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USC-Stanford: What To Watch

Who will win the battle in the trenches? Will USC's ground game be able to duplicate a similar performance as it has the last two games? We examine that and much more in our game preview of USC-Stanford.

Steve Dykes

1. Cody Kessler Impact

Kessler has looked more comfortable under center as the year has progressed. He topped 200 passing yards in five straight contests before the Cal game, although he was still a very efficient 14-of-17 for 170 yards and one touchdown in that game. Of note: He has not thrown an interception since the Washington State game. That was back in September when Lane Kiffin was still trying to figure out which quarterback to play. Fast forward two months and the redshirt sophomore signal caller faces a Stanford defensive line that ranks eighth in the nation in sacks (30) and 15th in the nation in tackles for loss (70). They also held Oregon's rushing attack to just 62 yards, or 2.4 yards per carry. The Cardinal defense is very experienced with nine returning starters, and it all starts up front. Will the USC offensive line give Kessler enough time to throw, and can Kessler limit his mistakes if pressured in the pocket?

2. Ground Game

USC's backs totaled 242 yards at Oregon State and 256 yards at Cal, in large part because of the emergence of Javorius 'Buck' Allen (268 yards, six total touchdowns in the last two contests). Allen has had runs of 52 yards, 43 yards and 79 yards, plus a 57-yard touchdown catch-and-run. Ty Isaac also recorded 87 rushing yards and a score at Cal with Silas Redd suffering a knee injury early in that game. Stanford's rush defense, however, ranks ninth in the nation allowing less than 100 yards per game (99.2). The big-play ability is there from Allen, but will he able to duplicate that type of success against a stout Stanford front?

3. USC Defensive Line vs. Stanford Offensive Line

It's no secret that Stanford's success on offense - and on defense - comes largely from their men up front. Getting the ground game going is key for Kevin Hogan, who, more than often that not, is just a game manager under center for the Cardinal. Should USC be able slow down Stanford's ground game, Hogan could be forced to do more than liked, particularly on the road. The Trojans, though, are already without Morgan Breslin (out for the season) and might be without Leonard Williams (shoulder). The USC defense is also tied for eighth in the nation in sacks (30), but the Stanford offensive line has only allowed 11 sacks all season, 11th in the nation. Who wins the battle in the trenches?

4. Special Teams Effect

Andre Heidari has been largely inconsistent throughout the year, missing four field goals and one extra-point attempt in the last four games. Nelson Agholor had two punt returns for touchdowns at Cal and Josh Shaw blocked a punt for a touchdown, too. Stanford also boasts one of the more electrifying players in the nation in Ty Montgomery, who has two kick returns for touchdowns, including one that was 100 yards. Should the game be close, it could come down to which special teams perform better.

5. GameDay Effect

In previous years, the Trojans have not fared well the last couple years when GameDay visits, falling to Notre Dame in 2012, Stanford in triple overtime in 2011 and Oregon in 2010. How will the USC players respond to all the excitement surrounding the game? Can they sustain a level of energy for the full four quarters?

Kickoff is at 5pm PT. The game will be televised on ABC.