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USC running back Allen Bradford rushed for 223 yards against Washington. If the Trojans are going to pull out a win at Stanford, USC is going to need another performance like that out of him. Last week against Oregon, Stanford allowed 388 rushing yards. Photo by Jeff Lewis
USC’s Kiffin shuns last season’s controversy, focuses on rebounding from last week’s last second home loss. Defense, health and kicking game are areas of concern for Trojans.
By Michael Brown,
Sentinel Sports Writer
After last season’s home blowout loss to Stanford, and the Cardinal head coach deciding to rub a little salt in the wound by going for a late two-point conversion, one couldn’t fault USC if they were to seek revenge this Saturday at Palo Alto.
However, USC head coach Lane Kiffin has downplayed the decision by Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh, while his team led 48-21 during the middle of the fourth quarter, to go for a two-point conversion. Stanford failed to convert, but went on to hand USC its worst loss in 43 years, 55-21.
After the game, then Trojans coach Pete Carroll asked Harbaugh at mid-field, “what’s your deal?” and Harbaugh retorted, “what’s your deal?” in a mimicking tone.
Kiffin has sidestepped the controversial exchange from last season throughout the week in interviews, as his team attempts to bounce back from a home loss to Washington last Saturday. Also, USC has attempted eight two-point conversions this season and has been successful on four.
“We’re not really in position to throw stones at people that go for two,” Kiffin said when asked about Harbaugh’s decision last season.
Ignoring the potential distraction serves Kiffin well, especially after the Trojans defense failed to complete any big plays during the Washington game and yielded 536 yards of total offense, including 225 on the ground.
USC’s porous defensive play against Washington could be a tell-tale sign of things to come. Stanford, which averages 45 points per game and 469 yards, could feast on a Trojans defense that tackles poorly and fails to generate pressure at the line of scrimmage.
Stanford’s veteran offensive line has only given up two sacks thus far and plays a physical brand of football that attracted the attention of an admirer: Kiffin.
“We need to reach a point where we’re playing physical and disciplined football kind of like Stanford does,” Kiffin said.
The Cardinal defense showed some vulnerabilities last week in its loss at Oregon, 52-31. Stanford gave up 626 total yards, including 388 rushing. USC tailback Allen Bradford ran for a career best 223 yards against Washington. He may need to duplicate that performance if the game turns into a track meet.
If the Cardinal choose to play fast-paced, USC may not be able to counter due to not having the bodies to shuttle in-and-out.
This week, USC defensive players such as Wes Horton, Shareece Wright and DaJohn Harris were limited in practice. None of them will miss the game, but the wear and tear could take a toll, especially following the fourth quarter against Washington when the Trojans’ lack of depth clearly caught up.
There were also injuries suffered on the offensive side of the ball to center Kris O’Dowd and receiver Robert Woods. Both will play at Stanford, but the bumps and bruises could be attributed to Kiffin’s decision this week to allow the team to play more physical during practices.
Kiffin said he chose to do so because Stanford’s physical style couldn’t be simulated in a passive walk through.
The kicking game could also play a major factor. USC’s starting kicker, Joe Houston, missed a crucial 40-yard field goal late against Washington that could have potentially sealed the win. Houston and Jacob Harfman had unproductive performances through Wednesday’s practice, leaving Kiffin with a question mark at the position.
Stanford counters with one of the best kickers in the Pac-10. Nate Whitaker is 9 for 9 this season in field goals.
Both teams enter Saturday’s contest at 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-10.