It has been some long, high scoring, and highlight filled Saturdays in the Coliseum. The Trojans have put on a clinic against opposing teams, averaging over 50 points a game and only allowing less than 10 points a game on defense so far this season. Despite the Trojans' high intensity game play, many people still doubt this year will be a big one for USC football.
While many talk down on the Trojans due to them destroying their first two opponents of the season (Arkansas St. & Idaho), the Men of Troy turn their attention to this week's matchup: the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford is coming off of a much needed victory over the UCF Golden Knights to improve their record to 1-1. Despite Stanford coming into this matchup unranked for the first time since 2008, expect the Cardinal to put up a fight against the Trojans. This is one of the biggest rivalries in the Pac-12 and Trojan history, as the last two meetings have been won by USC on late field goals.
For The Offense
The Trojans have gotten off to a hot start led by Cody Kessler, whom has completed almost 80% of his passes along with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Kessler has another opportunity to show why he should move up in the Heisman rankings as he will continue to spread the ball around to his group of dangerous receivers and backs. Ju Ju Smith Schuster has become Kessler's early favorite target, hauling in 14 receptions for 281 yards and 3 touchdowns. Stanford is giving up 248 passing yards per game against teams with neither a talented quarterback nor talented group of receivers like the Trojans. The Cardinal's defense will key in on Schuster but don't expect that to slow down the Trojans daggering passing game. Jackson, Mitchell, and Rogers will have a chance to take advantage of the mismatches in this week's contest.
The Trojans' ground attack will finally be tested against this Cardinal defense. Despite Stanford giving up 225 rushing yards to Northwestern in week one, they quickly rebounded last weekend, holding the Golden Knights to only 30 yards. Tre Madden and Justin Davis will lead a hungry group of running backs into a hard-fought, smash mouth, down hill rushing attack against a defense that usually plays aggressively within their front seven. I expect the running game to open up as Stanford will be forced to help their secondary against the air attack, which should leave a lot of one on ones with the inside linebackers.
Defense Must Show Up
This USC defense will have its first chance at shutting up the critics, after forcing three turnovers in its first two games. Su'a Cravens and friends will matchup with a Cardinal offense that can line up and play sound football on a good day. Fourth-year starter Kevin Hogan is the play caller for this offense that shows multiple formations to get their playmakers involved. Teaming up with Hogan is running back Christian McCaffrey, who leads the Cardinal in rushing, receiving, punt returns, and kick returns. On paper the Trojans are allowing 234.5 yards on the ground, but most of that came in the Arkansas St. game where the Red Wolves had 50 rushing attempts. The Trojans will have to bring pressure from everywhere to keep this Cardinal offense on their heels and not let Hogan get in a rhythm. If USC shuts down McCaffrey on offense it can really suck the life out of Stanford, being that their biggest playmaker has nowhere to produce. I expect Antwaun Woods and this defensive line to be the biggest impact in the game, and help the Trojans seal the victory.
The Special in Special Teams
Expect punt returns and more kick returns, giving Adoree Jackson an opportunity to really shine. Jackson can make some exciting plays like he has in the past, creating great field advantage or a touchdown for the Trojans. Adoree will play a major role throughout the game if he remains healthy, taking pressure off of the USC offense and defense.