Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Week 6 playoff implications

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
9:30
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Claim your spot on the couch now. Reserve your table at your favorite sports bar. Buy another TV. Do whatever you gotta do to make sure you don't miss a snap Saturday because this is going to be a good one.

College football has been a well-kept secret so far, as it has been hiding the true identities of teams. Not this week. It's time to play or go home. There are six games between ranked teams. Of the 17 undefeated teams remaining, eight play against each other this week. It's the most relevant weekend the sport has had in regard to the new College Football Playoff.

Here are the games you can't miss, ranked from least to most likely to affect the playoff:

No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame -- Stanford already has one loss, and this is the second straight road trip for the Cardinal. If Stanford loses again, its playoff hopes will be in serious jeopardy but not over, given that it could still win the conference. This game should reveal more about Notre Dame's place in the playoff, as it will be the first ranked opponent for the Irish.

No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU -- ESPN's Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 64 percent chance to win and predicts this to be Oklahoma's hardest remaining game -- slightly more difficult than Nov. 8 against Baylor. If the Sooners can't handle TCU, they'll be on the outside looking in.

No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn -- LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss the past year, but LSU has already lost to Mississippi State, which put the Tigers behind in the SEC West race. Considering the rest of LSU's schedule -- and the hole it's already in -- this is a must-win. For Auburn, this is a chance to erase some doubts and make a push from the bubble into the top four.

No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State -- Two terrific quarterbacks will be on display in the Aggies' Kenny Hill and the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott, who both rank in the top 10 in total QBR. A&M's stock dropped a bit this past week after it needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but it could be a top-four team if it can survive the state of Mississippi the next two weeks.

No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss -- This is the most interesting matchup of the day. Alabama ranks third in offensive efficiency, and Ole Miss ranks second in defensive efficiency. Neither team has played a ranked opponent, so there is still some margin for error, but the Tide have a chance to separate from the crowded West.

No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State -- Surprise. The game with the biggest playoff implications is not in the SEC West. This Big Ten matchup could knock Sparty out of the playoff entirely. It's one thing to lose to Oregon; it's another to try to make the four-team playoff with two losses and your best win coming over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Conversely, a win in East Lansing could vault the Huskers into the playoff conversation. They're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten, and the toughest game left on their schedule is against No. 17 Wisconsin. If Nebraska pulls off the upset, it's time to take it seriously as a playoff team.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
2:00
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Pac-12 Live: Week 5

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
12:00
PM ET
Join ESPN.com Pac-12 reporters Kyle Bonagura, Kevin Gemmell, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller at 5 p.m. ET as they discuss the crazy finish to Week 4 in the conference and look ahead to Week 5. Don't forget that you can also ask the experts your Pac-12 questions live on the show.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
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video
The early weeks of the high school and college football seasons slow things down a bit when it comes to Pac-12 recruiting. Only a handful of official visitors made their way to Pac-12 campuses, while a junior college commitment to Arizona was the first addition to the conference in nearly two weeks. But there were still interesting developments at a number of conference schools as Stanford hosted a huge visitor, UCLA made an important statement, and Colorado looked ahead to the 2016 class.

Best of the visits: Pac-12

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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A fairly uninteresting slate of games provided for some notable outcomes and entertaining storylines for Pac-12 official and unofficial visitors this weekend. Despite a somewhat sluggish start and less than capacity crowd, Stanford put up a big win in front of some important visitors, while Colorado hosted a few in-state commitments and UCLA overcame adversity in front of some notable out-of-state targets.

Stack in the house at Stanford

The Cardinal had two ESPN 300 visitors in attendance in 2015 defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and 2016 defensive tackle Garrett Rand, but there was a famous father who took in the game as well: former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse and his son, Jaye Stackhouse, a 2015 cornerback from Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett, watched Stanford shut out Army. While Stackhouse doesn't hold an offer from the Cardinal, it's not surprising to see Stanford recruiting a player from Georgia, a state the program has found plenty success in over the past few years.

Big names, frames at Stanford

Speaking of Wilkins and Rand, the two standouts were joined by another fellow big man, ESPN 300 offensive lineman Nick Wilson, a Stanford commit who made an unofficial visit across the country this weekend. Wilson undoubtedly took his turn as recruiting coordinator while watching the game with the uncommitted defensive linemen.

