USC-Stanford preview: Trojans look to beat the odds

A sellout crowd, the first of the season at the Coliseum, will be on hand to see whether USC can end its four-game losing streak against Stanford. Staff writer Gary Klein examines the story lines:

On the edge

The spotlight will be on the skill-position players, but keep an eye on USC offensive tackles Chad Wheeler and Kevin Graf. Their performances could determine the Trojans' fate on offense.

Wheeler is a redshirt freshman, Graf a three-year starter who came back last week from an ankle injury.

Stanford ends Josh Mauro, Henry Anderson and Blake Lueders and outside linebackers Trent Murphy and James Vaughters are experienced and tough. Murphy has 10 of the Cardinal's 30 sacks.

This could be special

If the oddsmakers are correct — Stanford is a 31/2 -point favorite — the outcome could be decided by the kicking game.

USC's Andre Heidari missed a field-goal and an extra-point attempt last Saturday against California. He has made 11 of 18 field-goal attempts this season. Two years ago at the Coliseum, the then-freshman kicked 50- and 22-yard field goals in the Trojans' triple-overtime loss to the Cardinal.

Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson has made 13 of 17 field-goal attempts, including four of five last week against Oregon.

USC's Nelson Agholor returned two punts for touchdowns against Cal. Stanford's Ty Montgomery averages a nation-best 33.6 yards per kickoff return and has 99- and 100-yard touchdowns.

Time warp

Stanford controlled the ball for 42 minutes 34 seconds in its 26-20 victory over Oregon on Nov. 7. But the Trojans rank higher nationally in time of possession — by about a minute.

USC has averaged 32:32, which ranks 18th among 123 major college teams. Stanford is 32nd, averaging 31:41.

Wide angle

USC receivers Marqise Lee and Agholor are speedy, deep-ball threats capable of offsetting Stanford's clock-eating possessions.

Trojans coaches nursed Lee's still-recovering left knee through the Cal game, limiting the All-American's plays in anticipation of this game. Agholor is playing with confidence after catching four passes and amassing 215 all-purpose yards against Cal.

Stanford's Montgomery has 41 receptions, five for touchdowns. He averages 163.4 all-purpose yards, which ranks ninth nationally.

Building blocks

USC tailbacks Javorius Allen and Ty Isaac and Stanford running backs Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson will be focal points. But don't forget the fullbacks.

Stanford's Ryan Hewitt, a 6-foot-4, 246-pound fifth-year senior, clears the way for Gaffney. He has only one carry and six receptions.

Neither Soma Vainuku nor Jahleel Pinner has carried the ball this season for USC. Pinner has six receptions, Vainuku five.

Just in case

With both teams achieving run-oriented success, the defensive backfields cannot afford to let their guard down.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler faces a unit that features safety Jordan Richards, who has three of the Cardinal's 10 interceptions. Safety Ed Reynolds and cornerback Alex Carter have one each.

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan goes against a unit that has 12 of the Trojans' 13 interceptions. Cornerback Josh Shaw and safeties Su'a Cravens and Dion Bailey each have three.

Conversion rate

Stanford's 52% third-down conversion percentage ranks 14th nationally — and it was even better against Oregon, when the Cardinal converted 14 of 21 third downs and one fourth down.

USC ranks 17th in third-down defense, stopping opponents 33% of the time.

The Trojans offense's 32% conversion rate ranks 108th. The Trojans converted five of nine in their rout at Cal.

Stanford's defense is 22nd in third-down defense, stopping opponents 34% of the time.

Twitter: @latimesklein

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