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November 15, 2013

Final Notes: USC

Stanford's recent meetings with USC haven't lacked for drama. The Cardinal beat the Trojans on a last-second field goal in 2010, went to triple overtime in 2011, and edged USC by a touchdown last season.

The Cardinal is gearing up for another tight matchup this time around.

"This is going to be a heavyweight fight," Derek Mason said. "This is one of those fights that you look at, man, I see this is as a 16-round heavyweight fight and for us it's about coming out throwing haymakers. They're going to throw some haymakers. And we're going to continue to exchange blows and hopefully it's one of those fights that you love to see. You want this to be an instant classic when you turn on the TV, because you talk about a physical Ed Orgeron driven football team and you're talking about a physical David Shaw driven football team."

In last season's 21-14 Stanford victory, the physicality and strength of Stanford's front seven overwhelmed USC's offensive line. With many of the same players back - starting center Khaled Holmes, who missed last year's Stanford/USC game, is the only starter from the Trojans' 2012 offensive line whose eligibility has expired, USC's offensive line is more experienced than it was in 2012.

"Same guys, more mature," Mason said. "They're more mature. They've moved some bodies around a little bit to make sure they've got their best group. The center moved to guard, guard moved to tackle. I think right now, this time of year, you're always looking at a team's best front five. And right now I think their front five is playing as good as anybody's."

Though not as heralded as former USC quarterback Matt Barkley, first-year Trojan starter Cody Kessler has been solid despite coping with an injury-plagued receiving group. Kessler has completed better than 64 percent of his passes this year and has thrown 12 touchdowns against six interceptions.

"I think Barkley was a more polished quarterback but I think what Cody Kessler brings to the table is he does a good job of utilizing the tools around him," Mason said. "He doesn't force throws. He makes good decisions. He only has six interceptions on the season. They've made the offense more user-friendly for him and at the end of the day he's really a game manager who understands what he can do and what he can't do. I think the running attack that they have now is a little different than it was a year ago. Silas Redd ran the ball well but now they have a trio or four or five backs who are running well. The tight ends are healthy, so now he has a full core of targets to go to and his run game is strong. So the run, play-action game is tremendous for them."

A now-healthy Marqise Lee and Nelson Agoholor team to form one of the better wide receiver tandems Stanford will face this season. Much of the responsibility for slowing the Trojans' receivers will fall to sophomore Cardinal cornerback Alex Carter.

"Alex is still growing," Mason said. "He's still young. He's getting better every time he touches the grass. I think for him, he's got to do a better job of tracking the ball and finding the ball because there are opportunities out there to make plays. He has to move from just covering guys to now being able to touch balls and finish on plays, because he has that ability. When you have that ability you have to cash in at some point."

Hoffpauir, Nwafor still out: Zach Hoffpauir continues to progress in his recovery from a foot injury that has sidelined him for the past few weeks.

"Zach turned a corner and is doing really well," Shaw said. "(He's) not going to play in this game. We're not going to take him on the trip. I think there's a chance, a good chance that he'll be ready next week for Cal."

Reserve defensive lineman Ikenna Nwafor is not as close to a return.

"(He's) not on the field yet," Shaw said. "He's started a progression that gets him closer to the field. So he didn't turn the same corner that Zach did but he's getting closer. Hopefully we'll get him back before the end of the year. (We'd) love to at least get him back dressed and getting ready for Notre Dame, but it might be the bowl game."

  • David Shaw's uncle, Nate Shaw, was a consensus All-American defensive back at USC in 1966, and was in the stands when Stanford visited the Coliseum during David Shaw's playing career.

    "For him to sit up in the stands proud of his nephew but at the same time still halfway rooting for his Trojans, it was fun," Shaw said. "It's always an exciting rivalry."

  • Though they never advanced too deep into the process, Stanford did pursue Cody Kessler early in his recruitment.

    "I do remember going to visit his school," Shaw said. "I remember watching him play basketball. I do remember watching him on film and I remember liking him. I remember liking his toughness. I remember liking the way that he carried himself. That's one thing I always look for in quarterbacks, do they carry themselves like a quarterback. And he does that."

  • What sort of response did Shaw get from recruits after Stanford's victory over Oregon?

    "Just excitement," Shaw said. "Guys are really excited about what we're doing and how we're playing. We get to this point usually in recruiting, it's not usual that we get a lot more guys because we've been recruiting these guys for a while and what they need to do academically, a lot of times the interest that we get from guys that we haven't been recruiting to this point, they're not in the right classes, they haven't taken a test enough times, etcetera. The guys that we're really recruiting we've been recruiting for a while. I would say they were all really excited about last week and really looking forward to this week too. They know this is going to be a big game."

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