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O/NSO: Stanford edition

The Obvious from Los Angeles: The USC Trojans (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) and the No. 23 Stanford Cardinal (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) will be without their respective starting quarterbacks when the Trojans host the Cardinal on Saturday evening (7:30 pm PDT) in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the winner remaining undefeated and likely taking a big step forward in Pac-12 play, and the loser likely taking a critical step backwards and potentially inviting an ominous future.

The Not So Obvious: With original Trojans starting sophomore quarterback JT Daniels out for the season (ACL/torn meniscus) and Stanford starting junior signal caller KJ Costello out of the USC game after taking a controversial forearm shiver shot to the helmet in last weekend’s win over Northwestern, who would have ever thought that these two private school rivals would face each other in the Pac-12 opener for both teams without their 2019 starting quarterbacks ? For the Trojans, they’ll rely on true freshman Kedon Slovis while the Cardinal will turn to redshirt sophomore Davis Mills to try and execute the Stanford offense. You can bet the defensive coordinators from both teams will be looking to drive the young QBs batty with potentially unforeseen formations and/or blitzes. The inexperienced quarterback that can handle it and avoid turnovers will probably guide their team to victory.

The Obvious: Because of the original questions surrounding the Stanford quarterbacking situation, the oddsmakers opened the betting line as a “pick’em” game, but upon hearing that Stanford would also be without their starting quarterback established the Trojans as 3-point favorites.

The Not So Obvious: Stanford triumphed over the Trojans in Palo Alto last season, 17-3, and has won four of the last six meetings with the Cardinal and Gold. This is the sixth consecutive year that the Trojans begin conference play against the Cardinal, and the seventh time in eight years. Troy holds a 62-33-3 lead over Stanford (USC’s 2005 victory was vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 63-33-3). However, the Men of Troy have just four wins in the past 12 meetings with the Cardinal. In its last 44 contests with boys from the Farm, the Trojans have gone 29-14-1 (and Troy is 44-17-1 in the past 62 games). As a side note, Stanford is the winningest Pac-12 program of the decade. The Cardinal has won 95 games since the start of the 2010 season, the sixth-most in college football.

The Obvious: Saturday night’s game will be televised on ESPN (7:30 p.m. PDT/ 10:30 p.m. EDT).

The Not So Obvious: The ESPN broadcasters will be Adam Amin (play-by-play), Todd McShay (analyst) and Molly McGrath (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday night’s Trojans’ radio broadcast from the Coliseum will air live on KABC 790 AM (7:30 p.m. PDT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline). John Jackson will on occasion provide selective perspective.  

Former Trojans All-America defensive lineman Shaun Cody (photo above) is filling in as the Trojans’ broadcast game analyst while regular analyst John Jackson continues to recover from a stroke.

The Trojans’ radio game broadcast on KABC AM 790 will be preceded by a two-hour pregame show beginning at 5:30 p.m. (PDT), and joining the game broadcast crew will be Sam Farber, former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne, and Julia Adams. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.

The Not So Obvious: The Stanford broadcast can be heard on Stanford flagship station KNBR 1050 AM (SF Bay Area) with Scott Reiss (play-by-play), Todd Husak (analyst) and John Platz (sidelines).

The Obvious: ESPN likes to piggyback a national telecast with a national radio broadcast from the same site.

The Not So Obvious: Saturday night’s Trojans vs Stanford game will be heard live nationally on ESPN radio with Sean Kelley (play-by-play), Barrett Jones (analyst), and Ian Fitzsimmons (sideline).

The game can also be heard on SiriusXM satellite radio (channels 80/80).

Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channels 113/198) or online channel 960 and on the Tunein Radio app.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Los Angeles weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 87 degrees, low of 65 degrees, 57 percent humidity, and 0 percent precipitation. Temperature for a sunset kickoff is expected to be clear and 72 degrees.

It figures to be another gorgeous day in Los Angeles (photo above) for Saturday night’s kickoff in the Coliseum between the Trojans and the visiting Stanford Cardinal. Temperature at kickoff is expected to be 72 degrees.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans can clean up both their physical and mental mistakes and the coaching staff can avoid scrutiny in clock management and questionable strategy on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Harsh? Hardly, especially when you consider that there is universal agreement in the program to dedicating themselves to avoiding another 2018 catastrophe. The clock management (milking the clock before the snap) at the end of last week’s Fresno game was atrocious. Given the Trojans are 1-0, it’s understandable after watching last week’s late nail biter over Fresno State that the win over the Bulldogs seemed more like a letdown than a victory. We’ll also see whether that affects the attendance turnout for Saturday night’s game along with the intensity of the Coliseum home field advantage.   

Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans, coming off a four-turnover performance against Fresno, can win with true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis who at times last week against Fresno State looked promising and at other times looked like, well, a true freshman. We’ll find out whether junior Trojan running backs Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr can continue on from their impressive first-game performances against Fresno State. With a freshman quarterback, the running backs may be asked to carry the load more than originally intended, especially for a passing offense. Then there will be the performance of the Trojans’ offensive line, which will be critical against Stanford. We find out whether USC coach Tim Drevno’s unit, which performed well at times against Fresno, can continue their progress against one of the Pac-12’s most physical defensive fronts. We’ll find out early in the season against Stanford how physical the Trojans’ offensive line is willing to dish out.

