Now, the Cardinal are contending for a berth in the BCS Championship game and the Trojans are looking for a signature win under interim coach Ed Orgeron.
“They kind of had the upper hand, previously, but in the last few years we’ve managed to pull out some pretty close wins,” Cardinal defensive end Henry Anderson said. “I think this is kind of a big game for them because they’ve kind of turned things around — they’re trying to get the USC moniker back.”
With remaining games against USC in Los Angeles on Saturday, Cal and Notre Dame, the Cardinal (8-1, 6-1) can’t afford to bask in the glory of their 26-20 win over then-No. 2 Oregon last week. Ranked No. 4 in this week’s BCS standings, Stanford is still in the mix for a national title and the Trojans (7-3, 4-2), who have won four of five games since Lane Kiffin was fired on Sept. 29, present a formidable obstacle.
“I was kind of shocked that they’re not ranked in the top 25,” coach David Shaw said. “I don’t know if anybody’s played as well as they have really in the last month of the season.”
The Trojans are currently on a three-game winning streak with victories against Utah (19-3), Oregon State (31-14) and Cal (62-28). Like Stanford, USC features a balanced attack on offense. The Trojans are led by sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler, who has completed 82 percent of his passes in the team’s past two games, 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee at wide receiver and tailbacks Tre Madden and Silas Redd in the backfield.
“They’ve gone from being productive to being explosive again,” Shaw said of USC.
The Cardinal, who rushed for 274 yards on 66 carries last week, will need to move the ball against a defensive unit that’s ranked 17th in the nation in total defense (339 yards per game) and second in the Pac-12 Conference in rushing defense (112.5).
Shaw said he isn’t surprised with how well the Trojans’ defense is playing under coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who coached the conference’s top statistical defenses at Cal in 2010 and 2011.
“I know we’re going to have to be probably more diverse than we were a week ago,” Shaw said.
Stanford currently holds a four-game winning streak against the Trojans, its longest in the 91-game history between the two schools.
Stanford offensive guard Kevin Danser said the USC game is still a contest that gets circled on the calendar.
“We always want to be, as we call it, the kings of California,” he said.