The last time the USC Trojans traveled up to the Farm things did not end well for the top-ranked team in the nation. Stanford stormed the field, the Trojans looked like a beaten-down opponent, eventually snowballing into one disappointing 7-6 campaign which crushed such promising expectations.
As the Trojans prepare for a rematch up in Palo Alto, the narratives are building back up for the ESPN game of the week --but this time USC is the team looking to play the role of hunters, instead of being the higher-ranked prey on the football field.
"We gotta win this game," sophomore Su'a Cravens says. "We gotta win every game we play, but there’s just something about Stanford that like puts a fire in my stomach."
Cravens is one of the 22 returning players that have actually never lost to Stanford, a trend that USC hopes to preserve in years to come.
After losing each of the previous four meetings, the Trojans exacted revenge on Stanford last season storming the field following their 20-17 upset victory.
"That was probably the worst feeling I had, having fans run up and storming the field," Anthony Sarao said about the loss in 2012. "A lot of guys that were on this team didn't forget that day, so we coming up there going out to do what we have to do."
That passion translates right over to the practice field as USC recognizes the challenges of facing a Stanford attack that can now beat you in a variety of ways -- something we haven't seen from a David Shaw-led program in quite some time.
"When you break it all down, they got a guy that can run deep and catch it," USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "They got a big wide receiver (6-foot-4 Devon Cajuste) in the slot. They can move the big guy (Austin Hooper) outside and inside, and they have the run game, and the quarterback (Kevin Hogan) can run it and throw it. So yea, there’s a lot to prepare for this week."
Wilcox will certainly have his hands full game planning for the Stanford Cardinal, but the Trojans have a luxury at their disposal in "Dollar" defensive presence, freshman All-American safety Su'a Cravens.
As we remember, Cravens made a crucial fourth quarter interception against Hogan leading to the Trojans' game-winning field goal drive. Cravens has not yet lost to Stanford, and feels confident the Trojans can continue their winning ways.
"We need to execute to where we don’t need to make a game-saving play to win the game," Cravens said, before emphatically adding: "I don’t want to know what that feeling (losing to Stanford) is like."
For many of the experienced players on USC's defense, the emotions of playing a physical Cardinal squad run deep. Facing the new age of Stanford Football, capable of battling in the trenches and matching the Trojans' level of intensity, players have learned what it takes to go nose-to-nose against a powerhouse rushing attack.
"Run fits is huge. You can't even talk about it, run fits is (so) huge," Sarao said about stopping the Cardinal. "The way Stanford runs their offense is (that) you on one side of the block and you in the wrong fit, they can bust that ball for 50 (yards)."
Unlike last season's nearly-heroic effort, the Trojans have more depth on defense. The biggest difference, however, is this new coaching staff has practiced these players enough to (probably) trust putting them on the field in crucial situations.
"One thing with Stanford is that they always play with great technique, so you gotta always be prepared," Anthony Sarao said about preparing for Saturday's Pac-12 showdown.