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Beware of the ‘dog

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Klein is a Times staff writer.

USC appears to be on the outside looking in regarding the Bowl Championship Series title game. Are the Trojans longshots? Sure. But Stanford last season taught them that anything can happen. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the key issues and matchups when USC plays a Cardinal team fighting to become bowl eligible:

Leading men

This is just a hunch, but if USC quarterback Mark Sanchez suffers a broken finger in the second quarter, don’t expect Coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to leave him in and call for passes that might be intercepted.

Efficient if not spectacular of late, Sanchez has completed 65% of his passes this season. He has thrown for 24 touchdowns with only seven interceptions and will no doubt be freed of the conservative game plan utilized last week against turnover-causing California.

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Stanford is last in the Pacific 10 Conference and 98th nationally among 119 teams in pass defense. However, the Cardinal is tied for the conference lead with 30 sacks.

Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard is no stranger to the Trojans. All he did last season was engineer one of the biggest upsets in college football history, completing a fourth-and-20 pass for a first down and then a 10-yard game-winning touchdown pass on fourth down with less than a minute left to give 41-point underdog Stanford a 24-23 win.

In his first start.

This year the junior has nine touchdown passes with nine interceptions while directing a run-oriented offense.

USC is favored by “only” 24 points this time.

Run for it

USC is third in rushing in the Pac-10, at 201 yards a game, despite having no individual ranked among the top eight.

Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable have alternately been the workhorses in a tailback rotation that also features Joe McKnight and now, perhaps, Marc Tyler, who has moved up the depth chart after Broderick Green’s departure.

Stanford relies on junior Toby Gerhart and senior Anthony Kimble. The Cardinal averages 207 rushing yards a game.

Gerhart, from Norco High, has rushed for more than 100 yards six times and has scored 13 touchdowns. He is fourth in the conference, averaging 93.2 yards a game. Kimble averages 6.2 yards a carry, has rushed for 11 touchdowns and is seventh in the Pac-10, averaging 65 yards a game.

Do you remember?

Carroll and the Trojans downplayed the revenge factor, acknowledging Stanford’s stunning upset on Oct. 6, 2007, that ended USC’s 35-game home winning streak but dismissing questions about extra motivation for payback.

Of course, it’s hard to erase the memory.

“I can still see that touchdown pass,” middle linebacker Rey Maualuga said.

Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh toned down his rhetoric in media settings, but it’s hard to imagine him not referencing the feat as a motivational tool for this season’s team.

In the zone

USC needs kicker David Buehler and punter Greg Woidneck to keep Stanford pinned deep in its own territory because the Cardinal has the Pac-10’s best offense inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Stanford has converted 33 of 35 red-zone scoring opportunities, 19 by rushing.

USC is second in the conference in red-zone defense.

The Trojans are eighth in red-zone offense, scoring 35 times in 44 opportunities.

Stanford is third in red-zone defense.

It’s a match

Take heart, USC fans: A Stanford team loaded with a roster full of top students has a hard time correcting mistakes too. The Cardinal is eighth in the Pac-10 in penalties, averaging a little more than seven a game.

Only Washington State stands between Stanford and the conference-worst Trojans, who average 8.5 penalties for nearly 80 yards a game.

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By the numbers

*--* USC CATEGORY STAN 37.7 Scoring 27.6 6.7 Points given up 24.7 254.0 Passing off. 134.9 200.7 Rushing off. 207.0 454.7 Total offense 341.9 128.7 Passing def. 248.3 77.8 Rushing def. 126.6 206.4 Total defense 374.9 *--*

gary.klein@latimes.com


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