If there’s one game that Stanford (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) should have put on its schedule this season, it’s this one.
The Big Game might feature Cal, but Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game with No. 10 USC (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) could be bigger. It’s prime time, Saturday Night Football, with the eyes of the college football world on Stanford Stadium expecting to see the rebirth of a USC program under new head coach Lincoln Riley. . The rebirth of a program that represents the controversial new world of college football, with its NUL riches and more than 30 roster transfers. A program that leaves the Pac-12 at the earliest opportunity, having played second fiddle to Stanford and others for more than a decade.
Fittingly, the lore-erasing program is the one accustomed to undoing wins.
There are so, so many storylines that go into this game – a storm, between old and new in college football. But little, perhaps insultingly little, revolves around a Stanford team that has dominated this series in recent years and upset then-No. 14 USC at the Coliseum last season.
What an opportunity for the unlikely Stanford to plant its flag on its soil. Last week’s Colgate game didn’t teach us much, but it did remind Stanford fans just how talented the passing offense can be. Fifth-year captain Michael Wilson — healthy after an injury-ravaged 2021 campaign — shone, his 2 touchdown receptions showcasing his run and catch radius. Junior quarterback Tanner McKee had a full arsenal, and while weapons like junior tight end Ben Yurosek and senior receiver Elijah Higgins were calm, the depth of skill positions showed enough to excite Cardinal fans. to the idea of taking him to the Trojans by air. .
Unanswered questions remain on both lines, as expected. The O line quietly dominated pass protection, as McKee and second Ari Patu had clean pockets all afternoon to operate. Only once did a Colgate defender get a hit on a Stanford quarterback, and both tackles — senior Walter Rouse and junior Myles Hinton — were among the top five hitters, according to Pro Football Focus.
That said, Stanford moved the ball too inconsistently in the running game, given the weak caliber of the opposition. Spotting ahead, stopping the run happens to be a weakness for USC: The Trojans struggled to slow down Rice’s heavy ground attack (coached by former Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren). The ground game could be an opportunity, and if the line can continue to improve in run blocking, Stanford’s offense can be two-dimensional against USC.
On the other side of the ball, Stanford’s defense adapted well to Colgate’s rushing offense as the game progressed, but struggled at times with a mobile quarterback. The Trojans will clearly be a much tougher test, and Stanford’s ability to hold up against a USC team that averages nearly 7.5 yards per carry against Rice may dictate how competitive the map is.
Ultimately, Stanford has a neutral streak after Colgate. The win highlighted the team’s strengths while providing little insight into weaknesses. Will these assets be enough to propel Stanford to victory against USC? Honestly… maybe? Stanford is the clear underdog, but a once-double-digit gap moved in Stanford’s direction at the start of the week.
There are also good fundamentals to suggest an upheaval. This is a totally new USC team, which will start three newly traded wide receivers, two new running backs (including former Stanford starter Austin Jones) and a new quarterback. Playing USC now, rather than later in the season, falls into the hands of Stanford, as the Trojans are still in development and Lincoln Riley may still be finding his best team. On the Stanford side, you have an ultra-stable program and coaching staff, a family environment and a very dangerous passing offense. You can see why the majority of smart money in Vegas backed the Cardinal to cover.
Personally, I like the Stanford odds here – it feels like an archetypical reversal. I see this as having three outcomes, each equally likely: USC blasts Stanford, USC edges out Stanford in a close game, and Stanford pulls the upset.
Quite a few chances for the team that ESPN will ignore in the pre-game. Here’s what the Cardinal needs to keep in mind in order to send a message to the rest of the Pac-12.
1. Put Tanner McKee in a beat
Tanner McKee’s quarterback play determines this Stanford team’s ability to face quality opposition. Simple analysis perhaps, but as we saw at the Coliseum last year, the gunslinger is the man who can set everything up against the Trojans and allow the Cardinal to participate in a firefight. McKee was elite in the 42-28 upset win, going 16 for 23, for 234 yards, 3 total touchdowns and, most importantly, no turnovers.
When on pace, McKee can lead Stanford to decisive victories against players like USC, but the inconsistency can affect his game. Take last week: In the first half, McKee was on the song, passing 19 for 21 with a pair of touchdowns. It was close to the perfect half for the quarterback. However, in the third quarter, McKee missed a wide open Ben Yurosek on a vertical seam route, potentially costing the Cardinal a touchdown. The next game, McKee made a bad call, not throwing to anyone in particular and getting picked up. Poor play by affecting another also appeared in McKee’s game last year, both in terms of decision making (as we saw on Saturday) and pocket presence under pressure – the pressure on a game would lead to “happy feet” on the next one.
As McKee continues to improve, he will iron out some of those wrinkles, but for Saturday, Stanford needs to make sure his quarterback is dialed in early. Otherwise, it’s a USC team that feasted on poor quarterback play in tearing down Rice last week, catching four passes and returning three for scores.
2. Win first try
One of the ultimate clichés is to “make your opponent one-dimensional”. Ironically, Stanford has to do the opposite against USC. We discussed the struggles to defend the run, and USC — featuring Stanford’s starting running back from last year’s Austin Jones transfer — will pound the rock unless Stanford forces them to. throw.
The key to this are the first downs. If Stanford can win reps against USC early on and force 2nd and 8 or higher, the defense can start to assert themselves, forcing USC into obvious overrun situations that will give Stanford’s weak secondary chances to make games. It would be great if, by the second half, we didn’t know what the visitors would compose on the first down – we would know the D line was getting saves against the run.
Winning 1st and 10 also applies to offense. EJ Smith’s 87-yard score on the first play from scrimmage grabbed headlines last week, but that side rush Stanford backs rushed for 77 yards on 25 carries (Smith himself had averaged 3.1 yards per carry, ex-TD). Given Colgate’s level of talent, these numbers are disappointing. Stanford will need to improve on-field consistency to stay on schedule against a leading USC defense that struggled against Rice, giving up a pair of touchdowns and more than 5.5 yards per carry behind the Owls.
3. Knock down Special Teams
Pete Alamar’s special teams units have been an exceptionally strong position for Stanford over the past 10 years. Those consistent standards made special teams struggles against Colgate a real headache: Stanford fumbled the ball three times on punts, resulting in a few turnovers and Colgate’s only score. Even when things were “going well”, the device just seemed to turn off. For example, many times junior returners Casey Filkins and Bryce Farrell would start too shallow on punts and had to back up or do an over the shoulder play to get a good hold on a punt. Both returners looked uncomfortable, to the point that the basic punt mechanics felt awkward, and if the struggles continue, more mistakes are bound to happen. Add to that second-year kicker Emmet Kenney’s missed PAT, and it was a really lousy day for the Alamar unit.
It goes without saying that Stanford can’t afford special teams mishaps against USC. And it goes without saying that Alamar, Shaw and the staff will be spending a lot of time this week addressing these issues. But in a meaningless game like Colgate, where lack of talent makes any real assessment difficult, self-inflicted errors on a generally reliable unit jumped off the field as a major area of concern.
Pablo’s picks of the week:
- Stanford 35, USC 31
- Game I’m going to watch: Alabama @ Texas
- Upset of the week: Stanford aside, give me Vandy as touchdown dog more on Wake Forest
Pablo will be on the stand on Saturday to call the game KZSU.
#View #stand #Trojan #transfers #town