Explosive offenses set to write new chapter in heated rivalry

Sept. 2, 2014, 6:54 p.m.

When naming the best rivalries in college football over the past several years, it’s hard to make a list that does not include Stanford vs. USC.

Regional proximity. Dramatic upsets. Wins for both sides. Field stormings in each of the last two meetings. The Stanford-USC rivalry has really seen it all.

In 2007, Stanford sparked the rivalry with “The Biggest Upset Ever,” ruining the Trojans’ chances at a national championship by miraculously winning at the Coliseum as a 41-point underdog.

Then in 2009, after a USC victory the previous year, the Card infuriated the traditionally dominant Trojans by running up the score in a 55-21 win in USC’s own home.

The next three meetings, all Cardinal victories, included a game-winning drive by Andrew Luck, a triple-overtime thriller and a take-down of the preseason championship favorite and No. 2 team in the nation. Safe to say, the team from down south had grown to hate the new powerhouse up north, and it showed in an emotional USC victory last season that caused a fan base that had seen 11 national championships to storm the field for the first time in 14 years.

(DAVID BERNAL/isiphotos.com)
Senior Ty Montgomery (7) flashed his skills as a wide receiver, punt returner, kick returner and a runner against UC-Davis and will need more explosive plays if the Card hope to be successful against USC. (DAVID BERNAL/isiphotos.com)

“Rivalry is created when you go back-and-forth and they are fast-paced, fun, exciting games to watch,” said head coach David Shaw, “and that’s what we have going on between us and USC.”

“It’s just a good California rivalry, north and south,” added senior quarterback Kevin Hogan. “We have a lot of Southern California players, they have a lot of Northern California players. Players might have grown up rooting for different teams.”

As No. 13 Stanford prepares to face No. 14 USC this Saturday at Stanford Stadium, a new chapter in the burgeoning rivalry unfolds.

Both Stanford and USC operated with traditional, pro-style offenses in each of the previous meetings. However, both units have seen changes over the offseason that make this Saturday’s showdown unlike any other.

With new head coach Steve Sarkisian at the helm, USC implemented an up-tempo offense that resulted in a Pac-12 record 105 plays – more than hurry-up innovator Oregon has ever run – and over 700 yards of offense in USC’s 52-13 week one victory over Fresno State.

“I think it’s going to be big this week to stop that offense before it gets started,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Henry Anderson. “We’ve kind of had the same gameplan for Oregon the past few years…just to try and get those three-and-outs early so their offense doesn’t get rolling and they don’t really get into that up-tempo offense.”

On the other side of the ball, Stanford’s wealth at the wide receiver and tight end positions and its lack of a true power running back has the Card’s offense looking more like an aerial attack than it ever has before, although the Card still run the same brand of offense. Against UC-Davis, Stanford had five scoring drives of under three minutes and three touchdowns on pass plays of 40 yards or more.

Even though each team possesses a dominant and talented defense, their talented offenses could make this year’s version of the Stanford-USC dogfight look a lot like the combined 104-point shootout in 2011.

“Our style of football, we want to avoid the shootout,” Hogan said. “I think defensively we’re going to hold them. Our mentality is to keep as many points off the board as possible. But offensively, I think that we have to get the ball to our playmakers. If that means scoring a bunch of touchdowns, that’s fine. I know it’s going to be a dogfight but I think they’re two very good defenses that are going to try and keep points off the board.”

As if the rivalry needed another subplot, head coaches Shaw and Sarkisian will meet on the football field for the first time since Sarkisian accused Stanford of faking injuries after the Cardinal beat Sarkisian’s Washington Huskies last season. Shaw vehemently refuted Sarkisian’s claims by beginning  the following press conference with an unusual and firm opening statement.

However, Shaw insists that there is no animosity between him and Sarkisian.

“There is no hatchet to bury,” Shaw said. “That situation was what it was last year. We’ve both moved on…There’s no animosity between me and Steve.”

Regardless of the fuel behind each team’s drive to win this year’s contest, one thing is for certain: Shaw doesn’t need to provide any motivation.

“This is one of those games where I don’t need to motivate them, I just get out of the way,” he said. “The emotions are going to be there, the energy’s going to be there. They’re going to feel it in the stadium as soon as they walk in. It’s going to be a great atmosphere because this is a rival for us. The big thing for us is controlling our emotions and doing our jobs and being efficient and being smart and doing the things that win football games while playing a very emotional football game. I don’t need to give a speech for this football game; we just need to open the doors and let them play.”


Though Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley garner most of the attention for Pac-12 quarterbacks, Hogan and USC quarterback Cody Kessler have quietly been establishing themselves as elite quarterbacks in the conference as well.

“[Kessler’s] one of those guys that doesn’t get mentioned in this great crop of quarterbacks in our conference, but then again neither does Kevin Hogan, but when you watch these two guys play they’re really good quarterbacks,” Shaw said.

In 2013, Kessler and Hogan’s combined 21-win total matched that of Mariota and Hundley, while Hogan’s 151.5 rating and Kessler’s 148.8 rating finished just behind Hundley’s 153.7 mark (still well behind Mariota’s 167.7).

With Kessler running a new, up-tempo offense and Hogan surrounded by arguably the best receiving weapons in the conference, the two quarterbacks could have their greatest opportunity yet to prove Sports Illustrated’s recent claim that Hundley is “the best college quarterback in California” wrong.

In week one, Kessler and Hogan arguably outplayed Hundley as UCLA’s offense struggled on the road, albeit against the best opposition faced among the three quarterbacks.


It took senior Ty Montgomery about all of seven seconds to erase concerns regarding his offseason shoulder surgery.

Montgomery took the first touch of his senior season 60 yards for a touchdown on a punt return against UC-Davis despite never returning a punt at Stanford previously.

“First time he ever started working it was in the summer,” said Shaw of Montgomery’s new role as a punt returner. “We had never put him back there. He had never really done it, not really in high school. It just wasn’t one of those things he wasn’t even asking to do. He loves kickoff returns and I can’t state that strongly enough. I introduced punt returns to him and he said, ‘You know, I think I’d like to do that.’”

Montgomery’s all-around talent will likely see him line up all over the field this season as a wide receiver, punt returner, kick returner and even a running back out of the Wildcat formation, where he also debuted on Saturday.

“He’s our biggest runner,” Shaw said of Montgomery at the Wildcat position.


Sophomore linebacker Kevin Palma and fifth-year senior linebacker Joe Hemschoot will miss the USC game with injuries and will likely not return until Sept. 27, when Stanford faces Washington, at the earliest.

Junior defensive lineman Aziz Shittu, who missed the UC-Davis game with a toe injury, is expected to return against USC.

Senior Devon Cajuste will also play against the Trojans. He was suspended against UC-Davis for a violation of team rules.

After an impressive performance in week one, junior safety Zach Hoffpauir was elevated to the starting free safety role alongside senior strong safety Jordan Richards. Shaw expects Hoffpauir and fifth-year senior safety Kyle Olugbode to split time against USC.

Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Michael Peterson is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. He has served as a beat reporter for football, baseball and men’s soccer and also does play-by-play broadcasting of football and baseball for KZSU. Michael is a senior from Rancho Santa Margarita, California majoring in computer science. To contact him, please email him at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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