USC Trojans: Stepfan Taylor

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
7:15
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Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall will be the Pac-12's leading returning rusher in 2014.
Arizona State: The torch was passed from Marion Grice to D.J. Foster toward the end of last season, and Foster will have a full offseason to prepare to be the No. 1 guy. He showed impressive flashes in spot playing time in the past two seasons, and ran for 318 yards (6.2 yards per carry) in three starts after Grice was lost to injury.

California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.

Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.

Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.

Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.

Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.

UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen will likely head up USC's running back committee next season.
USC: After watching Bishop Sankey turn into one of the nation's premier backs under the tutelage of new coach Steve Sarkisian, USC's deep stable of running backs has to be intrigued. The Trojans will return four of their top five leading rushers from a year ago -- Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac -- when they were predominantly a run-first team. Allen, who was named the team MVP in 2013, figures to get the first crack at being the starter, but that could be just in name only as a running-back-by-committee scenario seems likely.

Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.

Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).

Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.

Previous positions

Quarterback

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
10:15
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in the final week of the regular season:

  1. Home-field advantage: Who will host the Pac-12 title game? That’s up to Arizona State (and Arizona, for that matter). The scenario is pretty simple. If Arizona State wins, the Sun Devils will finish with an 8-1 record in Pac-12 play and will host Stanford in the championship game. If Arizona wins, the Sun Devils will be 7-2, the same record as the Cardinal, and Stanford will host the championship game by virtue of its tiebreaker over the Sun Devils.
  2. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Kevin Casey/Getty ImagesArizona tailback Ka'Deem Carey has rushed for 1,559 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
    Home-field advantage (Take 2): Oregon hasn’t lost at home to Oregon State since the overtime game in 2007. Washington hasn’t lost at home to Washington State since 2007. UCLA hasn’t won at the Coliseum since 1997. The Cardinal have a 15-game home winning streak, longest in the country. Arizona State has a seven-game home winning streak. Home-field advantage is obviously important. And for the reasons listed in the first bullet point, the location of the title game is still unknown. But it hinges on the Territorial Cup, and the visiting team has won the past four.
  3. Battle of strengths: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, along with his 155.9 yards per game and 14-game streak of rushing for 100 yards or more, heads to Tempe to face an Arizona State defense that is third in the league against the run, yielding 123.4 yards per game.
  4. The Kelly factor: There are a lot of reasons why ASU is riding a six-game win streak heading into its showdown with Arizona. But one key reason has been the increased use of quarterback Taylor Kelly in the running game. Through the first five games when the Sun Devils were 3-2, Kelly averaged 7.8 rushes per game and 25.8 yards per game with zero touchdowns. Over the past six games, he’s averaging 12.5 rushes per game and 47 yards with eight touchdowns.
  5. Showdown in Tinseltown: The Trojans have won 12 of the past 14 meetings, though the Bruins took out the Trojans last season. Unlike last season's game, there is no bearing on the Pac-12 South title since ASU has already wrapped it up. But there is no shortage of storylines. Is this the game that ends Ed Orgeron’s magnificent run as head coach? Or is it the game that convinces Pat Haden to drop “interim” from his title and make him the guy. It’s a game with massive recruiting implications in Southern California and is always the best game in town, since there is no other football.
  6. Rocky Mountain blues: Neither Colorado nor Utah are going to a bowl game -- again. There is certainly more disappointment in Salt Lake City for a team that had high hopes. But after beating Stanford in October, the Utes have dropped five in a row. Colorado has four wins so far -- which was the total from the past two seasons combined, so coach Mike MacIntyre has things moving in the right direction. At this point, it’s about either team trying to build up some momentum.
  7. Civil showdown: Oregon is looking to extend its Civil War winning streak to six straight over Oregon State. Both teams had a rough November, but an Oregon win would give the Ducks a sixth-straight 10-win season. The Beavers, meanwhile, are trying to snap a four-game skid. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks second in the country in ESPN’s Total QBR ranking, while Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks leads the country with 141.8 receiving yards per game.
  8. Will the real Kevin Hogan please stand up: Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kevin Hogan had a career-high 98.9 Total QBR in Stanford’s 63-13 win against California. Hogan had career highs in passing yards (329), passing touchdowns (five) and 15-yard completions (15). Hogan bounced back from his career-low 23.1 Total QBR in Stanford’s loss to USC last Saturday.
  9. Stanford-Notre Dame quotable: Of course, we all remember how last year’s game ended in South Bend. Notre Dame’s goal-line stand in the rain, Stepfan Taylor failing to cross the goal line in overtime, etc. Coaches love to be reminded of stuff like that, and our own Ted Miller was kind enough to ask coach David Shaw about that play. His response: “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t watch that play again. I think I watched so many times last year that I don’t need to see it again. I know what happened.”
  10. Apples and apples: Washington State reached six wins for the first time since 2006 and could go to a bowl game for the first time since 2003. The Huskies are at the seven-win mark, a hump they’ve failed to get over of late, so this game has a tremendous impact on bowl pecking order. The Huskies are coming off a blowout win over Oregon State where Bishop Sankey rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He’s third in the nation in total yards. WSU safety Deone Bucannon, the Pac-12’s leading tackler, became the first Cougar to post back-to-back seasons of at least 100 tackles since the turn of the century.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 3

