USC Trojans: Zach Ertz

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 3

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
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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 on Walter Camp All-America team

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
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The Pac-12 was well-represented on the Walter Camp Foundation's 2012 All-America team, released Thursday.

USC sophomore receiver Marqise Lee, Stanford senior tight end Zach Ertz and a pair of running backs, Oregon senior Kenjon Barner and Arizona sophomore Ka'Deem Carey, were named to the first-team offense.

Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer, both seniors, earned spots on the first-team defense.

(Read full post)

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
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What did we learn in Week 11? Read on.

Hogan was the right choice for Stanford: It seemed like odd timing that Stanford coach David Shaw switched starting quarterbacks as his team headed into its biggest game of the year, but freshman Kevin Hogan made his coach look smart, though it wasn't always pretty. Hogan completed 22 of 29 passes for 254 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 27-23 victory over Oregon State. He also rushed for 49 yards on 11 carries. His biggest pass was a 13-yard strike to tight end Zach Ertz for the winning points. Hogan was effective with his feet and his arm, and he didn't wilt when things didn't go his way through most of the second and third quarters. Now he faces a bigger test: Oregon at Autzen Stadium.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireKevin Hogan kept an even keel in Stanford's comeback victory over Oregon State.
USC shows some grit: USC held Arizona State to only 250 yards and three second-half points in a 38-17 win. The Trojans trailed 17-14 early in the third, and it looked as though they might pack it in for the season. But with senior center Khaled Holmes exhorting his teammates on the sidelines, USC showed some grit, particularly on defense. The same defense that got ripped by Arizona and Oregon's spread offenses shut down the Sun Devils, recording six sacks and forcing four turnovers. It was far from perfect. On the day quarterback Matt Barkley set the Pac-12 career passing yardage record (12,026 yards), surpassing the previous mark held by Carson Palmer, he threw three interceptions. Still, the Trojans play archrival UCLA next weekend for the Pac-12 South Division title.

Ducks are banged up with Stanford coming to town, but will that matter? Oregon arrived at California with major injury issues, particularly with its defensive front, and things only got worse as the game went on. The Ducks, however, pulled themselves together and dominated the Bears in the second half, winning 59-17. Still, Stanford, which visits Autzen Stadium on Saturday, is a much better team that Cal, particularly on the offensive line. Will the Ducks get some guys back, such as defensive linemen Ricky Heimuli, Dion Jordan and Isaac Remington? The Ducks don't talk about injuries, but injuries will be something lots of folks are talking about this week. Or speculating on.

UCLA gets its big shot at vulnerable USC: While UCLA let up in the second half at Washington State -- the Bruins were outscored 29-7 and won only 44-36 -- that doesn't change the big possibilities that lie ahead. Now 8-2, the Bruins can win the Pac-12 South Division if they beat archrival USC in the Rose Bowl on Saturday. That would mean stomping on the Trojans' once-hyped season, which would inspire plenty of consternation in Heritage Hall. UCLA fans would love to do that. And it would mean the Bruins could end up in the Rose Bowl, either as the Pac-12 champions or as an at-large selection. So big stakes are at hand.

Huskies step up, Utes step back: Utah and Washington squared off as teams that weathered midseason adversity and had won two in a row. But only one could maintain positive momentum. The Huskies' decisive 35-14 victory boosted their record to 6-4, earning them bowl eligibility. They can continue to climb the pecking order if they can beat Colorado and Washington State over the next two weekends, though both games are on the road. The Utes' offensive surge came to an end, with only 55 yards passing. They need to win their next two games, at home to Arizona and at Colorado.

Picking two first-team All-Pac-12 running backs won't be easy: Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 366 yards -- a new Pac-12 single-game record -- and five touchdowns in Arizona's 56-31 win over Colorado. He will take over the Pac-12 rushing lead, as Oregon's Kenjon Barner (65 yards) and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin (66 yards) had subpar games. The final two weeks probably will decide the two guys who end up first-team All-Pac-12.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
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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?

Two potential first-rounders at tight end

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
10:16
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LOS ANGELES -- Did Lane Kiffin mean the old first day or the new first day?

That was the natural question after the USC Trojans' coach said this week that he thought his top two tight ends, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, were both future first-day NFL draft picks.

Considering what both have done through just 14 career games, their eventual selection among the top 100 of the 2014 or 2015 NFL drafts wouldn't be terribly surprising. They both have the frames, athletic ability and skill set to be starting tight ends at the next level.

