The experts have Stanford — which haven’t lost to Southern Cal in three years — pinned as the underdog for Saturday’s matchup in Palo Alto.
But David Shaw heeds none of that.
“We play well — we get a chance to win. We don’t play well — we get a chance to lose,” Stanford’s second-year coach said. “I never go into a game thinking of being an underdog.”
But despite that mindset, Shaw knows that the Pac-12 Conference powerhouse will be a tall order for his squad. The Trojans have what Shaw calls the best college wide receiving duo he’s ever seen in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
“Not even close,” he said.
But the Trojans’ arsenal doesn’t stop there. Silas Redd and Curtis McNeil are a running back tandem that features both power and agility. And senior quarterback Matt Barkley, much like Andrew Luck last year, has proven capable of manipulating the offense when needed.
“You can’t replace that kind of experience at that position,” Shaw said.
Yet experience at QB is what Shaw doesn’t have in Josh Nunes, who is starting for the first time this season. In his first two games, Nunes threw four touchdowns and one interception.
“The worst thing he can try to do is try to compete with Matt Barkley. We’re not in that business,” said Shaw, stressing smart play and offensive management. “We’re not going to compete statistically — that’s not our goal. Our goal is to get in the fourth quarter and have a chance to win it at the end.”
Win it at the end is what the Cardinal did last year in their 56-48 triple-overtime win in Los Angeles. But everything that has transpired before Saturday’s kickoff — including Stanford’s three straight wins over USC — matters not to Shaw.
“There is no such thing as momentum,” he said. “There’s no mental edge we have over USC. It’s for those 60 minutes, who’s gonna play the best and score the most points.”
And Shaw’s quarterback hopes to accomplish that task quickly.
“We really want to come out and start fast this game — especially this game,” Nunes said. “I have confidence in the defense that they can do what they need to do to get things done.”
But if there’s a remedy for unhorsing the Trojans’ attack, it may lie in a swarming secondary assault.
“Not leaving anyone on an island by themselves,” said Stanford safety Ed Reynolds, who already has three interceptions after missing all of last season.
The California rivalry is one that USC coach Lane Kiffin called Tuesday a more “friendly” and “respectful” one, given the current coaching staffs.
Probably recalling a certain two-point conversion attempt three years ago, Shaw just smiled.
“Lane and I get along very well,” Shaw said. “We love to beat each other. But at the same time … we’re fine.”