After last year's 20-17 thriller in the Coliseum, this year's USC-Stanford matchup was going to have a hard time living up to the dramatics.
Even though things didn't go as smoothly for the USC Trojans this week as they did last week against Fresno State, Steve Sarkisian's team showed impressive resilience as they kept focus until the very end against a school that has become one of the country's premiere programs the last five years.
Here's what I saw watching the game broadcast during an early signature win of the Sarkisian era:
- What an insane effort by Leonard Williams. He could barely walk during pregame warm-ups. His ability to play all four quarters while still managing to help his team was unbelievable. Even with an injured ankle, Williams was still able to run stride-for-stride with the athletic Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan on one of Williams’ pressures. Leonard Williams’ run defense and his determination to anchor and hold up at the point of attack in spite of his injury was awesomely gritty.
- I realize he was injured, but after watching Williams these past two weeks I realized something: while he is clearly a freak athlete capable of dominating anyone he is matched up with one-on-one, I haven’t really seen many actual pass rush moves from him. He is an excellent run defender with long arms and the ability to get off blocks, but that seems to be the best part of his game right now. From what I’ve seen, Leonard Williams has only begun to tap into his potential.
- Su'a Cravens spent much of the game 10 yards or more away from the line of scrimmage, as opposed to his role as linebacker last week. The television broadcast only shows so much, but Cravens (finished with five tackles and one pass breakup) had two big missed opportunities that I saw— the first was a missed tackle where he had the opportunity to sack Hogan on a third down, and the second was that dropped interception toward the end of the game. While Cravens is a fascinating player capable of playing a variety of roles, he evidently must still work on consistency before being talked about as a premiere safety.
- Hayes Pullard got ejected, yes, but he is a fantastically physical player and good tackler, as shown by his hit on Barry Sanders. As good of a run defender as he is, however, he isn’t as adept in coverage -- I don’t know what he was doing matched up on Stanford’s tight end one-on-one on a crossing route. Isn’t that what Su'a Cravens is for? A good overall result from the Trojan defense, but there were some clear mistakes by USC that Stanford wasn’t able to take advantage of (i.e. the blown coverage on Stanford’s tight end that resulted in a touchdown, but was called back due to a chop block penalty).
- Cody Kessler didn’t quite have a five-touchdown performance that netted him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week last week (in fact, Kessler directly accounted for zero touchdowns), but his intelligence and lack of mistakes were invaluable against Stanford. This game was not too big for him.
- One of the areas I watched particularly in this game was the battle at the line of scrimmage, especially when USC was on offense. Stanford has had great success controlling the line of scrimmage against Oregon’s no-huddle, spread offense in the past, and USC would have appeared to present a similar challenge. Contrary to what I was predicting, however, USC clearly won that battle, and running back Javorius Allen rushed for 154 yards. Great job run blocking by the young Trojan offensive line, especially getting to the second level to seal off defenders downfield.
- After his stellar performance in the first game, freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith had -2 yards receiving on one catch against Stanford. While winning hides most problems, you’d think that a guy as talented as Smith should warrant more touches.