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
8:48
AM PT
Our countdown of the top 25 players in the 2012 season continues.

You can see the preseason top 25 here.

No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

2012 numbers: Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns. He also rushed 13 times for 106 yards. And returned a kickoff 100 yards for a TD.

Preseason ranking: No. 9

Making the case for Lee: It's pretty simple: Lee, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound true sophomore, was a unanimous All-American because he was the best receiver in the nation this season. Some might argue he was the best overall player in the nation. He ranked second in the nation in both receptions per game (9.08) and receiving yards per game (132.38). His 345 yards receiving at Arizona set a Pac-12 record and also were the fifth-most in FBS history. Lee produced three of the top four receiving games in the conference this year -- the Arizona performance, 197 yards versus Hawaii and 192 yards at Utah. Five times he went over 150 yards receiving. It wasn't like teams didn't know he was coming. He was a 1,000-yard receiver as a true freshman. Further, the Trojans other top receiving target, Robert Woods, was a unanimous All-American the year before. You'd think Lee would have had to share the ball more. Yet Lee was so difficult to stop, so tempting to target, that it's possible -- probable perhaps -- that the Trojans strangely inconsistent offense this year looked to Lee too often. That, however, isn't Lee's fault. Lee posted a spectacular season that wasn't appreciated enough because his team was so massively disappointing overall.

No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah

Pac-12 helmet stickers

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
9:00
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So, that was sort of an exciting Saturday.
  • Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Posting the ninth-best rushing total in FBS history probably gets you a helmet sticker. Carey rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in the win over Colorado, averaging 14.6 yards on his 25 carries.
  • Curtis McNeal, RB, USC: Rushed 31 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a 22-yard touchdown in USC's win over Arizona State.
  • Lamar Dawson, LB, USC: The linebacker helped pace a USC defense that forced four turnovers and limited the Sun Devils to 17 points and 250 total yards. He tallied a team-high 11 tackles and also had an interception.
  • Keith Price, QB, Washington: He accounted for three touchdowns in leading the Huskies past visiting Utah. Price, who completed 24 of 33 passes for 277 yards, had a pair of touchdown passes and also ran for a third.
  • Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: The accolades continue as Mariota matched an Oregon record by throwing six touchdowns. He completed 27 of 34 passes for 377 yards. He also carried six times for 42 yards.
  • Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA: To go with his eight tackles (including three for a loss) and 2.5 sacks, he also tallied a safety.
  • Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford: On 19 carries, Taylor rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third straight season. He also had a 40-yard touchdown reception -- a dump pass that he turned into what head coach David Shaw called one of the finest plays of his career.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
10:00
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Taking stock of the sixth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Just as the hot seat talk for California coach Jeff Tedford was starting to crescendo, the Bears pulled out an impressive 43-17 win over No. 25 UCLA. The Bears played tough on both sides of the ball, and QB Zach Maynard overcame an early interception to post perhaps his best career game, accounting for five TDs -- four throwing, one running. The defense forced six turnovers and pressured UCLA QB Brett Hundley most of the evening. Cal needed a win, and it got it.

