These are the individual battles to keep your eye on during Saturday night’s Pac 12 battle in Palo Alto.
Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips vs. Nico Falah
Nico Falah did a good job filling in for Toa Lobendahn in last week's victory against Utah State. Although he has gotten significant snaps in the past and has played pretty well, he is still undoubtedly a downgrade from Lobendahn. The run game sets everything else up for the Trojan offense. USC needs to control the line of scrimmage and have positive gains from Justin Davis in order for the Stanford defense to respect the play action game and open up downfield opportunities. Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips were absolute standouts in their first game against Kansas State. During that game depending on the shade of the defensive line either Phillips or Thomas would be in a nose tackle position for a multitude of snaps. Both of them were able to wreak havoc from that position stopping the run and getting disruptive pass rushes. Falah struggled at times last year in the Pac 12 championship game against Thomas and he will have to hold his own in the center of USC's experienced offensive line to keep the offense running effectively. Keep your eye on the center play when the Trojans have the ball.
Cam Smith and Quinton Powell vs. Christian McCaffery
This one seems obvious, however it needs to be mentioned. At this point you almost have to treat McCaffery like a dominant scorer in basketball. He is someone who is going to get his, as a defensive unit you just have to rely on your rules and gap responsibilities in order to try to contain him. Stanford loves exposing man defense by getting McCaffery in open space as a reciever. Evidence of this can be seen toward the end of the third quarter of last year's Pac 12 Championship game. Stanford got McCaffery matched up one on one in the open field with a Trojan linebacker. The Heisman hopeful ran a crisp angle route to completely leave his linebacker in the dust taking it about 70 yards to set up Stanford for a go ahead touchdown. Big plays like this are total momentum gainers and Cam Smith and Quinton Powell must play good man technique in these situations so that they don't let this happen. A few big plays from McCaffery at the right time of the game can completely deflate a team. USC's linebackers must prevent this.
Adoree Jackson and Iman Marshall vs. Michael Rector
USC's stellar corners have another good test this week. Michael Rector is a burner, and Stanford's biggest deep threat. He is consistent in making big plays downfield and was able to lose his defender last game against Kansas State for a long touchdown. With how much Stanford will run their Heisman candidate, play action certainly freezes defensive backs. Jackson and Marshall must make sure they are not peeking in the backfield on a play action pass or else it will be hard to recover and catch up to Rector speeding downfield.
JuJu Smith Schuster vs. Alijah Holder
JuJu will once again be going up against a big corner this week. Alijah Holder stands 6-2 and was a pre-season third team all Pac-12 selection. He is definitely not on the same level as Alabama's corners but Smith Schuster has struggled against bigger corners in the past. He will need to win his routes this game and be a factor for USC. As a star receiver it is imperative that you make an impact on big games such as this one. He has to step up this week and have another big game. On the other side of the Cardinal defense is Alameen Murphy who is no slouch either. The trio of Juju Smith- Schuster, Darreus Rogers, and Steven Mitchell Jr. have to step up to the plate this week and help the offense put points on the board.