While this in-state battle of schools in the Pac-12 is always a good one, this year’s edition comes with a little uncertainly. USC will be without starting quarterback JT Daniels and Stanford could be missing starting quarterback K.J. Costello. During week one play, Daniels tore his ACL and meniscus in the first half against Fresno State, while Costello was injured when he took a forearm to the head on the second-to-last play of the first half against Northwestern. Both USC and Stanford won their opening games despite losing their starting quarterbacks.
So, what should we expect from Stanford in week two? If K.J. Costello plays, the Cardinal should exhibit a balanced offense. In the 17-7 win over Northwestern, Costello was 16-of-20 passing for 152 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game. The running back tandem of seniors Cameron Scarlett and Dorian Maddox combined for 121 yards on 28 carries. If Costello is unable to play, Stanford will hand the keys to their offense to junior Davis Mills, a one-time top recruit who had thrown two passes in his career prior to playing the second half against Northwestern. Mills completed 7-of-14 passes for 81 yards, but looked confident and comfortable taking over the offense.
It was the Cardinal defense, however, that was especially impressive in their week one win. Stanford held Northwestern to 210 total yards of offense (93 rushing, 117 passing), forced three fumbles – recovered two, and had two interceptions.
For USC, it appears true freshman Kedon Slovis will be called upon to guide the Trojan offense. Slovis was 6-of-8 passing for 57 yards against Fresno State, but threw an interception and lost a fumble. The Stanford defense will certainly be a tougher task for the USC offense, but the Trojans have plenty of playmakers on that side of the ball. The trio of senior Michael Pittman, junior Tyler Vaughns and sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown might make up the best receiver corps in the country, while junior running backs Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr have the skills and experience to ease Slovis into the offense.
On defense, the Trojans will need to find more consistency. At times, USC looked good against Fresno State, but also made several key mistakes which allowed the Bulldogs to rack up more than 460 yards of offense and hang around in the game. The Trojans returned five starters from a year ago, but have plenty of high profile recruits to fill the holes left by graduated players.
This series, once dominated by USC, has turned Stanford’s way over the last decade. The Cardinal have won eight of the last 12 games, dating back to 2009, but half of those games were decided by a touchdown or less. This one has the feeling of a defense battle that will come down to the fourth quarter.