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Stanford’s D-Line Will be the Key Against USC

Stanford’s D-line, a weak unit on the team, could either make or break the game in Palo Alto.

Kansas State v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Stanford is going to be able to score against USC. We pretty much know that for sure. Christian McCaffery is just a ridiculously good running back, and will probably be able to run wild against whatever defense he comes up against, even Southern Cal’s vastly improved defensive unit.

The only question about the game is whether or not USC will be able to score against Stanford.

Stanford’s secondary is possibly the best unit on the team this year, led by exciting players such as Quentin Meeks and Dallas Lloyd. Where the Trojans could take advantage of Stanford, however, is in the trenches when the Trojans have the ball.

Max Browne, the primary quarterback for USC, although not the sole QB used, is a classic pocket-passer. He has a good ability to read the field, but only when he has the time in the pocket. If Stanford’s D-Line, which certainly struggled against Kansas State in week 1, can’t get any pressure on Max Browne, he will be in the perfect position to thrive.

Utah State v USC
If given the time in the pocket, Max Browne could thrive against Stanford
Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Additionally, USC has some solid running backs in Justin Davis and Ronald Jones. While they are not barnburners such as McCaffery, they certainly can do some damage if given big enough holes. That’s why Stanford’s D-lineman Soloman Thomas will be incredibly important against SC.

Thomas, a former offensive player actually, is still somewhat new to playing D-line, but he put in a lot of work the past year, and is he starting to round into form now that he is comfortable where he is. What could really kill Stanford, however, is that Harrison Phillips will not be playing after he hurt his knee against Kansas State. Phillips, the leader of that defensive line unit, will not need surgery, but he still won’t be playing against the Trojans.

Foster Farms Bowl - Maryland v Stanford
Harrison Phillips won’t be available for Stanford against USC.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Against Kansas State, Stanford’s defense just couldn’t get off the field. They allowed the Wildcats to have a far greater total in time of possession, something that virtually never happens to Stanford due to the Cardinal’s slow, methodical offensive playing style. A lot of their inability to get off the field came from their inability to pressure the QB. If no Kansas State receivers were open, then quarterback Jesse Ertz could just scramble for a first down often. If Stanford wants to beat the Trojans, they can’t allow that to happen.

Stanford is a far better team than USC, but the Cardinal’s weaknesses play right into the Trojans’ strengths. Yes, Stanford has a great secondary and would normally be able to control USC’s great receivers fairly well. But no matter how good of a cornerback you are, you can’t cover somebody, especially if that somebody is JuJu Smith-Schuster, for 4 or 5 seconds. And if Stanford isn’t able to get any pressure on the cornerback, then that might be the situation that Meeks and the Cardinal’s other defensive backs are tasked with.

Stanford vs USC has provided many great games the past few years. I expect this one upcoming to be no different. But look for how much time Max Browne has in the pocket for USC, as that could be what decides the game.