But the draft stopped going three rounds on its first day a few years ago. Now, the first day is on Thursday, and it only goes 32 picks. Did Kiffin essentially say he thought both his tight ends were NFL first-round potential?

In a word: yes.

"I think they'll eventually be first-round, first-day picks, or right there," Kiffin said Thursday when asked to clarify his original comments. "Now, obviously they have to continue to develop, but they have the potential to do that.

"I think if you ask any scout when they come out there and watch them practice and watch them play, I think you'd hear a lot of the same."

Telfer is ranked in the top five of most 2015 tight end rankings. Grimble's not quite as highly thought of, but with his strength, it's easy to see an NFL team needing a blocking tight end taking him high when he does declare for the draft. Both players are redshirt sophomores.

Of course, the next natural question is whether the two will take away from each other's ability to develop in college.

In a word, Kiffin's answer to that question: no.

“They push each other," Kiffin said earlier in the week. "They’re great kids. I’d say Randall was probably ahead at one point, and then Xavier really matured and rounded out his entire game."

It's an interesting time to discuss the tight end position, too -- with the Stanford Cardinal boasting three NFL types at the spot last year and two this season now that Coby Fleener went 34th overall to the Indianapolis Colts in April's draft.

The Cardinal's combination of Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz is one year older than USC's Grimble and Telfer.

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
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Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

Spring practice is almost here. Here's a snapshot at what to expect from the Pac-12 South in the coming weeks.

ARIZONA

Spring practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Hello, my name is ... Like the other two teams in the South Division with new head coaches (Arizona State and UCLA) much of Arizona's first few weeks will be Rich Rodriguez evaluating his personnel and getting to know what he has to work with. Likewise, the players are going to have to figure out what this new coaching staff is about. Everything from how they do pre-practice stretches to how they call the cadence is going to change.
  • New scheme and a new scheme: A spread option on offense and a 3-3-5 on defense. That's a lot of new material to digest on both sides of the ball. Until Rodriguez can recruit the players he likes into his scheme, he's going to have to make it work with the players he has. Fortunately on the defensive side of the ball, Arizona has good depth in the secondary with Cortez Johnson, Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. The Wildcats should also get a boost with the return of injured players Jake Fischer (LB), Jonathan McKnight (CB) and Adam Hall (S).
  • Perfect fit? Former starter Matt Scott, who was beaten out by Nick Folesin 2009, is expected to reprise his starting role under Rodriguez. He redshirted the 2011 season and -- magically -- Foles never got hurt last year despite taking 23 sacks and countless hits. Scott is considered the more versatile quarterback and should fit nicely into the new run-based spread attack.
ARIZONA STATE

Spring practice starts: March 13

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • QB competition: We know what kind of offense new coach Todd Graham is going to run; now it's a matter of figuring out who is going to run it. Graham has his choice of three players -- Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank -- to replace NFL-bound Brock Osweiler. Graham said earlier this month that there are no favorites heading into the competition and each one brings his own skill set to the table. Eubank has the size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), Bercovici (6-1, 205) is a mechanic and Kelly (6-1, 202) is a little bit of everything.
  • Get the locker room: By the end of the 2011 season, ASU's locker room wasn't just divided, it was completely splintered. Graham's task -- and that of his new coaching staff -- is to pick up the pieces, mend internal fences and find some chemistry on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Brandon Magee, long considered a great locker room leader, should help get the Sun Devils back on track as he returns from a season-ending Achilles injury.
  • Hands competition: The Sun Devils lose three of their top four wide receivers from last season -- Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie. Jamal Miles returns after finishing second on the team last season with 60 catches and six touchdowns. Rashad Ross figures to be the No. 2 guy, but establishing depth in that corps -- especially if Graham wants to be up-tempo -- is key.
COLORADO

