in a BCS bowl game.

I will admit that if SC was a lot healthier on defense I would say that this Stanford offense would be the perfect match-up for USC. This is obviously a run first offense. SC has done well against the run. If the USC defense reduces Toby Gerhart effectiveness by even 50% SC will win this game. Gerhart will be playing with some extra motivation today...

USC once coveted Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart, who set California high school rushing records at Norco four years ago.

But Tailback U told the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Gerhart he'd have to play linebacker or fullback if he wanted to be a Trojan.

"I wanted to be the featured back, so I told them I wasn't interested," said Gerhart, who on Thursday was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award that honors the nation's best collegiate running back

Yeah, yeah, yeah...

Same old story, "they gave me no respect"...

I know Gerhart is a special player but for all that he shows his hand in the quote above that he is still a guy who places his aspirations higher than the team. He thinks SC disrespected him by not giving him what he wants, fine. But that is crap...USC can't pick them all.

Gerhart is a fine back in the Stanford system. He got what he wanted by being the featured back and he has put up some nice numbers but I really think that PC could have nurtured him into being a Mike Alstott type FB and we all know how well Alstott did in the NFL. They are the same height, Gerhart just needs to bulk up a bit more. Gerhart can piss and moan all he wants about being disrespected by USC but if he wants to get to the NFL I pick Pete Carroll over Jim Harbaugh any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Anyway...

SC MUST curtail the Stanford running game...

It isn't difficult to picture the powerful Gerhart hauling stuff, including teammates. Nor is it farfetched to imagine him rumbling through USC's defense, which has had trouble tackling at times.

The difference this time is that the Cardinal won't deceive the Trojans, and Gerhart won't elude them. The runners who have given USC fits this season are MINI Coopers, not Ford F-150s. Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 113 yards against USC on Oct. 24, is 5-7, 191 pounds. Oregon's LaMichael James, who rushed for 186 yards the following week, is 5-9, 180.

"We've seen a lot of finesse running – a lot of little guys, a lot of edge guys, quickness type of guys," Carroll said. "With Gerhart, there's a dimension to him that makes them unique. It's his heavy-duty running, and their commitment to getting him the football a bunch."

Gerhart leads the Pac-10 with an average of 135.2 rushing yards per game, and he leads the nation with an average of 25.9 carries. Last week against Oregon, Gerhart rushed for 223 yards on 38 attempts, both career highs.

But just because they know it's coming doesn't mean the Trojans can stop him. Their linebacking corps isn't as sturdy as last season's, which featured 260-pound Rey Maualuga and 255-pound Brian Cushing (and Gerhart still was one of only two rushers to top 100 yards vs. USC). The Trojans moved 255-pound freshman defensive end Devon Kennard to linebacker this week because of injuries, but the timing could be fortuitous.

Pete Carroll admits later on in the article that he may have pigeon-holed Gerhart a bit too much when recruiting him as a full back. That's fair but I also think that Gerhart would have different production at SC because of how the offense is run. Every team talks about establishing the run first to set up the pass. But with the receivers SC has had the past few years and the reliance of using both the TE and FB in different scenarios Gerhart doesn't get half the touches he has at Stanford. Again, its all about team...I doubt Gerhart would be happy with that.

Simply put, if Gerhart goes down Stanford is toast. It is the gambit you run when relying on just one guy...

If SC controls the Stanford run game that puts it all on Stanford QB Andrew Luck. As good as Luck is he is not the most mobile QB that SC will face this season.

If SC's front seven gets the pressure that we have seen in a number of games this season Luck may have to put it up quickly and putting up quickly does not necessarily mean taking of advantage of the quick slant that is sure to be there in the middle. I also think that Pete Carroll may use the same tight coverage on Stanford's WR's like we saw against ASU and that changes some things for Stanford.

After a grueling road schedule SC can now take comfort in playing at home to close out the season. But that is not enough, SC has to go back to the things that helped them win earlier in the season when it appeared that everything was firing on all cylinders...


USC must establish its running game, with tailbacks Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford sharing the workload. McKnight has not scored a touchdown in the last three games, Bradford the last two.

It really is as simple as that...Stanford is a different team on the road this season and if SC can get things fired up at home against a Stanford team that struggles on the road then that is another thing that USC can use to its advantage. It feels odd writing that...SC shouldn't have to worry about home field advantage as something in the plus side of the column to help them win but with all the injuries and with offense in a bit of a stall that is just how it is...

- - -

Here a few links...

Steve Mason's Blog: HOMECOMING EVE!: 710 ESPN

Video: Stanford-USC Preview - Pac-10 Blog - ESPN
Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller previews the Stanford-USC game.

Williams out, but McCoy will try to go for USC - Pac-10 - ESPN

TheMatadorSports | SC’s top WR is out

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