Best game: There were nine lead changes in the first three quarters of Arizona's visit to Stanford, as neither defense could get a stop. But when the Wildcats jumped up 48-34 with nine minutes left in the game, it didn't appear we'd get an 11th change. But Stanford rallied around QB Josh Nunes and forced overtime. At that point, the Cardinal defense stepped up, forcing a turnover, and RB Stepfan Taylor's 21-yard TD run provided the winning points at 54-48.

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireStanford QB Josh Nunes talks with coach David Shaw during a timeout against Arizona on Saturday.
Biggest play: Down seven with 1:21 left and facing a fourth-and-9 at the Arizona 20-yard line, Nunes found Zach Ertz over the middle for 17 yards to the 3-yard line. Nunes went the final 3 yards for the tying touchdown that got Stanford to OT.

Offensive standout: Nine days after a loss at Washington had some fans calling for him to be benched, Nunes' clutch performance against Arizona might end up being more resonant than his struggles versus the Huskies. He overcame a slow start and accounted for five Stanford touchdowns, completing 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards and two scores while also rushing for 33 yards on seven carries and three touchdowns.

Defensive standout: What's it with all these three-interception games? Oregon State CB Jordan Poyer grabbed three picks against Washington State, while Cal's Kameron Jackson did the same against UCLA. Both also had four tackles. Earlier in the year, UCLA CB Sheldon Price had three picks against Houston.

Special teams standout: Stanford's Daniel Zychlinski averaged 54.3 yards on four punts in the Cardinal's overtime win over Arizona with a long of 59 yards.

Smiley face: The Pac-12's top four teams: Oregon, USC, Oregon State and Stanford each found different ways to win. Oregon rolled over rival Washington 52-21, looking like a dominant, national title contender along the way. USC overcame a horrible start that left it in a 14-0 hole two minutes into its visit to Utah. Oregon State was sloppy and inefficient on offense but was bailed out by its defense against Washington State. And Stanford, as already mentioned, overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Arizona in overtime. One of the signs of a good conference is when its ranked teams just get it done, even if they aren't clicking.

Frowny face: Mike Leach was supposed to bring a high-powered passing offense to Washington State, and the Cougars were supposed to have the QB-WR combinations to make it potent. But it hasn't played out that way. The Cougars were held to two field goals in a 19-6 loss to Oregon State. They finished with a measly 227 total yards with five turnovers, including four interceptions. Neither Connor Halliday nor Jeff Tuel is playing well, and the receivers have been making too many drops. The Cougs are 98th in the nation in scoring with 21.8 points per game.

Thought of the week: Notre Dame, which Stanford visits on Saturday, is 5-0 and ranked seventh. The Fighting Irish appear to be finally emerging from a long period of malaise, and that's good for the Pac-12. The past few years, Stanford's and USC's annual whipping of the Irish meant little to the national audience. But a ranked Notre Dame team provides an opportunity for Stanford and USC to post wins that do raise eyebrows nationally, as well as raise the perception of the conference. Of course, Stanford and USC have to win those games for Notre Dame's return to relevance to be a positive one.

Questions for the week: The Pac-12 features four teams ranked from Nos. 2 through 17: No. 2 Oregon, No. 10 Oregon State, No. 11 USC and No. 17 Stanford. While any of those four teams could fall apart and out of the rankings, they do appear to comprise a top third of the conference so far. But who might rise from the Pac-12 and become a fifth ranked team, or at least the fifth team in the Pac-12 pecking order? The conference isn't lacking candidates. You'd have to rank Arizona State and Washington as the top two. The Sun Devils are playing well, while the Huskies already have a win over Stanford. Then there's UCLA, Arizona and Utah. And, perhaps, a resurgent California, which just beat UCLA. Will a nine-win team emerge from that group? Or will we end up with a lot of 7-5, 6-6 and 5-7?

