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USC vs. Stanford: Game Preview & Key Notes

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The Trojans’ tough two-game road trip begins Saturday night in Palo Alto against the Farm.

UNLV v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Ah yes, college football is BACK! Unfortunately, so are the tough road games.

After managing to best UNLV in the season opener at the Coliseum, the USC football team travels to the friendly confines of Stanford Stadium in Palto Alto, to square off against running back Bryce Love and the Stanford Cardinals in the conference opener for both teams.

USC true freshman quarterback JT Daniels bounced back from a sluggish first half in the second of Saturday’s game, hitting his former teammate at Mater Dei High Amon-Ra St. Brown, for a 43-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter, extending the Trojans lead to double digits which ultimately sent fans home happy. However, Daniels will need to pick up from where he left off against UNLV, in the first half of Saturday night’s contest against the Farm.

Coach Clay Helton managed to beat Stanford twice last season. The first of course was a blowout victory at home for the Trojans, while the second was a close 31-28 victory in the PAC-12 title game.

With Love and quarterback K.J Costello leading Stanford’s offense, this time around will be a lot more competitive against the Cardinal. After finishing with a 9-5 record last season, coach David Shaw is almost certain to have his team ready to compete again for another conference championship and Saturday night’s contest might be considered a revenge game for the Stanford faithful.

USC Offense

UNLV v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Aside from some dropped passes, the Trojans looked relatively sharp on Saturday once Daniels got comfortable and shook off the early nerves. Granted, USC was going up against a UNLV defense that isn’t nowhere near as talented and experience Stanford’s defense is.

Getting runningback Aca’Cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai and the running game going will be a major focal point for offensive coordinator Tee Martin. The combination of Ware and Malepeai was reminiscent of the thunder and lightning duo the Trojans had when they had the dynamic running back duo of Reggie Bush and Lendale White.

Ware, who showed his ability to get to the edge and take off running, finished the game with 100 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries. Malepeai helped finish drives off in the red zone, finishing the game with a pair of touchdowns and 48 rushing yards on eight carries. A strong rushing attack is a young quarterback’s best friend, and that was on full display Saturday. If the Trojans look to go 2-0 before heading to Austin, Texas for their road game against the Texas Longhorns, establishing an effective run game with Ware, Malepeai and Stephen Carr will be vital.

Even though Daniels is barely playing in his second career game, the Trojans might have the edge at the quarterback position. The connection between Daniels and St. Brown right now is USC’s most effective combination in its passing game. The 6-foot-1 wideout was USC’s leading receiver Saturday, hauling in seven receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown.

USC Defense

UNLV v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Trojans’ defense didn’t look their best against UNLV’s rushing attack but they didn’t look like their worst either.

Although the Rebels rushed for 308 yards against USC, running the rock was their point of emphasis on offense. There’s no question that Stanford is going to give Love an ample amount of handoffs come Saturday night, but the Cardinal have some options in the passing game, including JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

Against a San Diego State defense that finished inside the Top-25 in total defense last season, Arcega-Whitside put up video game-type numbers in Stanford’s season opener last Thursday. The 6-foot-3 and 225 pound wideout caught six receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns.

Limiting Arcega-Whiteside, along with containing Love’s yardage, will be a huge task for the Trojans. That means that senior cornerback Iman Marshall and true freshman Olaijah Griffin are going to have their hands full trying to contain Arcega-Whiteside, who is a sure-fire first or second round NFL draft pick.

Key Notes

  • The Trojans opened as four-point underdogs for Saturday night’s game. Last season though, the Trojans lost both games (against Notre Dame and Ohio State) by a wide margin in which it was slated as the underdog. The Trojans failed to cover the 25.5 points they were laying against UNLV and are a dismal 3-11-1 against the spread in their last 15 games.
  • Four of coach Clay Helton’s losses as USC’s coach have come in September. Two of them were against Stanford.
  • USC led the nation in sacks last season and got off to a good start by recording five against UNLV.
  • Senior linebacker Porter Gustin, who was questionable going into the season opener against UNLV because of a meniscus tear he suffered in August, recorded 1.5 sacks and one fumble recovery.
  • Former walk-on kicker Chase McGrath successfully hit all five of his field goal attempts, tying the USC single-game record for made field goals which was set in 2004 by Ryan Killeen.