Top-25 foes collide in a cross-divisional 12 meeting, as fourth-ranked Stanford puts its perfect record in jeopardy ranked USC Trojans in the Coliseum.
David Shaw has yet to experience defeat as the top man at Stanford, as the Cardinal are one of just eight unbeatens left in the FBS ranks. In fact, the team boasts of the nation's longest win streak right now, standing at 15 straight games. The Cardinal were supposed to face their toughest challenge to date last weekend against another nationally-ranked program in Washington, but routed the Huskies instead, 65-21 to move to 7-0 on the year and 5-0 in conference play, one game ahead of North Division rival Oregon (4-0).
Lane Kiffin's Trojans are starting to hit their stride. USC has won six of its seven games this season with the lone loss coming on the road at Arizona State (43-22). Since that defeat, the Trojans have won three straight games including last weekend's thrilling 31-17 road win at Notre Dame. USC is tied atop the South Division standings with Arizona State at 3-1, but the Trojans are not eligible for the conference crown this season.
Stanford is USC's oldest rival in a series that dates back to 1905. The Trojans lead 59-27-3 all-time, but the Cardinal have won two straight and three of the last four meetings.
With Heisman hopeful Andrew Luck under center, it is obvious that Stanford has a successful passing attack. However, the Cardinal showed they are much more than that in the lopsided win over Washington last weekend, as they rushed for a school-record 446 yards, averaging just over 10 yards per carry. A trio of runners led the way. Stepfan Taylor finished with 138 yards and one TD, Tyler Gaffney had 117 yards and one score and Anthony Wilkerson finished with 93 yards and two touchdowns.
"We were very aware of it when we broke it," said Luck regarding the rushing record. "What a testament to the O-line, to the coach, the tight ends, to the fullbacks and wide receivers."
On the year, the Cardinal have showed great offensive balance, averaging 504.1 yards per game, with over 200 yards on the ground (219.4) and through the air (284.7).
However, it is Luck's mastery of the game which fuels the attack. The junior signal-caller has completed 71.8 percent of his passes, for 1,888 yards, with 20 TDs and just three INTs.
He utilizes a number of targets down the field, including Chris Owusu (30 receptions, 349 yards, two TDs), Griff Whalen (24 catches, 345 yards, one TD), Zach Ertz (22 catches, 308 yards, three TDs) and Coby Fleener (17 catches, 384 yards, seven TDs).
The Stanford defense is without its leader in All-American candidate Shane Skov. The talented linebacker was injured a few games ago and will not return in 2011. Still, the unit has played well, especially against the run, where opponents are managing just 75.6 ypg.
Free safety Michael Thomas is one of the top defenders on the squad, leading the team in tackles (33), with 3.0 TFLs, one sack, two INTs and one fumble recovery. Linebacker Chase Thomas isn't far behind in tackles (31) and has been extremely disruptive in the opposing backfield, leading the way in both TFLs (10.0) and sacks (5.5).
Quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods were too much for the Irish, as USC went into South Bend and left with a decisive victory.
Barkley has matured into one of the nation's top signal-callers and is putting it all together in 2011. He has completed 68.2 percent of his passes thus far, for 2,006 yards, with 19 TDs and just four INTs.
Woods has been unstoppable, having already hauled in 72 passes, going for 902 yards and eight TDs. Woods' 128.9 yards per game is second both nationally and in the Pac-12.
Three second half forced turnovers were a big reason for the win at Notre Dame as well.
The strength of the defense comes against the run, where opponents are averaging just 91.1 ypg on 3.4 yards per carry.
Freshman linebacker Dion Bailey has made an immediate impact, leading the team in tackles (54), with two sacks, two INTs and one forced fumble. Fellow freshman LB Hayes Pullard (44 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, one sack) continues the youth movement on this side of the football. Junior end Nick Perry has been the most productive downlineman, with 36 tackles, 6.5 TFLs and four sacks.