No. 17 USC will travel up north to Palo Alto to face No. 10 Stanford on Saturday. What are the top player matchups to watch in the game, and how will they affect the outcome of the game?
There is absolutely no reason that the Trojans should be viewed as underdogs this week against the Cardinal.
The Cardinal are coming off of a big 31-10 win against San Diego State, which the media naturally hyped up like no other, but they are about to face USC, coming off its own big win against UNLV — a 43-21 rout that proved to be freshmen JT Daniels’ and Amon-Ra St. Brown’s coming-out parties.
This new era of the Trojan offense led by the two has the potential to be one of the best in USC history. I watched Daniels and St. Brown very closely at Mater Dei, and their work ethic and talent are unlike anything I have ever seen out of any high school athlete. USC is very lucky to land both of the former Monarchs.
This game should be a tight and competitive battle between the two Pac-12 powerhouses. Here are the top player matchups that will ultimately affect the outcome of the game.
RB Stephen Carr vs. ILB Bobby Okereke
Inside linebacker Bobby Okereke is a fifth-year player for the Cardinal and as a result, is a team captain. However, it isn’t just his seniority that gave him the honor.
Okereke earned 162 tackles last year. He possesses great instincts on the field and always knows where the ball is. He is your prototypical inside linebacker and gets the job done. But he is going to have to face an elite talent in Stephen Carr this week.
Sophomore running back Stephen Carr had to form a timeshare with Aca’Cedric Ware in the Trojans’ Week 1 win against UNLV, with Ware getting one more carry than Carr. Despite Carr being the more talented back, I expected Ware to get the bulk of the carries to kick off the season because of his veteran status.
However, despite Ware’s impressive rushing line in Week 1 (10 carries for 100 yards), expect Carr to get more carries against Stanford. He will be the better running back to play against Stanford since Okereke is not particularly quick on his feet. Carr is the more shifty back and should blow right by the second level past Okereke and create large gains for the USC offense.
Stanford head coach David Shaw will undoubtedly try to gameplan for Carr, but no matter what, Okereke will have a tough time stopping Carr.
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. CB Alijah Holder
Last week in the Trojans’ 2018 season opener, the JT Daniels-Amon-Ra St. Brown connection picked up right where it left off at Mater Dei, with St. Brown catching seven balls for 98 yards and a trip to the end zone. Mark my words — this connection will be in effect for the years to come.
St. Brown will have a much tougher matchup this Saturday than he did last week, though. He will be facing Stanford cornerback Alijah Holder, another excellent fifth-year player who is destined to go pro in next year’s draft.
He only played in eight games last year, but was very effective in those eight games, especially in the one against USC, where he racked up three tackles and one interception on Sam Darnold, who is now thriving as the starting quarterback on the New York Jets.
Holder will try to disrupt the Mater Dei connection, but again, as talented as he is, the JT to Amon-Ra connection is extremely tough to stop.
The true freshman phenom receiver going up against the fifth-year seasoned veteran cornerback should be an intriguing matchup to watch, and one that could dictate the outcome of the game.
ILB Cameron Smith vs. RB Bryce Love
Stanford senior running back Bryce Love experienced a breakout year in 2017, rushing for 2118 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was in serious consideration for winning the Heisman Trophy, and many thought he was going to take advantage of this momentum and declare for the NFL Draft.
But like any good Stanford student, Love chose to stay in college for his senior year and try to graduate before going pro. His controversial move is not looking great right now, as he only managed to get 29 yards rushing on 18 carries in Stanford’s season opener at San Diego State.
Cameron Smith shares a similar story, opting not to declare for the NFL Draft and finish school at USC, and he will be trying to make sure that Love’s disastrous season continues this Saturday. Smith is a well-rounded inside linebacker who has a knack for stopping the run, and it should be fun to see who wins the battle in the trenches.
If Smith can do his job and contain Love, the Trojans should be able to roll to another victory and start a hot streak.