Big lineman takes in Buffs game

Colorado held up well in a 14-point loss to Arizona State, and the Buffs took advantage of their first home game of the season by hosting top committed recruit and ESPN 300 offensive guard Tim Lynott on an unofficial visit. Lynott is the No. 2 player in the state, so getting him on campus often this season and keeping him engaged in the program will be a priority for Colorado.

Movin' on up

UCLA had an opportunity to impress a number of Texas recruits during its trip to Arlington to take on the Longhorns. The Bruins have done very well recruiting the state and already have two commitments from Lone Star State players in 2015. But head coach Jim Mora and staff have their sights set on pulling several more commitments from the region, including ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson, who has already said he will use one of his official visits on the Bruins. Luckily for UCLA, Jefferson had a great view of the Bruins' comeback win.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:00
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Time to tip our cap to those who were the best of the best in Week 3.

Jerry Neuheisel, QB, UCLA: It was Jerry’s World. The redshirt sophomore stepped in for an injured Brett Hundley and completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns as he led the Bruins in a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Texas.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA: Perkins took a bit of the pressure of Neuheisel as he was a weapon in the pass and run game. He had 126 yards on the ground on 24 carries and tallied 69 receiving yards on five catches.

Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford: The senior recorded the first three touchdowns of the day for the Cardinal in a 35-0 win over Army. His 13 yards per catch (four receptions, 52 yards) was a game-high.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: The junior compiled quite the stat line in just under three quarters of play in the Ducks' 48-14 victory over Wyoming: Two passing touchdowns and 221 passing yards on 19-of-23 passing plus two rushing touchdowns and 71 rushing yards on five carries.

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: Thompson became Washington’s first player to record a fumble return score and pick six in the same game since at least 1978. He finished the game with four tackles and three carries for 16 yards in Washington’s 44-19 win over Illinois.

D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State: The junior recorded his third-straight 100-yard rushing game, as he accounted for 147 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Foster also had three receptions for 52 yards and tallied his first receiving touchdown of the season as the Sun Devils defeated Colorado 38-24.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: He helped seal the game for Arizona as he rushed for 171 yards on 29 carries. He recorded the first two touchdowns of the game for the Wildcats en route to a 35-28 win, giving Arizona a perfect 3-0 record entering Pac-12 play.

Stanford backups hold on to shutout

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
10:38
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford’s victory against Army was well in hand before anything of lasting significance took place. And when it finally did, the Cardinal had its second-team defense to thank.

 Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Stanford 2 with 80 seconds left, Army wasn’t content breaking up the 35-0 shutout with a field goal. For the Black Knights, it was end zone or bust.

“Well, there are certain situations where you've got a shutout, and you put the second team in there and the [other] team drives down," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "You think about putting the starters back in there, but absolutely not [this time].”

Option-left was the call, and Stanford countered with a successful corner blitz to help preserve what amounts to a historic shutout. Following its Week 1 shutout of UC Davis, the Cardinal has multiple shutouts in the same season for just the third time since 1950.

“We did the same about three plays in a row there, and it worked every time,” said defensive end Henry Anderson, who watched from the sideline. “We wanted to keep that shutout. We were happy those guys got it done.”

The last time Stanford recorded multiple shutouts in a season came in 2010, when it had three, but before that it hadn't happened since 1969.

The performance was also the 26th consecutive game the Cardinal held its opponent under 30 points -- the longest such streak in the country. With former defensive stars Shayne Skov, Ben Gardner and Chase Thomas watching from the sideline, the defense, again, showed no signs it'll regress.

Coming into the season, there was reason to wonder.

Losing five players to the NFL -- OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds, DE Josh Mauro, Skov and Gardner -- plus defensive coordinator Derek Mason -- didn't figure to allow for a seamless transition. But through three weeks, there's no reason not to classify Stanford among the nation's best.

While obviously premature, Shaw was even asked after the game if the defense can be the best he's had since arriving on the Farm on Jim Harbaugh's staff in 2007.

