The beginning of the road to a Pac-12 championship begins now. The USC Trojans will begin their conference season against a rival opponent that has been giving the Trojans problems in the past five years now.
No offense to Hawaii or Syracuse, but when USC is favored to win by an average mark of 25+ points, all you can do is focus on your next opponent. And for the Trojans, the exhibition games are done.
The No. 2 Trojans will travel again for the second consecutive week, this time to Palo Alto, Calif. to face the No. 21 Stanford Cardinal, a team USC managed to beat only once in the past five years.
The tune is different, however, as Stanford suffered heavy losses in their offense due to the 2012 NFL Draft. Star quarterback Andrew Luck, offensive tackles David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, and tight end Coby Fleener, are gone.
Don’t expect this game to be as close as it was last year when the Cardinal defeated the Trojans in triple-overtime. But this narrative was played before when Stanford shocked USC in 2007, which every Trojan fan would love to be "Men In Black’d" (You know, that device in the movie where they put they blind you with that red beam of light?)
In any case, USC hasn’t lost their impact players on offense from 2011. Here some quick keys to the game:
While the Cardinal did lose some major impact players to the NFL, there is still an area of strength, which may cause harm to USC’s front four, the offensive line. Losing DeCastro and Martin did hurt Stanford, but they are still running the ball in an effective rate at 123.5 rushing yards per game.
Shaw’s main strategy last year when they defeated USC was to run the ball down USC’s throats using their powerful offensive line. Look for more of the same on Saturday. The man replacing Luck is Josh Nunes, whom only completed 53.3 percent of his pass attempts against the Duke Blue Devils secondary last week, may not get many pass attempts this week because the Trojan secondary are more talented. Well except for maybe…
Yes, USC did manage to blowout Syracuse on the road, but the Orange did manage to score 29 points against the Trojans, 26 of the points being in the second half. SU’s quarterback Ryan Nassib was able to torch USC’s secondary, mainly their cornerbacks, in the third and fourth quarter. While USC did play soft defensive coverage, you couldn’t ignore the big plays where cornerbacks Anthony Brown, Torin Harris, and Brian Baucham were continually getting burned by receivers.
To be fair, all three players did miss a lot of games last year and are probably rusty, but they did perform to under whelm the Trojan defense so much so that Stanford will look to capitalize on USC’s weakest point on offense.
USC Offense Vs. Stanford Front Seven
Perhaps Stanford’s strongest position(s) is their defense. The defensive line is solid, but it is their linebackers where Stanford shines. Shayne Skov is healthy again and is Stanford’s best player on defense when he’s at full go.
Do not ignore their secondary also as running back turned cornerback, Usua Amanam, has been stellar for the Cardinal thus far, especially on blitz packages. He is the team leader in the sack category with two, and is also leading tackles for loss at four.
Defensive back Ed Reynolds is also having a great start to the season with three interceptions already, including one ran for a touchdown.
Stanford’s defense will dictate how far the Cardinal will go. As improved as their defense looks, USC still has three of the better college football players in the nation in Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, and Marqise Lee. Both teams play a pro-style offense, so look for coach Lane Kiffin to balance out the running and pass plays.
On paper, USC should win big, but because it is their second consecutive game on the road, as well as injuries to kicker Andre Heidari and C Khaled Holmes, this game may be close early on.
Just like last week’s game against Syracuse, I expect the Trojan offense to be creative in the second half to beat out the Cardinal. Stanford is good, but can’t expect them to score more than 30 points against USC’s defense with the offense the Cardinal have.
Prediction: USC 42, STAN 21
For more news and notes on USC football, be sure to read Conquest Chronicles.