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 17, 2012
9/17/12
10:00
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Taking stock of the third week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Stanford didn't just beat No. 2 USC, it physically dominated the Trojans in a 21-14 victory, the Cardinal's record fourth consecutive win in the series. First, there was the post-Toby Gerhart Era. Then there was the post-Jim Harbaugh Era. Then there was the post-Andrew Luck Era. Maybe it's just the Stanford Era? The Cardinal is now squarely in the Rose Bowl race. And maybe the national title hunt.

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
Kyle Terada/US PresswireCardinal quarterback Josh Nunes had one of the biggest plays of the week in the Pac-12.
Best game: Utah's 24-21 win over BYU wasn't pretty. It wasn't, really, even deserving of a "best" tag. But it was really weird, particularly the ending, and weird is often noteworthy. On a weekend when four games came down to the fourth quarter, the Holy War had the most breathless finish because it had two breathless finishes.

Biggest play: On third-and-10 from the 50 in the fourth quarter, Stanford QB Josh Nunes was under pressure. He scrambled and found himself bottled up and cut off. Yet a player not exactly known for his athleticism juked the USC defense and cut for a 13-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later, he hit TE Zach Ertz for a 37-yard TD and a 21-14 lead, the final margin of Cardinal victory.

Biggest play II: California had No. 12 Ohio State on the ropes. The score was tied with just under four minutes left in the game, and the Buckeyes faced a third-and-7 from their 28-yard line. QB Braxton Miller was forced from the pocket, but the Bears secondary gagged and let Devin Smith get free behind the coverage. The ensuing 72-yard TD pass provided Ohio State its 35-28 margin of victory.

Biggest play III: BYU had a first-and-10 on the Utah 25-yard line, down 10-7 in the third quarter. Lined up in a shotgun formation, QB Riley Nelson wanted to change the play. While he was barking signals, his center delivered the snap, which rolled past an unaware Nelson. Utah's Mo Lee scooped up the loose ball and rambled 47 yards for a TD. The Utes would need those points in a 24-21 win.

Offensive standout: Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor was the best player on the field against USC. He rushed 27 times for 153 yards and a 59-yard TD and caught five passes for 60 yards and a 23-yard score in No. 21 Stanford's upset win over No. 2 Trojans.

Defensive standout: UCLA CB Sheldon Price matched a school record with three interceptions in the Bruins' 37-6 win over Houston.

Special teams standout: Not a lot to choose from. Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas returned four punts for 87 yards against Tennessee Tech, though he did fumble one.

Smiley face: Cal RB Brendan Bigelow brought life to the Bears by doing his best De'Anthony Thomas at Ohio State, rushing for 160 yards on just four carries -- yes, an average of 40 yards per carry! He had touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards, and both were spectacular. Might he give the Bears offense a weapon that turns around their season?

Frowny face: Can anyone kick a freaking field goal? USC has no kicker, and Arizona, California, Oregon, Stanford and Utah were a combined 1-for-10, with the Bay Area schools going 0-for-6.

Thought of the week: Two of the Pac-12's five unbeaten teams will go down this weekend because of head-to-head matchups. Arizona travels to Oregon, while UCLA plays host to Oregon State. We'll get a better measure of contenders and pretenders this weekend.

Questions for the week: Is Oregon's Thomas ready to make a Heisman Trophy statement against Arizona? The set-up seems perfect: an ESPN game against a questionable defense. With USC and QB Matt Barkley going down, the Heisman race has opened up. Can Thomas be his fancy self and win the affection of the pundits?

Stanford wins at big-man football 

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
11:11
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This one hurts for USC fans. It hurts for many reasons, but one of the ways it hurts the most is the way Stanford won the game. The Cardinal beat USC in this game by imposing their will and the Trojans weren’t able to do anything about it.