He didn't take the bait.

"Those are discussions for when the season's over," Shaw said. "We're off to a great start. The thing that I'll keep hammering home to our guys, because they should feel good about themselves on defense right now. That's great. We're only three games in, and we're where we are on defense because we're playing together."

Inside linebacker Blake Martinez, who has proven to be a worthy replacement for Skov, finished with a game-high 11 tackles and James Vaughters finished with six tackles, including two for loss.

With three days of practice to prepare for Army's triple-option offense, Shaw credited new defensive coordinator Lance Anderson for installing an effective game plan. The Black Knights were limited to just 207 yards of total offense a week after putting up 47 points and 466 yards against Buffalo.

Stanford now has two weeks to prepare for a trip to Washington, where the Huskies will be making their Pac-12 debut under new coach Chris Petersen.

Video: Stanford 35, Army 0

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:17
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video Kevin Hogan connected with Devon Cajuste for three of his four touchdowns in No. 15 Stanford's 35-0 victory over Army.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:00
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Wyoming at No. 2 Oregon
Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will look to get his team off to a quick start over Wyoming. A week after defeating MSU in convincing fashion, the Ducks will attempt to make another big statement as they prepare for conference play. The Cowboys are led by first-year coach Craig Bohl, who gained notoriety by leading North Dakota State to national relevance in his 10 years at the helm of that program.

Illinois at Washington
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

Washington will attempt to pick up its third win of the season but considering how lackluster the first two were, this game will need to be a bit of a statement for the Huskies. Quarterback Cyler Miles will look to improve the Washington passing game so the Huskies won't be pigeonholed into being one-dimensional this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will look to bend and not break as cornerback Marcus Peters will be sitting out for his one-game suspension due to his sideline behavior against Eastern Washington.

Army at No. 15 Stanford
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Stanford hasn't lost consecutive games since the 2009 season and the Cardinal will look to extend that streak when Army visits The Farm this weekend. Stanford needs to limit turnovers and penalties -- two issues that plagued the team in its loss to USC -- while quarterback Kevin Hogan will attempt to keep the offense moving and finishing. Against USC, the Cardinal came away with just 10 points on nine trips inside the Trojans' 35-yard line.

Portland State at Washington State
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Cougars will be playing in their home stadium for the first time in 2014 when they welcome PSU to Pullman. Washington State needs a win badly; its 0-2 start is far from what was expected in Year 3 of the Mike Leach regime.

No. 9 USC at Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #USCvsBC

USC will make a cross-country trip after its huge win over Stanford last weekend. The Trojans will be without linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half due to a targeting penalty during the Stanford game. Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense will face dual-threat QB and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy.

Side note: Boston College will be wearing special red bandana tribute uniforms Saturday. It's a cool gesture and one that I suggest you learn more about. Take some time to check out the story of former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther -- "The Man in the Red Bandana" -- before the game. Watch the feature and read more here.

No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

The Bruins are trying to piece together their first complete performance in their trip to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Brett Hundley presents quite the challenge for Texas, who has struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this year, already giving up 181 passing yards and 99 rushing yards to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Defensively, UCLA won't be facing Texas' best -- starting QB David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended both starting offensive tackles (among others).

No. 16 Arizona State at Colorado
Time: 10 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #ASUvsCOLO

The Sun Devils and Buffs open their Pac-12 slates with one another this weekend. Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and the rest of the ASU offense will attempt to put up big offensive numbers against Colorado, which has given up 34.5 points per game this season. But at home, Colorado will attempt to break the streak -- the Buffs haven't beaten a ranked opponent in their last 14 attempts.

Nevada at Arizona
Time: 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Quarterback Anu Solomon will look to get the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start as Arizona welcomes Nevada to Arizona Stadium. "We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," coach Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week. It's a pretty obvious lesson, one that he watched play out as Nevada took down Washington State last weekend. "We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it. That's not where we are at yet."

Byes: California, Oregon State, Utah

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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It's a slow weekend in the Pac-12, as the conference doesn't host any real nonconference games of note. But the conference does have plans to host a significant uncommitted ESPN 300 recruit and has a team involved in one of the most intriguing non-conference games of the weekend, which could lead to significant gains on the recruiting trail.


