Previewing The Fourth-Ranked Stanford Cardinal

Stephen Dunn

We would like to thank our friends at Rule of Tree for breaking down some of the key story lines and players to watch from a squad USC has not defeated since 2008.

1. Given USC's coaching fiasco we would love to know, what makes David Shaw such an effective leader and representative of Stanford Football and also, how well do his players respond to his teaching?

He's a Stanford alum, a coach's son and he was a key part of the revival of Cardinal program under Jim Harbaugh, so he understands the formula for football success in Palo Alto. He doesn't have a whole lot in common with Harbaugh, especially in terms of sideline demeanor, but his competitiveness seems every bit as strong. There's a quiet toughness about him that's reflected in the way Stanford plays. The players seem to respect him immensely.

2. The confidence is sky high right now in Palo Alto but do you see any reason for a minor set back against USC, and are you even concerned that the final seven or so minutes against Oregon means anything moving forward?

I'm plenty concerned about Saturday's game, but I don't think there's any chance that Stanford is overlooking the Trojans. Stanford is always going to get USC's best shot and vice versa. The Coliseum is going to be louder than it's been all year, and I'm sure the Trojans would like nothing better than to derail the Cardinal's BCS hopes while keeping their own faint Rose Bowl chances alive. I was a nervous wreck the last few minutes of the Oregon game, but I don't think the Ducks' furious, and somewhat fluky, comeback is a cause for concern. Stanford absolutely dominated the first 53 minutes of the game. I guess someone decided that Cardinal fans needed their weekly dose of stress.

3. How would you assess Kevin Hogan's tenure as the Stanford Cardinal starting quarterback? He may not be built to put the team on his back, but this kid really does make some huge plays when it matters mot.

Hogan played his best game of the season against Oregon, which might sound strange given that he completed all of seven passes. He made some important plays with his feet, including a touchdown run, which is something we haven't seen a lot of this year. When he did take a shot deep, he made it count, with a key first quarter completion to Michael Rector that set up a touchdown. Andrew Luck passed for a paltry 169 yards and two touchdowns in the game he considers the best of his college career, a 65-21 win over Washington in 2011 in which Stanford rushed for 446 yards. Hogan, thus far, has done a pretty good Luck impression.

4. How do the Stanford Cardinal continue to dominate teams on the ground week after week, even when opposing defense know the Cardinal are going to line up in the eye and feed Tyler Gaffney?

I think it's a combination of a we-know-you-know-what's-coming-and-we-don't-care attitude and Stanford's personnel. The Cardinal's offensive line is experienced and several of those guys, including David Yankey, Khalil Wilkes and Cameron Fleming, will be playing on Sundays next year. Jim Harbaugh instilled the attitude and it hasn't waned with Shaw at the helm. Most people don't consider it pretty, but damn, it's effective. Stanford's been able to keep the offensive line cupboard stacked with top recruits, because what offensive lineman wouldn't want to come play this style of football?

5. The Stanford Cardinal have owned the Trojans in each of the past four seasons, and we were wondering how great has that been from a Stanford perspective and why do you think it can continue this weekend?

It hasn't been easy! I think the three-OT game in 2011 took a few years off my life and two of the other three were stress-filled. (I'm not expecting a repeat of 2009.) I went to Stanford during the Buddy Teevens-Walt Harris years, so the Cardinal's recent period of success has been incredible to watch. Not every Stanford fan will agree, but I probably get as much, if not more, satisfaction out of watching the Cardinal beat USC as I do them beating Cal, especially in recent years. Can Stanford make it five? If they play anywhere close to as well as they played against Oregon, I think so.

6. This front seven may be one of the most physically intimidating in the nation, especially at the LB position with Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley. But who else has stepped up this season, and could give USC's offensive line some trouble in the trenches?

Seniors Trent Murphy and Henry Anderson have been absolute beasts. Murphy is tied for second in the country with 10 sacks and tied for seventh in tackles for loss. Anderson missed most of the season after being injured against Army, but he returned against Oregon and was a force. Anderson's return came at just the right time, as senior captain Ben Gardner was lost for the season against Oregon State. I think USC's ability to handle Stanford's pass rush, and those two guys in particular, will be the key to the game.

7. The players have constantly talked about a change in philosophy following the Utah game so do you feel like that transition has happened and if so, how far can you seen this team going under there current makeup?

Don't even get me started on the Utah game. But yes, I think Stanford has rediscovered its identity since that game. It's a credit to Shaw that Stanford has always responded well to losses under his tenure. I trust if Stanford faces a crucial third-and-short late in Saturday's game, he'll rely on his offensive line to get the job done on the ground. He has no reason to doubt them after the Oregon game. I can see this team running the table, and, barring implosions by Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, heading back to the Rose Bowl.

8. Final score prediction...

Stanford 24, USC 17. Unlike the Oregon game, the game will be as close as the final score would seem to indicate.

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