This Saturday, the USC Trojans will have a large test as they host the No. 14 Stanford Cardinal. USC is coming off a 49-31 win over Western Michigan, where the Trojans were in a battle up until the 4th quarter of the game. They will be getting a Stanford team who is coming off a bye week after defeating the Rice Owls 62-7 in Sydney Australia two weeks ago. This will be the start of Pac-12 play for both USC and Stanford. Last season the Trojans and Cardinal opened Pac-12 play where Stanford defeated USC 27-10 in Palo Alto.
Offense: During USC’s 49-31 win over Western Michigan, the Trojans made sure their presence was known on the ground. Trojans junior running back Ronald Jones II was a huge part of the team’s success on the ground, rushing for 159 yards, off 18 carries, for 3 touchdowns. USC also got contributions from their freshman running back Stephen Carr, who rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Carr also had a 52 yard rush late in the 4th quarter. The offensive line created some big holes for the running backs to get through, added by some outstanding blocking from the receivers.
The passing game on the other hand will need some improvement. Darnold didn’t have a bad game, however the receivers around him that aren't named Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell will have to fix their dropping woes. It won’t get any easier as Stanford is a much better defensive team than Western Michigan. If USC truly wants to have success being balanced team against Stanford, then Someone in the receiving corps outside of Mitchell or Burnett will have to step up to provide Darnold some assistance. The offensive line will also have to clean up their act a little as they had some miscommunications that led to 2 sacks and a few penalties that stalled the Trojans drive against Western Michigan.
On the Stanford end, The Cardinal came into the season looking to replace Christian McCaffrey, while they can’t replace his overall versatility offensively; Bryce Love has looked impressive in their 62-7 blowout over Rice. Love rushed for 180 yards and 1 touchdown in their week 0 game. Stanford is known for running the ball and with them returning almost everyone on their offensive line, Bryce Love job may be a little easier.
At Quarterback senior Keller Chryst, who is coming off an ACL injury back at the Sun Bowl, appeared to have not lost a step. Chryst threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns against Rice. Stanford’s offense had its way with Rice, however it will be a much different story against a USC team who has athletes and speed on defense. Stanford loves to control the clock and grind out games, they’re also very disciplined too, something that USC had issues with last week.
Defense: The Trojans didn’t have their strongest performance against Western Michigan defensively. USC was gashed on the ground for 263 yards. USC however was without Cam Smith for the first half due to a targeting penalty during last season’s Rose Bowl Game, but outside of that the Trojans missed a lot of tackles and the middle of the defensive line was pushed around most of the game. USC had a lot of alignment issues which led to the Trojans not lining up fast enough and getting pushed around, they’ll have their hands full against a Stanford team who loves to bully teams on the line of scrimmage. USC will have to push back and limit the Cardinal on the ground. The secondary will also be key for the Trojans. Jack Jones and Iman Marshall had pretty solid games last week; however both were also hit with penalties that continued drives. The sooner the Trojans can get the Cardinal offense off the field, the better shot they have at winning this game.
Stanford’s defense had a huge game in Australia, limiting the Rice offense to 241 total yards and just 7 points. Keep in mind that this is Rice, however it’s still impressive. The defensive line for the Cardinal will have a tall task against Trojans tailback Ronald Jones II, who broke tackles left and right against Western Michigan. The Trojans offense also will look to go up tempo against Stanford to keep them on their heels. Look for the Cardinal to dominate time of possession and force the Trojans offense to slow the game down. They’ll also get their first full look at Sam Darnold, who played only a few snaps in the Trojans’ last meeting with Stanford. The Cardinal arguably has the best secondary in the Pac-12, with cornerback Quenton Meeks and safety Justin Reid leading them. They won’t make things easy for the USC receiving corps.
Overall: This game will be an early test for the Trojans. With the game being at home and in the evening time where it’ll be cooler, all hands will be on deck for the Trojans. Stanford on the other hand will come into this game fresh off a bye and time to prepare for the Trojans. It will all come down to who can finish, USC has proven that they can finish and battle in games when needed. They’ll have to prove it again against a Cardinal team who loves to battle. If the Trojans want to win this game, then they’ll have to stay disciplined and limit mistakes. Not saying play a perfect game, but Stanford is a much more disciplined team.
One thing to keep in mind is that USC has a tendency to struggle in Pac-12 openers and Stanford has their number as of late. The Cardinal has won seven of their last nine games against USC and has won 4 of 5 games in the Coliseum. The last time Stanford met USC in Los Angeles, The Cardinal walked out with a 41-31 victory.