That kind of “big man on big man” football is supposed to be USC football. What do you think the reaction was of John McKay and Marv Goux watching from above as the Cardinal physically dominated the Trojans in the second half on both sides of the ball?

Stanford ended up with 202 rushing yards compared to 26 for the Trojans. One team was able to run the ball, one team wasn’t. The Cardinal sacked Matt Barkley four times, and the Trojans didn’t get a sack on Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes. One team applied relentless pressure, one team didn’t.

Cardinal ride Taylor to victory

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
12:19
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PALO ALTO, Calif. – Stanford’s Kevin Danser was living an offensive lineman’s dream Saturday night.

“You finish your block and you’re on the ground, and then you look up and your running back is still going,” said Stanford’s guard. “Man, that’s a great feeling. How about that guy? Man, not a lot of people can do what 33 can do.”

That guy -- 33 -- is Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, who was the offensive catalyst in Stanford’s ugly-but-effective 21-14 victory over No. 2 USC in front of a sold-out (50,360) Stanford Stadium. Classes don’t start until next week, but that didn’t stop the students in attendance from rushing the field and celebrating Stanford’s fourth consecutive win over the Trojans.

It’s the second time in the past five meetings that Stanford has beaten USC when the Trojans were ranked second nationally. They did it in Los Angeles in 2007 on a last-minute touchdown pass by Tavita Pritchard, winning 24-23 when Stanford was a 41-point underdog.

Saturday night, the Trojans (2-1) weren’t as heavily favored, but they were still considered a grade above No. 21 Stanford (3-0). Taylor saw to disprove that. He chipped, chipped and then broke through. Then he chipped and chipped again. And then he broke through again. And when he was done chipping, he had broken USC’s defense.

“That guy is a rock,” said Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt. “I get to see his yards after contact because he usually blows right by me. And it’s impressive.”

Taylor looked like the best player on the field Saturday night -- not exactly a passing statement when he was sharing the field with USC quarterback Matt Barkley and A-list wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Taylor rushed for 153 yards on 27 carries (5.9 average) and a touchdown to go with five catches for 60 yards and a score.

“We were going to keep giving him the ball,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “He never gets tired. He drags people, he breaks tackles. By one out-of-town paper I was called 'the king of hyperbole' [when talking about Taylor] but that is why I love talking about him. We typically like to rest him, but when we need him, I told him two years ago, we are going to put a saddle on him and ride him.”

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor, George Uko
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezStepfan Taylor scoots away from USC's George Uko for the first of his two touchdowns.
And Stanford needed him Saturday. With a new quarterback still learning his way around the offense and a rebuilt offensive line, the Cardinal looked stilted at times on offense. Then again, so did Barkley, the Heisman frontrunner who probably lost a few voters with his 20-of-41 performance and two interceptions. But more damning to his campaign were the zero touchdowns -- almost unheard of with playmakers like Lee and Woods at his disposal. The Cardinal kept Barkley under constant pressure and sacked him four times.

“They played better football than us,” said an extremely despondent Barkley. “We were prepared. They played better.”

Taylor certainly had his share of highlights. His 59-yard touchdown run that knotted the score at 7-7 in the first quarter was pretty. So was his 23-yard screen pass that went for a touchdown, tying the score at 14-14 in the third quarter. But he saved some of his best running for the end of the game -- and he didn’t even get in the end zone. His 2- and 3-yard runs were turning into 7- and 8-yard runs by the second half. The final 8 minutes, 40 seconds was exactly the kind of football Shaw wants his team to play. The Cardinal started at their own 19 and pounded; Taylor for 1, Taylor for 7, Taylor for 2, Taylor for 8, etc., etc., etc. At the end of the scoreless drive, the Cardinal had run 10 plays and eaten 5 minutes, 56 seconds of clock.

The Trojans took over with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left at their own 11, trailing 21-14. But penalties and a pair of Stanford sacks ended the drive, and the game. The Cardinal threw all kinds of blitzes and pressure at Barkley all night -- and without starting center Khaled Holmes, the Trojans were unable to adjust.

