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Stanford vs. USC: Cardinal Cram Session

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Opening Number: 91, USC's rank in opponents' third down conversion percentage (43.75). Stanford has converted 53.41 percent of its third downs, which ranks 5th.

Players to Watch:

Michael Thomas, Stanford S: With fellow safety Delano Howell expected to miss a second straight game with a hand injury, extra pressure will fall on the senior captain to prevent Robert Woods and Co. from running wild after the catch. Thomas stepped up in a big way last week, intercepting a Keith Price pass over the middle and returning it for a touchdown.

Chase Thomas, Stanford LB: Thomas will look to add to his team-high 5.5 sacks, but it won't be easy against an offensive line that has only allowed four sacks this season. If Matt Barkley is able to get comfortable in the pocket, it'll make slowing the USC passing attack all the more difficult for the secondary.

Stepfan Taylor, Stanford RB: Taylor had 100 yards by halftime against Washington and watched as Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson ran wild against the Huskies in the second half. Stanford's primary back will face one of his biggest tests of the season against USC -- the Trojans rank 11th in the nation in rushing defense.

Curtis McNeal, USC RB: The Trojans' running game isn't nearly as strong as its passing offense, but McNeal is capable of having a big day. He was declared academically ineligible last season, but has emerged as USC's lead back in the last couple of games and is coming off a career-high 118-yard performance against Notre Dame.

Marqise Lee, USC WR: Woods gets all of the attention, allowing the talented Lee to slide under the radar. The freshman had 8 catches for 144 yards against Arizona earlier this year.

Nick Perry, USC DE: In spring practice, Perry said he expected to exceed 15 sacks this season. He still has a ways to go. Perry leads the Trojans in sacks with 4 and the defensive line has been stout against the run, but it hasn't had a lot of success getting to the quarterback this season. That's bad news for the Trojans' porous pass defense.

Key Terms:

  • GameDay: The Coliseum should be buzzing tonight if fans make it into the stadium after a full day of tailgating. Lou Holtz picked USC to upset Stanford, but Lee Corso donned the Tree costume and went with the Cardinal.
  • Fast Start: Stanford hasn't had much of a problem overcoming sluggish starts this season, but they don't want to mess around tonight. Not against an offense as potent as USC's and not in a stadium filled with fans who are as hungry for revenge as the Trojan faithful. This is USC's bowl game.
  • Tackling: It was an issue last week against Washington. Woods can make it an issue tonight.

Additional Reading:

Has the USC defense flipped the switch to GOOD? | SB Nation

A few other players to watch tonight. | Palo Alto Daily News

Fun facts about the Stanford-USC matchup. | Stanford Football Blog

Hank expects Stanford to pull away in the second half. | Go Mighty Card

Willys previews tonight's showdown. | The Daily Axe

Closing Number: 61.11, as in Stanford opponents' success rate in the red zone this year, the second-lowest total in the nation.

Prediction: Stanford 48, USC 24. The Cardinal's streak of wins by at least 25 points may come to an end, but it won't take a last-minute drive to win this time. The Trojans' offense will provide a real test, but USC doesn't have the defense to match.