Spring practice starts: March 10

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Momentum, maybe? For as rough as 2011 was for the Buffs, they ended the year on a high note, winning two-of-three down the stretch -- including a 17-14 win over Utah in the season finale. But there is also the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. With just four returning starters on offense, spring in Boulder will likely be more about teaching and less about refining.
  • Where to start (offense)? Well, quarterback might be a good place. In the court of public opinion, Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, seems to be the favorite. Nick Hirschman appeared in five games last season, mostly in mop-up time when the game was already out of hand. It's also possible a starter could be named by the end of spring ball. Finding offensive weapons to surround the new quarterback will also be a challenge. Wide receiver Paul Richardson caught 39 balls last season, and running back Tony Jones showed a flare for catching the ball out of the backfield. He'll likely step in as the new workhorse back for the departed Rodney Stewart.
  • Where to start (defense)? Last in this. Last in that. Last in almost every team statistic the Pac-12 has to offer. But there are some intriguing youngsters on the roster. Cornerback Greg Henderson was all-conference honorable mention as a freshman with a team-high nine passes broken up. Jered Bell also returns from injury after blowing out a knee last preseason. If healthy, he's expected to be a big contributor in the secondary. Linebacker Jon Majorreturns as the team's leading tackler, and if Doug Rippy is fully recovered from his knee injury, he'll look to build on what was a pretty good season last year before getting hurt.
UCLA

Spring practice starts: April 3

Spring game: May 5

What to watch:
  • QB up for grabs: Like the majority of the conference, UCLA enters spring with a quarterback competition. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he doesn't care how much experience (or lack thereof) a player has -- if he can play, he wins the job. So don't be surprised if Brett Hundley passes Kevin Prince and Richard Brehautas the new man leading the Bruins. Fans have been clamoring for a change. Hundley might be it.
  • Attitude adjustment: One of the first things new head coach Jim Mora did was slam the team for its tradition of going "over the wall," a time-honored senior ditch day, saying if they want to jump the wall, they should just keep on going. How's that for sending a message? UCLA has earned a reputation for being soft and underachieving despite good talent. Attitude and toughness is needed -- and so far, Mora appears to be hammering that point home.
  • Speaking of toughness ... The defense has to get tougher. No two ways about it. It was weak against the run last season, allowing more than 190 yards per game on the ground; couldn't get to the quarterback; and couldn't get off the field almost 50 percent of the time on third down. It's time for potential all-conference players such as defensive end Datone Jones to start living up to the hype and the defense as a whole to stop getting pushed up and down the field. At 6-5, 275 pounds, Jones has the physical makeup to be a major force in the conference and catapult himself into the elite class of collegiate defensive players.
USC

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Ignore the hype: Few teams ended last season hotter than USC and returning quarterback Matt Barkley. The Heisman talk has already started, the way-too-early rankings already have the Trojans as national championship contenders, and the public perception is that the offense is unstoppable. Nice to hear, but hype is a double-edged sword. Head coach Lane Kiffin has a knack for deflecting hype. This season will be his toughest test to date.
  • Insurance? The Trojans are loaded on both sides of the ball with returning players. But after the starting 22, things start to get dicey. Developing depth and keeping the starters healthy is a top priority -- particularly on the offensive and defensive lines and at running back, where experience is thin outside of the starters. The entire back seven returns on defense -- headlined by hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald. Stopping the pass has been a major priority for Kiffin, and if this group stays healthy it should see the pass-efficiency numbers improve even more.
  • Other options: Along those same lines, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee make up the most feared receiving duo in the conference -- maybe the country. But who are the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers behind them? George Farmer? Victor Blackwell? De'Von Flournoy? Don't overlook the tight end duo of Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, which should rival Stanford's Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo as the best tight end tandem in the conference.
UTAH

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Youthful approach: Head coach Kyle Whittingham turned some heads by naming former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson as his offensive coordinator. Johnson, who recently turned 25, said he's not looking to make wholesale changes to the offense, though he wants to put his stamp on it and continue to build around running back John White IV, who had a breakout season in his first year of major college football. Having quarterback Jordan Wynn back healthy should also help as the team transitions to Johnson running the offense.
  • Fixing the line: Who is going to protect Wynn (if he does indeed win back the starting job) and make holes for White? That's a major concern heading into spring as the Utes have to replace a pair of all-conference linemen in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. The Utes should be set at the interior but have to adjust to a new position coach, with Tim Davis leaving for Florida after just one season and Dan Finn -- a former Utah graduate assistant who was brought on to help Davis -- taking over the whole line following a one-year stint at San Diego State.
  • Work the experience: The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference, especially with the return of Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy last season as the conference's best defensive lineman. With the Kruger brothers returning to the line -- Joe at defensive end and Dave at tackle -- Derrick Shelby is the lone starter who has to be replaced. There's also some pretty good depth in the secondary that was tops in the conference last season in pass-efficiency defense.