“If you sit back there, the quarterback is too good,” Shaw said. “Regardless of what happened tonight, that is the best quarterback in the country. If you give him too much time, he will kill you. You have to get after him. Those receivers are really good. We had to mix it up. Some plays we came after him and some plays we sat back. Our secondary made all the tackles.”

For Josh Nunes, tasked with replacing Andrew Luck as Stanford’s quarterback, having a back like Taylor has made life a lot easier. He was 15-of-32 for 215 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“He’s a quarterback’s best friend,” Nunes said. “This game was a testament to our style of football, the guys up front, and certainly Stepfan Taylor."

Inside the locker room: Stanford edition 

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
10:45
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Notes, quotes, and anecdotes from Stanford Stadium after the Trojans' (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) 21-14 loss to Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12).

Kiffin comments: “We knew we didn’t play with a lot of discipline today -- two critical personal fouls, and you can’t do that versus a good team on the road.”

On the lack of a running game: “If you don’t run the ball and they’re able to run it -- even though our defense played pretty well for the most part, I thought we put them out there a lot with the lack of third-down conversions.”

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Instant analysis: Stanford 21, USC 14

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
8:41
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Classes at Stanford don’t start until next week. But that doesn’t mean the students moving in couldn’t rush the field. And a field-storming was warranted when the No. 21 Cardinal shocked No. 2 USC 21-14. Here’s how it went down in Palo Alto:

It was over when: Matt Barkley failed to convert a fourth-and-40 (yeah, you’re reading that right) and the Cardinal took over on downs with nine seconds left. The Trojans took over with 2:44 left, trailing 21-14, and Barkley was sacked twice on a drive that included one fourth-down conversion.

Game ball goes to: Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. He also had four catches for 61 yards and a score.

Stat of the game: Stanford’s defense held USC to 276 yards of total offense, including just 23 on the ground. Conversely, Stanford totaled 415 yards.

Stat of the game take 2: 4 -- that’s how many interceptions were thrown between Barkley and Josh Nunes during an eight-play stretch in the second quarter, including consecutive interceptions from both quarterbacks on three straight plays.

What this means for USC: For starters, the Trojans' national title hopes are now in serious jeopardy. (Are Stanford's alive?) Not only did they lose, but they looked bad doing it. USC couldn’t run the football, nor could it stop the run -- especially in the fourth quarter, when Taylor wore the Trojans down. Barkley’s Heisman campaign just took a turn for the worse as well.

What this means for Stanford: It owns the Trojans, pure and simple. The Cardinal have now won four straight against USC. Moving forward, the Cardinal now have a signature victory and are back in the national picture.

Grades: No. 21 Stanford 21, No. 2 USC 14

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
8:40
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STANFORD, Calif. -- For the fourth straight season, Stanford upset the USC Trojans, this time by a 21-14 score in another thriller between the two rivals. Here's a report card for the previously No. 2-ranked Trojans.

GradePASSING ATTACK
Matt Barkley made some really questionable decisions -- in particular the second straight interception he threw in the second quarter. This might have been D-caliber work for Barkley, honestly, but given that the Trojans' line struggled to protect him, he earns a low C.

GradeRUSHING ATTACK
Silas Redd continues to get the opportunities, but he did very little with them. Sure, he got into the end zone twice, but he averaged about a yard on the rest of his carries. When Curtis McNeal was on the field and not immediately stuffed, he showed the same burst he always has had.

GradeIN THE TRENCHES
Pretty much USC's entire offensive line struggled the entire day, and that was by far the biggest reason USC lost this game. Injured center Khaled Holmes was sorely missed. On defense, a short-handed line produced some pressure on Stanford's Josh Nunes -- but not near enough, obviously.

GradeDEFENSE
Considering everything that happened, the Trojans' defense actually didn't play poorly. Stepfan Taylor is an elite running back, and he used his skills to break through the front seven on a consistent basis. USC's secondary still has some serious tackling issues, the same ones that have plagued the team in recent years.