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Pac-12 morning links

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
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There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

Leading off

Remember all that chatter in August about how good the quarterbacks were in the Pac-12? Well, it was also in July, and June ... pretty much since last season ended. The quarterbacks driving this quarterback-driven league certainly deserve their spotlight. But lest we forget, there are some guys who can also do some damage on the ground.

John Marshall of The Associated Press looks at some of the teams in the conference who are also tearing things up on the ground. Marshall goes into detail on the running games of four teams in the league, including Arizona State:
The Sun Devils also have a pass-first perception that isn't exactly true. Since coach Todd Graham arrived three years ago, his focus has been on establishing a strong running game to set up the pass. The Sun Devils have had success doing just that with a variety of backs. This season, it's D.J. Foster's turn. A high-profile local recruit, he spent his first two seasons playing multiple positions so the Sun Devils could take advantage of his versatility.

Arizona, ASU, Washington, Utah, Oregon and USC are the six teams that are averaging more than 200 yards per game. However, perhaps the most interesting element of this story is who isn't mentioned. And that's Stanford. While the Cardinal have never been the team that put up obscene rushing numbers, they certainly have set the standard over the last few years for power running. And they've produced a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2008. Bizarre seeing the Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. But as Marshall points out, it's still early.

Individual hype

Some high praise in a couple of different articles about Pac-12 players Wednesday. First, CBS' Dennis Dodd profiles UCLA's Myles Jack. He cites an NFL scout who calls Jack the best athlete in the Pac-12.

Also, Stanford coach David Shaw joined the NFL's college football podcast and compared wide receiver Ty Montgomery to former first-round pick Irving Fryar.
"This guy needs to touch the ball every single way as humanly possible," Shaw said. "Just because he’s that kind of an athlete. He’s that kind of a dynamic football player. We have to make it hard for defenses to key on him … There is one name some of the younger listeners might not know very well, but I spent a year with Irving Fryar in Philadelphia. You’re talking about compact, physical, explosive. Irving ran a 4.3 coming out of college, coming out of Nebraska, and he would run over somebody and then run around them."
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The smile hasn't changed, eh? Good for you, KP.


Something to keep an eye on in 2015?

Best of the visits: Pac-12

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
4:07
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[+] EnlargeSeth Green and Taj Griffin
Courtesy of Seth Green's familyThe Ducks had a good showing for 2016 target Seth Green and Oregon commit Taj Griffin.
When it comes to visit weekends in the Pac-12, Oregon stole the show on Saturday, as no Pac-12 program brought in as many big-time recruits to witness an atmosphere as impactful as the one provided by the Ducks. While part of that was due to the opponent and the buildup surrounding the game, Oregon capitalized on hosting an impressive group of recruits, making a statement with both the 2015 and 2016 classes. Also represented in this look at the best visits of the weekend is Utah's big win against Fresno State and UCLA's closer-than-expected victory over Memphis.

Green visits the green and gold
While Oregon had a number of official visitors from the 2015 class, the Ducks also hosted 2016 ESPN 300 quarterback Seth Green on an unofficial visit. Green was able to take a photo of himself with Taj Griffin, an Oregon running back commit and ESPN 300 recruit. Green also tweeted, "Where great teams go to die" #WTD, a reference to a story written in the Michigan Daily in 2003, after No. 3 Michigan visited Autzen Stadium and lost to the Ducks.

Locked in to Oregon

The Ducks hosted ESPN 300 defensive backs Marvell Tell and Micah Abernathy over the weekend, and likely received some significant help in recruiting them from committed safety P.J. Locke. In fact, the Ducks had at least three committed recruits on campus for official visits this weekend, as Locke and offensive lineman Brady Aiello (pictured in Locke's tweet, below) were joined by offensive tackle Calvin Throckmorton.
Utes host big in-state target

It's always a positive thing when a significant in-state target spends a Saturday on campus, so Utah coaches had to be happy that mammoth offensive tackle prospect Brandon Bowen took in the Utes' thrashing of Fresno State. Bowen holds offers from several Pac-12 programs, including Colorado, Oregon State and Washington State, but Utah appears to be in solid position.
Bisharat sees slugfest

While wide receivers love watching wide open offenses, it's likely that a 6-foot-2, 200-pound running back, such as 2016 recruit Beau Bisharat, enjoyed what he saw from Stanford and USC on Saturday, as running games took center stage in a low-scoring affair. Bisharat, who holds early Pac-12 offers from Cal, Colorado and Washington State, tweeted a photo of his view of the game.
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, who dropped a heartbreaker, 13-10, Bisharat followed that tweet later in the day by retweeting USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, who took a picture of the scoreboard following the game.