Halftime: Stanford 10, USC 6

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
7:17
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LOS ANGELES -- Some observations from the first half of Stanford-USC.

Turning point: There were two. First, when Zach Ertz went down on the opening kickoff. Stanford's offensive identity revolves around the three tight ends and the way they are used schematically. A large portion of the playbook gets lost when those three can't be on the field at the same time. The second turning point was A.J. Tarpley's interception, which led to a Stanford field goal.

Stat of the half: Seven rushes, 25 passes for USC. It appears the Trojans think they can get it done in the air rather than on the ground. They haven't abandoned the running game -- but they certainly haven't put much emphasis on it. USC quarterback Matt Barkley is 14-of-25 with 127 yards.

Best player for Stanford: Tarpley is having a whale of a half. He had the interception, forced a fumble (which was recovered by USC) and has six tackles from his middle linebacker position.

Best player for USC: Kicker Andre Heidari appears to be the only kicker who can do something against the Cardinal. Kickers in previous games were just 2-of-11 on field goal attempts. Heidari hit a 22-yarder in the first quarter and then nailed a 50-yarder in the closing minute of the first half.

Take 2: USC vs. Stanford

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
3:00
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Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller looks at two steps USC needs to take to upset the Cardinal. Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmell counters with two steps Stanford must take to avoid the upset on the road.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireThe Trojans need a big game for Matt Barkley if they hope to upset Stanford.
Ted Miller: There are two steps that USC needs to take to upset Stanford. The first is to at least approach a stalemate at the line of scrimmage. That's easier said than done. Seven previous opponents have tried, and all seven badly failed. The next step is for Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley to attack a Cardinal secondary that has shown some vulnerability at times and will be missing its leader, safety Delano Howell. Start with the line of scrimmage. Stanford faces another highly rated run defense in the Coliseum after it utterly trenched one a week ago. Before Washington gave up 446 rushing yards to the Cardinal, it ranked 17th in the nation in run defense, yielding less than 100 yards per game. Now it gives up an average of 147 yards per game. USC boasts the nation's No. 11 run defense, surrendering just 91 yards per game. How might that number look on Sunday? Forget shutting down the Stanford ground attack. But what about holding it to, say, 150 yards? Same thing on the other side of the ball. Stanford ranks third in the nation in run defense (75.6 yards per game). What if the Trojans, who showcased a suddenly potent running game at Notre Dame, can get at least, say, 125? That seems like it would be enough to slow down the Pac-12's best pass rush, which should give Barkley time to connect with Robert Woods and company. In last season's 37-35 loss at Stanford, Barkley outplayed Andrew Luck, throwing for 390 yards and three touchdowns. If he can be as efficient again Saturday, and the Trojans' lines hold their ground, USC has a chance to end the Cardinal's 15-game winning streak and national title hopes.

Kevin Gemmell: There are two steps that Stanford has to take to avoid the upset. And the first starts on offense. Trees Company, Tree Amigos, whatever you want to call them, the tight ends are the difference-makers in this game, as they have been all season for the Cardinal offense. USC has an athletic secondary, and maybe outstanding safety T.J. McDonald (6-foot-3, 34 tackles, two interceptions) can take one of the three tight ends out of a play. But what do you do when the other two are on the field at the same time? It's the formations with Coby Fleener (6-foot-6), Zach Ertz (6-6) and Levine Toilolo (6-8) that make the Cardinal so difficult to defend. And then when they motion fullback Ryan Hewitt (15 catches, 143 yards, three touchdowns) out of the backfield, the 6-4, former tight end gives Luck a fourth receiving option that towers above the rest of the USC secondary. Plus, USC has been susceptible to big games by other tight ends this season. That's a mismatch the Cardinal will likely exploit every chance they get. The second step should be fairly obvious to anyone who has watched a Stanford game this season. Defensively, it all comes down to tackling. Stanford head coach David Shaw said after Week 1 that missed tackles in the secondary is what loses games. His players haven't proven him right yet -- specifically because they have been able to make the proper adjustments mid-game. But USC is faster than any team the Cardinal have faced this season, so one or two missed tackles could quickly turn into seven or 14 points. Last week we saw the Cardinal miss several one-on-one tackles that led to big plays for Washington early in the game. The emphasis this week has been on gang tackling, wrapping up and not simply dropping the shoulder. USC's offensive skill players will just bounce right off of that. Wrap up on defense, wrap up the win.

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