The Trojans suffered a backbreaking 17-3 loss to Stanford in the second week of the season. Which USC players will help their team bounce back against the Texas Longhorns, an old rival of the Trojans?
The USC Trojans entered Palo Alto to face the Stanford Cardinal red-hot and motivated, and left battered, beat down, and cooled off. It was the first loss of the season for the young Trojan team, but the important thing right now that it is over. Head coach Clay Helton should tell his team what any good coach would say — forget about it, learn from your mistakes, and most importantly, move on.
The single most important factor of the Trojans’ next game against the Longhorns, an old rival of USC, will be how this unit bounces back from such a devastating loss. They built up all that confidence in Week 1 against UNLV, only to have that confidence crushed right after. Will they get that confidence back this week in practice in order to beat Texas? Only time will tell.
The Trojans who will truly have an impact on this Week 3 game are all leaders — physically and mentally. Here are those leaders who will turn out to be the X-factors in determining the rivalry’s game outcome.
Quarterback JT Daniels
There is a lot of pressure surrounding JT Daniels right now. He’s been universally hyped up as the true freshman phenom by the media, fans, and even fellow students. After his dominant Week 1 win against UNLV, Daniels was on top of the world. A week later, Daniels finds himself being a big part of the blame for the Trojans’ disaster suffered up in NorCal, which is only natural when your team only scores three points.
This is Daniels’ first loss with this many eyes watching him. Yes, Mater Dei was a very relevant high school football team that is incredibly well-respected, but Mater Dei is honestly bush league compared to USC, one of the nation’s most prevalent college football teams. You have a legion of fans, fellow students, and faithful alumni counting on you to lead your team to bounce back from this loss.
This Saturday will be very indicative of how well — or poorly — the new face of USC responds to true adversity.
Wide Receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown
It is odd to call a non-quarterback true freshman a leader, but Amon-Ra St. Brown is a leader. He is coming in and taking control of the receiver group because he possesses a dominant personality (personally witnessed this while covering a Mater Dei game), and also because he is arguably the most talented out of all of them already.
It is not just his attitude and how he will lead the Trojan receiver group that will affect this game. After hooking up with Daniels for 98 receiving yards and a touchdown in Week 1 and leading all Trojans in receiving, St. Brown only caught two balls for 39 yards against Stanford. The game very well may be an outlier given the duo’s strong chemistry, but it will be intriguing to see if the two are able to recapture that lightning in a bottle connection against Texas this week.
Inside Linebacker Cameron Smith
I put Cameron Smith and Bryce Love as a matchup to watch ahead of last week’s game, and unfortunately it turned out to be very disappointing on the Trojans’ side. Love ended up rushing for 136 yards and a touchdown, catching fire after a very lackluster season debut performance against San Diego State where he averaged just about one yard per carry.
Smith, the senior, played all 57 defensive snaps against Stanford, and is the clear leader of this Trojan defensive unit. The defense did not play badly as a whole, only allowing 17 points to the Cardinal, but again, the run defense needs improvement. Smith will need to get this defense’s mojo back while taking it on himself to improve on stopping the run. How much Smith steps up his game against Texas will be something to watch.
This week’s rivalry game is more moral than anything. If these three leaders can rejuvenate this team’s mindset, USC should be able to leave Texas with a win.