For the second straight year, these two heavyweights will meet in week two of the season. Last year, the Trojans pulled away late in the Coliseum as USC scored 21 of the final 28 points to win, 42-24.
A year ago, the Trojans had a senior-laden squad, led by quarterback Sam Darnold, running back Ronald Jones II, and receivers Steven Mitchell and Deontay Burnett. All four players are now on NFL rosters. USC turned the page to 2018 and turned over the offense to a true freshman, quarterback JT Daniels. In the season opener, the Trojans defeated UNLV, 43-21, but the score didn’t indicate the story of the game. USC trailed, 14-12, until a late first half touchdown game the Trojans the halftime lead, 19-14. Daniels didn’t seem comfortable finding receivers other than his high school teammate, freshman wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. Trojans head coach Clay Helton has stated that a young quarterback’s best friend is a strong running game and USC showed that week one. The Trojans top three backs, Aca’Cedric Ware, Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai, combined for 201 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns. But as effective as the Trojans were on offense running the ball, they struggled to stop UNLV’s running game. The Rebels ran for 308 yards on 43 carries, more than seven yards per rush. USC did hold the Rebels to 12-of-27 passing for just 97 yards through the air.
Stanford came into the season as one of the favorites in the Pac-12, with a lot of that hype centered on Heisman Trophy candidate running back Bryce Love. Love ran for 2,118 yards in his junior campaign last season and regularly broke off 50-plus yard runs. In week one, however, Stanford’s opponent, San Diego State, placed a heavy focus on stopping Love and the Cardinal run game. The Aztecs held Love to just 29 yards on 18 carries, but this focus on stopping the run made them vulnerable through the air. Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello, now the full-time starter after splitting time with Keller Chryst in 2017, threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns, while receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside caught six passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns. For the first time in a couple years, opponents won’t be able to stack the box defensively against the Cardinal. Defensively, Stanford is missing last year’s captain and stalwart in the middle Harrison Phillips, but the Cardinal held its own against a tough rushing attack of San Diego State. Stanford allowed just 10 points and 263 total yards to the Aztecs, while holding SDSU to 4-of-13 on third down.
This game will have plenty of points scored. The Trojans have skill all over the field offensively, but will come down to the comfort level of Daniels in his first game on the road. Stanford has proven they can pass if the opponent tries to take away Love. With the Trojans troubles stopping the run in week one, they’ll need to double down on trying to stop a much more talented running attack if they want to escape Palo Alto with a win. Stanford needs to pressure the young Trojan quarterback and force him into mistakes if they want to pick up the W.