GradeSPECIAL TEAMS
Kyle Negrete was fine -- not as good as last week but still good. The opening kickoff return didn't end up costing the Trojans, but it was still a poor play from the kick coverage unit. There weren't really any other impact chances for USC's special teams.

GradeCOACHING
USC was outcoached in this game, clearly. Lane Kiffin really had no idea how to keep the pressure off of Barkley in the fourth quarter, and David Shaw and his staff dialed up all the right moves series after series. Can the Trojans' coach keep the wheels from falling off going forward?
Stat of the half: Turnovers -- 3 for USC, 2 for Stanford. USC had a lost fumble by Silas Redd and a pair of interceptions from Matt Barkley, but the Trojans countered with interceptions of Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes by Dion Bailey and Jawanza Starling. Those are uncharacteristic numbers for these two teams.

Player of the half: T.J. McDonald. The Trojans senior safety has been physical and active in helping to limit the Stanford run game. The Cardinal have 103 rushing yards on 13 carries, but 59 of those yards came on one run by Stepfan Taylor.

What’s working for our team: Explosive plays. The two USC touchdowns came as a result of short passes that went for long gains thanks to yards-after-catch by Nelson Agholor (48) and Robert Woods (24). The play by Woods came on a 4th-and-19 play where he was able to get outside for the first down.

What’s not working: Run game. The Trojans have 17 carries for 35 yards, but 26 of those yards came on one carry late by Curtis McNeal. Part of the reason for the lack of numbers is the fact that both McNeal and Redd went to the sidelines during the game with injuries, although McNeal later returned to action. The Trojans are also without Khaled Holmes in the middle of the offensive line.

Five things to watch: USC-Stanford

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
11:33
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The No. 2-ranked USC Trojans begin Pac-12 conference play Saturday against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium (4:30 p.m. PT). Here are five things to watch:

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley and Robert Woods
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillMatt Barkley and the Trojans hope to turn around a trend that has seen them stumble early out of the blocks in conference play ... as well as lose three consecutive contests to Stanford.
1. No Luck. How much of a problem? By now, just about everybody knows the Cardinal are without former all-everything quarterback Andrew Luck, who graduated to the NFL after last season and now starts for the Indianapolis Colts. What not everybody knows is the name of his replacement: Josh Nunes, a fourth-year player from Upland, Calif. He's been good so far, making few of mistakes that often plague first-time starters. But many of the Trojans weren't afraid to say this week that Nunes is not yet comparable to Luck. For the Cardinal, the obvious narrative after they barely snuck by the San Jose State Spartans to win their opener was growing pains with a first-year signal-caller. But Nunes demonstrated improvement against Duke in Week 2. If they were to upset the Trojans, that would obviously be a sign his growth process has accelerated quite a bit.

2. The unkind road and the unkind team. In each of the past five seasons, USC has lost either its first or second conference road game, including its first in three of the past four seasons. That's kind of an alarming statistic, and it might help explain why the Trojans are favored by single digits in most locations for this game. Of course, it's an even more unsettling stat that this season’s crop of USC seniors -- Matt Barkley included -- hasn't beaten Stanford in their college careers. That hasn't happened to a USC class with a regular opponent in more than a decade. Stanford Stadium isn't the loudest, craziest opposing atmosphere in the conference. But many of the Trojans' older players may have memories of a 37-35 loss on a game-ending field goal two years ago at Stanford enter their heads at various times Saturday.

3. A real running back. Stanford's Stepfan Taylor hasn't played like a particularly elite running back thus far this season, but he's thought of as one around the country. He may be the best back the Trojans face all year, so it could be a telling test for the USC front seven. Linemen Morgan Breslin and Antwaun Woods have played better than expected through two games. But can they keep it up when a capable, varied running game is thrown into the mix? If this is the first game this season USC sees the originally planned linebacking crew of Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard on the field together shortly after kickoff, can they handle the Cardinal's run game as a group? Will the Trojans' secondary be unified enough to prevent long runs?

