No. 17 USC Trojans travels to Palo Alto to open Pac-12 play against the No. 10 Stanford Cardinal. Match ups between USC and Stanford always turns into something very interesting the last few years. This will be the Trojans first of three tough road games in the month. What will USC have to do to come out with a huge road win over the Cardinal? Here are some keys to this weekends game in Palo Alto.
Red Zone Efficiency
USC had issues getting the ball into the end zone during the first half against UNLV, settling for 4 field goals from Chase McGrath. That won’t cut it against Stanford this week. The Trojans will have to take advantage of red zone opportunities and get into the end zone against Stanford. If they fail gain seven early on then things could get out of hand quickly.
Win The 3rd Down Battle!
Winning the battle on 3rd down is going to be a major factor in Saturday's game. Last week Stanford was 7-15 on 3rd down against San Diego State. USC head coach Clay Helton talks about how efficient Stanford is on third down. A lot of that comes from putting themselves in third and short situations. Last season USC managed to put Stanford in a lot of 3rd and long situations. If they can repeat that same thing then USC will win the game. The Trojans can allow for the Cardinal to have their usual long, time of possession, physical drives against them.
Play Clean Football
Clay Helton said USC playing clean football against Stanford was what helped them win the two meetings. David Shaw’s Cardinal prides themselves on playing disciplined football. USC will have to keep the penalties to a minimum if they want to grab a win on the road. They can’t put themselves in 3rd and long or extend drives due to penalties and playing undisciplined football. Also limit the turnovers on offense. Last week USC offense managed to have a clean game despite the offensive struggles early on. Impressive when you have a true freshman in JT Daniels starting. The same has to happen this week.
Contain Bryce Love and Pressure KJ Costello
USC defense had issues with a run dominant team in the UNLV Rebels, giving up a little over 300 yards on the ground. This week they have a Heisman hopeful in Stanford running back Bryce Love. The Trojans will have the task of slowing down Love, who will be looking to break out following a dismal performance against San Diego State. While the Aztecs put the blue print out slowing down the Stanford running game, KJ Costello managed to throw for 332 and 4 touchdowns against their secondary. 3 of them going to JJ Arcega-Whiteside. USC defense managed to generate 5 sacks against UNLV while the Stanford offensive line gave up 5 in their Friday night opener. USC will have to get to the quarterback or at least get enough pressure to disrupt the passing game. Yes that means not giving Costello a chance to find Arcega-Whiteside.
Limit The Big Play
The reverse plays for big gains, the jump ball to Arcega-Whiteside, Bryce Love’s big runs on the ground. The USC defense will need to limit all of that and for a team who gives up the big play a lot, it’ll be a all task. The USC defense can’t allow the Stanford offense to gain any type of momentum on them because of the big play.