There are six teams in the Pac 12 averaging 34 or more points per game, but the Stanford Cardinal and USC Trojans are not among them. On the other hand, there are just three teams giving up an average of less than 20 points. The Cardinal and Trojans are among these.
There have been just five games between Pac 12 teams this season in which the combined point total was below 40. USC and Stanford were involved in all but one, Arizona State’s 20-19 win over Utah (and that one barely snuck in). Both teams run a Pro-Style offense, heavily focused on between-the-tackles run plays that set up play-action passes. Neither is flashy, both are tough and gritty.
What does this all mean?
Saturday night, prepare for something most college football fans rarely get to see – a West Coast defensive battle. Many expect this game to be close, but it should also be low-scoring. The Cardinal and Trojans are seventh and tenth, respectively, in the league in scoring offense. However, they’re second (Stanford) and third (USC) in scoring defense.
If you’re expecting the usual Pac 12 entrée of points galore, you’d probably be better off watching Arizona State take on Oregon State. That contest offers an oasis of touchdowns that won’t likely exist in the offensive desert that will be the L.A. Coliseum.
If you caught the Stanford vs. Oregon game last week, you know exactly what to expect from the Cardinal – an offense that will feature about 40-plus handoffs over right guard and a suffocating defense. However, USC’s defense, unlike the delicate Ducks, seems more able and willing to stand up to the bruising Cardinal offense. The Trojans’ 112.5 rushing yards allowed per game are second only Stanford’s 99.2.
Neither team’s pass defense is great, but then again, neither is the Cardinal (12th) or Trojan (10th) passing attack. One or two big plays in the passing game could tip the scale in this game, which is a must-win for each squad.
Fresh off a huge victory over Oregon, the fifth-ranked Cardinal (8-1, 6-1) needs to beat USC and Cal to clinch the North title and remain in contention for the national championship.
The Trojans (7-3, 4-2) have fought back into the Pac 12 South race after a horrific opening month in which they imploded at home to Washington State, lost their best player to injury (receiver Marqise Lee), got blown out at Arizona State, and subsequently fired coach Lane Kiffin.
Interim coach Ed Orgeron has restored confidence and enthusiasm to this Trojans team, which has the scheme and personnel to stand up to the Cardinal. Both teams will try to establish the run offensively and rely on their stout defenses to control the game.
To say the least, points should be at a premium, which means kicking could also come into play. If it comes down to a field goal contest, Stanford would have a slight advantage. Cardinal kickers have hit 14-of-19 field goals this season, while the Trojans have converted 11-of-18 attempts (last in the league).
The team that wins the battle in the trenches and makes a few plays down the field will likely win the game.