Martin sees more than just a game

For 2016 ESPN 300 offensive lineman Frank Martin, Saturday night didn't just result in the memories of an entertaining game between UCLA and Memphis. The big tackle and No. 166 overall prospect also finished the night by earning his 10th offer, this one coming from the Bruins.
video
STANFORD, Calif. — USC coach Steve Sarkisian has a firm set of expectations when he coaches against Stanford.

“They don’t give you much,” he said. “You have to earn everything you get in all three phases.”

He certainly wasn’t expecting a smooth trip to Stanford Stadium, where the No. 14 Cardinal carried a nation-best 17-game home winning streak into Saturday's Pac-12 opener. Sarkisian has coached against the Cardinal enough in the past several years to understand a trip here is never easy.

The fact that the Trojans needed to overcome sloppy play, 10 penalties and the ejection of All-Pac-12 linebacker Hayes Pullard to win 13-10 actually fit what Sarkisian thought was a more plausible script.

“We had a feeling as a team that this game was going to be this type of game,” he said. “We just kept talking about continuing to fight through it and continuing to fight on and keep playing and keep playing through the adversity, which we were anticipating.”

Ultimately, two plays made the difference.

The first was a career-long, 53-yard field goal from Andre Heidari to put USC ahead by three with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. The second was a blind-side sack and forced fumble from linebacker J.R. Tavai in the final minute that returned the ball to USC and sealed the victory.

There will be a lot to get cleaned up, but in his first big test as coach at USC, Sarkisian couldn’t have been happier with a passing grade.

Stanford, on the other hand, is left wondering what went wrong. For long stretches, the Cardinal looked like the vastly superior team. It moved the ball effectively -- both through the air and on the ground -- and was physical on defense but simply failed to capitalize on the opportunities it created.

On each of its nine drives in the game, the Cardinal advanced to at least the USC 32-yard line but lost effectiveness the deeper it drove.

[+] EnlargeJustin Davis
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJustin Davis' first-quarter touchdown run was USC's only TD of the game, but it was enough to emerge with a huge victory at Stanford.
Kicker Jordan Williamson, who became the school’s all-time leading scorer last week, missed field goals of 49 and 26 yards. On what could have been two other field-goal attempts -- from 46 and 49 yards into a stiff wind on the other side of the field -- Stanford elected to punt.

“Against a team that is not really moving the ball a whole bunch on us, why take the chance [and kick]?” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “You want your defense to stand up and keep the field position. I'm going to keep making those calls. I feel great about our defense.”

That mentality factored into his decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the USC 3-yard line late in the third quarter -- only to see freshman fullback Daniel Marx come up short.

“The problem in the red zone right now is me,” Shaw said. “I've got to get back to work and make sure we're doing things that our guys can do [and] put them in positions to be successful.

“It's not about being a genius, it's not about orchestrating all kinds of other things; it's about going down there and executing our plays," Shaw added. "We had opportunities. We didn't take advantage of them. When we had a guy open, we had a protection issue. When we had the protection, we didn't get the guy open.”

The bottom line is USC made the plays when it mattered. Stanford did not.

What that means moving forward is irrelevant, but the Trojans have to like where they sit. With a favorable schedule coming up -- the Trojans have Arizona State at home and miss Oregon -- USC is currently projected by the ESPN Football Power Index to have a 10-0 record headed into its game with UCLA on Nov. 22.

“What Coach Sark has done for this team -- got these guys believing not only in him, but each other, everybody involved in the Trojan family -- is unbelievable,” USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. “I’m so happy to be a part of it.”

