The USC Trojans delivered as good of a performance as you could’ve asked for in the first game of the Lincoln Riley era. The Trojans scored on their first three drives of the game, scored on consecutive pick-sixes in the second half and only punted once in a 66-14 drubbing of the Rice Owls.
But dominating teams like Rice is expected when you’re USC. Now, Riley’s attention will be focused on PAC-12 rival Stanford. While the Trojans lead the all-time series 62-34-3, the Cardinal have gotten the better of USC in five of their past eight showdowns.
All eyes will be on the Trojans in the national primetime slot. What do they have for an encore?
USC Trojans at Stanford Cardinal
- Kickoff time: Saturday, Sept. 10, 4:30 p.m. PT
- TV Network: ABC
- Spread: USC-9.5
- Total: 65
USC’s secondary will be tested
The Trojans allowed only 134 passing yards and forced four interceptions last weekend. But that was against Rice. USC’s secondary will be in store for a much stiffer test against Stanford.
The trees truly have some trees at wide receiver, as Stanford coach Brian Shaw loves having tall possession receivers out wide. This year, the Cardinal have John Humphreys (6-foot-5), Brycen Tremayne (6-foot-4) and Michael Wilson (6-foot-2) as quarterback Tanner McKee’s primary targets. All three are upperclassmen who hail from California too.
Stanford’s size at receiver could be problematic for USC, whose primary cornerbacks stand at no taller than 6-foot-1. That could result in McKee hoisting up plenty of jump balls and downfield heaves to his bigger wideouts.
It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Alex Grinch combats this clear size disadvantage. Perhaps he’ll opt to play more zone coverage to avoid his defensive backs being exposed man-to-man.
Is there a backfield committee in L.A.?
Going into the season, Oregon transfer running back Travis Dye seemed to be the lead back in Riley’s offense. But after one week, that assumption might be wrong. Dye saw the majority of the early work when the game was in reach. But Austin Jones and Raleek Brown also got touches. In fact, both Jones and Brown outgained Dye and scored touchdowns. Dye finished with five carries for 20 yards.
Now, this was the season opener against an inferior opponent. So Riley definitely could’ve been limiting his most talented back in a game that was well in hand early. But it’ll be worth watching whether Dye takes on more of a featured role in a game that should be much more competitive.
Can USC’s pass rush cause some havoc?
While Stanford dominated Colgate 41-10 Saturday, it’s worth noting that the Cardinal were awfully sloppy in the season opener. McKee threw an interception, starting tailback E.J. Smith lost a fumble, and the Raiders scored their only touchdown of the game on a fumble returned for a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Trojans kept things clean in their Week 1 victory.
Stanford teams coached by Shaw are often highly disciplined, but committing four turnovers against Colgate raises some red flags. The question will be whether Grinch’s defense can cause some chaos and force some mistakes out of McKee and the Cardinal offense.
The key matchup in the havoc department will be USC’s pass rush against an experience Stanford offensive line. The Cardinal return all five starters from last year’s group and did not allow a single sack against Colgate last week. Meanwhile, USC recorded four sacks against Rice. The Trojans will need to apply pressure on McKee to reduce Stanford’s size advantage at receiver.
Stanford has been a thorn in USC’s side recently and could be again in this contest. USC could struggle to generate a rush against Stanford’s experienced O-line, which could leave their secondary exposed, especially if left in man coverage.
The good news is Caleb Williams and the Trojans’ offense should answer most times, as Stanford doesn’t appear to have a dominant defense. However, I’d expect Stanford to implement a conservative, run-oriented game plan from the start to keep Williams and USC’s loaded offense off the field.
This game could very well come down to who scores first. If USC jumps out to an early lead, this game could get out of hand. But if Stanford can score early and control tempo, then this could be a maddening game for Trojans fans.
Ultimately, USC has too much talent for the Cardinal. But a win might not come easy. USC 34, Stanford 27.