4. Media distraction? It's easy to overstate the impact here -- and let's first clarify that few of USC's players may have even heard about what happened this week with the status of injuries and the local media – but it's quite unlikely thee events will affect play. But if Lane Kiffin were to somehow lose this week, he'd get absolutely roasted in subsequent days by the national media for worrying about the practice suspension of a local reporter in the middle of an important game week. He'll of course say it wasn't a distraction, but the results will stand alone. It's kind of a ready-made critique of a college football coach: If they don't win, what's the point of being so secretive about your players' injuries, anyway?

5. The tandem. Most in-game signs are pointing to Silas Redd 's eventual takeover of the Trojans' No. 1 running back role and Curtis McNeal's quiet demotion to the second spot. If it's going to happen, this will be the week it does, with USC needing to establish a consistent run game early against Stanford's solid defense. Then again, there's always the possibility that Kiffin has been keeping McNeal extra fresh, what with 16 carries in two games, so he can succeed in a game like this one. If Redd again gets 60 to 70 percent of the total carries and performs well, it's safe to assume he's USC's top back -- regardless of whether he's officially defined as such by Kiffin and Co.

Prediction: USC 41-30.

WeAreSC Roundtable

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
10:00
AM PT
“What will be the key to beating Stanford this week?”

Garry Paskwietz: The key to beating Stanford will be Matt Barkley being in sync with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. If that happens, it stands to reason that the USC offense is going to be able to put up some numbers. The Cardinal pass defense has given up close to 300 passing yards per game so far this year in games against San Jose State and Duke. I’m not sure who those two schools had throwing and catching the football but I’m guessing they weren’t Barkley, Woods and Lee.

Greg Katz: The key to beating Stanford will be opening up the offense full throttle. That means a vertical passing game down field with Woods, Lee, and the tight ends; throwing to fullback Soma Vainuku; an exceptional running game blocking and pass protection performance by the offensive line; and Lane Kiffin calling a good game and not going conservative. If they can accomplish all these necessities, then they’ll simply outscore the Cardinal. If they rely on just bubble screens and conservative play-calling, they won’t.

Johnny Curren: Contain the Cardinal ground game. So far in 2012, Stanford has relied heavily upon its rushing attack to allow quarterback Josh Nunes to get his feet under him as a first-time starter. If the Trojans shut down running back Stepfan Taylor and company, the pressure shifts to the new signal caller who’s had his ups and downs -- he passed for just 125 yards in a close call to San Jose State in the opener. To do this the Trojans will need a big-time effort from a front seven that looks to be more than capable of pulling it off. Led by Morgan Breslin, the defensive line has been a pleasant surprise, while Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey have been stellar as usual at linebacker.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 1

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
12:00
PM PT
Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 concludes today.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC

2011 numbers: Completed 69.1 percent of his throws (308 of 446) for 3,528 yards with 39 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 2

Making the case for Barkley: Drum roll please. ... No? No drum roll? We don't have that sound file? OK, so this isn't exactly a "who shot J.R. moment" for the Pac-12 blog. I think it's safe to say we all saw this coming. And why not? Matt Barkley is by far the most complete quarterback in the country. With A-list wide receivers flanking him on either side, a phenomenal ground attack that includes two 1,000-yard rushers, fantastic tight ends, a solid offensive line and a stellar defense to get him the ball back, Barkley should produce credentials worthy of Heisman consideration and a high first-round NFL draft pick. He put the spotlight on himself when he made his declaration of "unfinished business," but if you know Barkley, you know he's not one to shrivel in the spotlight. And there is a bright one on him and his team this year as they enter the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. He earned second-team all-conference last year and is on every major preseason All-America team this year. Assuming all goes to plan, Barkley will be in New York for the Heisman presentation. He can go a long way toward making his case if he can produce similar numbers to last year and keep his team atop the rankings all season.

No. 2: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 3: De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
No. 4: Robert Woods, WR, USC
No. 5: Keith Price, QB, Washington
No. 6: Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
No. 8: Keenan Allen, WR, California
No. 9: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 10: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
No. 11: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
No. 12: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

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