Stanford faces an uphill battle to claim its third consecutive Pac-12 title but needs to look only to last year to realize it’s possible. The Cardinal emerged from the Pac-12 North a two-loss team a year ago -- with one of those losses to USC -- before they won the conference title game and advanced to the Rose Bowl.

Video: USC coach Steve Sarkisian

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
7:10
PM ET
video 

USC coach Steve Sarkisian talks about the importance of his team's defense following the 14th-ranked Trojans' 13-10 win over No. 13 Stanford on Saturday.
On a chalkboard, the base offenses of Stanford and USC probably look very similar. Both derive from pro-style philosophies and principles. But if games were played only on a chalkboard, you’d have no idea just how different they really are in application.

When the No. 14 Trojans head to No. 13 Stanford on Saturday for the Pac-12 opener for both teams, the game will feature USC’s up-tempo attack versus Stanford’s methodical ground-and-pound approach.

Think of it as pro-style versus pronto-style.

Last Saturday in Steve Sarkisian’s debut as USC's head coach, the Trojans ran a conference-record 105 plays in a 52-13 pasting of the Fresno State Bulldogs. Leading the charge for the Trojans was quarterback Cody Kessler, who completed 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a fifth score as the Trojans amassed 701 yards of offense -- their most in a game since 2005.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Juan Lainez/Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesCody Kessler will try to keep the USC offense humming at Stanford.
“They were what you want to start the season with,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “They were efficient and explosive. Sometimes you get one without the other, but they were both. Cody played well. It’s obvious he’s got some weapons. Like us, they turned the ball over too many times and had some first game issues. But when you watch them play, they can go up-tempo, they have great personnel, they’re big on the offensive line. They are tough to crack and get after the quarterback like we like to because they are big up front. It was an impressive thing to watch.”

Impressive indeed. But duplicating that kind of success will be a chore against the Cardinal. Known for its stout defense and ability to keep offenses sidelined (it held Oregon to just 58 plays last season), Stanford will try to play the ball-control game. Shaw & Co. have their own idea of tempo. And it’s speeding up the game by slowing it down.

“They are a lot more multiple than people give them credit for,” Sarkisian said of Stanford’s offense. “Everyone wants to focus on when they go to their big package and bring in the [extra] offensive linemen. But they do stuff out of the traditional pro-style. They do stuff out of two-tight-end sets. They do stuff out of three-wide-receiver sets. They give you a lot of different looks, and they execute their stuff really well.”

It's also worth noting that Washington integrated this scheme USC deploys last year, when Sarkisian was the coach there. And the Huskies totaled 489 yards of offense in a 31-28 loss to the Cardinal in Palo Alto.

"Tempo" is a word you’re probably going to hear a lot on the telecast and read a lot following the game. Because whoever establishes tempo is, in essence, dictating the flow of the game. And for as much credit as USC’s offense deserves in the first week, Shaw said it’s the USC defense that deserves as much of the praise.

“If you don’t stay on the field on offense, they are going to run a ton of plays,” Shaw said. “For me, that’s not a function of tempo, that’s a function of playing good defense and getting Fresno State off the field very quickly with a bunch of three-and-outs. Small time of possession, very few plays, and that gives their offense more opportunities with the ball. [USC defensive coordinator] Justin Wilcox is as vital to how many plays they get on offense and how many points they get on offense as what they do on offense. USC is a very good defense. One of the best in the country. And they are going to give that offense a lot of opportunities.”

Last Saturday, the Trojans forced Fresno State into three three-and-out drives and six punts. Stanford forced UC Davis into nine three-and-outs. Offensively, Kessler was the model of efficiency on third down, completing 9 of 10 passes for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns on third down. Davis was just 1-of-13 on third-down conversions against the Cardinal and didn’t cross midfield until the final play of the game.

And when you throw in the fact that Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is 10-1 in his career against ranked teams and that the Cardinal are riding a 17-game home win streak (including nine straight against ranked teams) and that the series has been a thrill ride of late, you have all the trappings for another fantastic showdown.

“It’s been really, really good football,” Shaw said of recent games with USC. “When both teams have been ranked or one team has been ranked, it doesn’t matter.”

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