After a dominating performance last week against Utah State, the Trojans look to keep the momentum going against #7 Stanford. USC travels Palo Alto, California to take on the Cardinal at 5 PM PST on ABC. This is the second primetime game of the season out of only three games for the Trojans. The question everyone is asking - will USC suffer the same fate as last time? Can USC beat the farm?
To answer the question from the headline: Yes. Let’s take a look at what USC will need to do to get it done.
Dominate the line of scrimmage. This is going to be the most important piece of the puzzle for the Trojans. Offensively, we have yet to see USC be what was promised to us in the preseason, largely because of the play of the offensive line. Although their performance against Utah State was an improvement, they were absolutely dominated against Alabama, in their only real test of the season.
Defensively for the Trojans it has been a different story. They competed well early in the game against Alabama before it got out of hand. Last week against Utah State, you’d be hard pressed to find any blemishes on a near perfect day against the Aggies. They completely shut down a rushing offense that had rushed for over 400 yards in Week 1. They were also able to force turnovers and score off turnovers, something they will need to do again this weekend to beat Stanford.
Contain Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey. If there’s one true thing about McCaffrey it is that you can’t stop him - you can only hope to contain him. To say what a talent he is in college football would simply be an understatement. McCaffrey scored three times the last time the Trojans met the Cardinal in the 2016 Pac-12 championship game. He rushed for a touchdown, caught a touchdown, and he threw for one too. This kid can literally do it all. He finished the game with 471 all-purpose yards, and earlier in the year he produced 115 yards against USC.
So - how can USC stop McCaffrey? See key number one. The Trojans are going to have to force him to get his production in the passing game. If the Trojans are able to dominate the line of scrimmage defensively, Stanford will be ineffective in running the ball, forcing new quarterback Ryan Burns to make quick decisions which can be tough facing a talented defense like USC in his third career game.
Play a disciplined football game. It’s pretty safe to say USC was out of their depth in the first game of the season, which is shocking given the environment USC has operated in for the past 30 years. It started with an excessive entrance and ended with an ejected football player, a team that gave up halfway through the game, and an end embarrassing result. We saw more of it against Utah State when starting OT Chuma Edoga was ejected from the game after shoving a referee.
This week hasn’t been free of distraction for USC either. The video of Edoga’s ejection was widely distributed in the media, and the discussion of his punishment was a talking point this week. Also, Osa Masina was previously temporarily suspended from the football team, but allowed to take classes at USC. According to his attorney, this week he was banned from campus and attending classes. The Trojans will need to put all of this behind them moving into Saturday and play a focused game against David Shaw’s well coached Stanford squad.
This is going to be one exciting game to watch, with both sides coming out with a ton to play for. The reality for the Trojans is this could be their season on the line Saturday night. They certainly won’t make the College Football Playoff with two losses, let alone the Pac- 12 championship game. On the other hand, if they were able to knock off the Cardinal they would be able to gain back some of the dignity that was lost against Alabama, jump back in the Top 25, and be a favorite for the conference title.