With a true freshman quarterback, the Trojans may have to rely more on its running game, and they certainly have some standout running backs to help the cause like junior Vavae Malepeai (photo above -No. 29), who had 135 yards rushing and one touchdown last week against Fresno State.

The good news for the Trojans, albeit some untimely drops, is that the receiving corps mostly lived up to its advanced publicity. Tyler Vaughns, who had 150 yards in receptions against Fresno, is the consummate receiver, and you can bet he has caught the attention of Stanford. Stanford will present the Trojans with a solid secondary led by future high NFL draft pick Paulson Adebo (6-1, 190), a junior corner from Farmington, Michigan.

Defensively, we’ll see if the Trojans have improved their tackling on a consistent basis, which was a major issue last week against Fresno State. A Stanford note: The Cardinal out-gained the Northwestern, 365-210, and finished with a nearly 17-minute time of possession advantage. We’ll find out whether the Trojans’ defensive line led by sophomores Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu and true freshman Drake Jackson can hold their own against a Stanford O-line that traditionally loves to bring it and provide heat on new Stanford QB Davis Mills, getting his first start. This game figures to test the manliness of the Trojans inside linebackers John Houston Jr. and Palaie Gaoteote, as the Stanford offensive line again figures to be a physical bunch. With Stanford looking this season to be more a pass-run team, Stanford coach David Shaw has reiterated that his Cardinal edition is unlike any he has had in recent times.

True freshman defensive lineman Drake Jackson (photo above – No. 99) had a tremendous game in his first college start against Fresno State last weekend in the Coliseum.

We’ll find out whether the Stanford offense can general enough offense to put the pressure on the Trojans’ D-line. All of which means the Trojans secondary should get quite a workout. We’ll find out whether Trojans’ strong safety Talonoa Hufanga (6-1, 220) can handle Stanford tight ends like junior Colby Parkinson (6-7, 240). Like other position groups, the Trojans’ secondary is a work in progress. Last week against Fresno State, there were glimpses of potential greatness on the horizon. You can bet your check that Stanford coach David Shaw will test the USC secondary in every shape and form. The Trojans defense front may have also drawn a bit of luck, as Stanford’s highly touted junior offensive tackle Walker Little will miss the game due to an undisclosed injury and will be replaced by true freshman Walter Rouse.   

On Trojans’ special teams, the Men of Troy will need another positive performance from clutch placekicker Chase McGrath, who could become a central figure in scoring points against the Cardinal. Chase’s performance could be critical on Saturday because Stanford brings to the Coliseum one of the best placekickers in the country in junior Jet Toner. FYI, Toner booted a career-best 51-yard field goal to end the first half of the game last week against Northwestern. Most Trojan fans were disappointed with cardinal and gold punter Ben Griffiths, who averaged just 37.0 yards per boot in three tries, but perhaps that was what he was instructed to do by SP coach John Baxter. They may need more production out of the highly ballyhooed punter, who was spectacular during training camp, against the Cardinal. The Trojans could also get a big boost with the kickoff return game as illustrated by last week’s 100-yard return by junior Velus Jones, who looks like a different football player in 2019. Given the game’s situation with the quarterbacks, it’s highly possible that Saturday’s game will be decided by special teams, which could come down to a battle of field goal kickers.  

The Trojans have a major special teams weapon in junior Velus Jones (photo above), who returned a kickoff 100 yards last week against Fresno State in the third quarter.

The Obvious: Clay Helton, 47, in his fourth season as the Trojans’ head coach, and already on the hot seat, is under again heavy scrutiny for his team’s early season snafus against Fresno State and because of the JT Daniels injury. It appears that the constroversial Jack Sears depth chart decision may have come back to haunt the Trojans’ program. Clay Helton announced on Thursday that the new No. 3 quarterback for the Trojans will be redshirt junior Brandon Perdue (6-4, 205) from Simi Valley, Calif., and Oaks Christian HS.  

The Not So Obvious: In evaluating Stanford’s offense, Helton said, “They play pitch and catch a lot more than in the past. They’re spreading the ball out, with a lot more different personnel groupings than they’ve had in the past. They’ve got two good quarterbacks (KJ Costello – out of Saturday’s game – and Davis Mills), some skill guys, maybe a little down in the offensive line due to injuries, and they’re helping that offensive line by spreading the ball around. They can still get to it (power offense), and they did a good job last week running the ball by getting into ‘bunch sets’ against Northwestern, which is really a damn good defense.”  

Trojans head coach Clay Helton (photo above) believes the 2019 Stanford Cardinal offense may be more of a passing team than a traditional power running team. The coach also believes that Stanford can still run the ball effectively, which it did in a win against a very good Northwestern defense last weekend in Palo Alto.

The Obvious: David Shaw, 47, is in his 9th season and has become the winningest Cardinal coach, even surpassing the legendary Pop Warner.

The Not So Obvious: Regarding the Trojans’ offense, Shaw says, “Our defense has to play within our rules. We’ll talk about our scheme versus their schemes no matter who the opponnent (USC) is. We need to play to our strengths. There is a lot of talk about this (USC Air Raid) style of offense not having a lot of plays, that there is not a lot of plays. There will be a lot of plays and a lot of adjustments, a lot of things they can tweak here and there. Add a double-move there and have some return routes and all the crosses that compliment, we know that is in their offense. The important thing is our guys (on defense) knowing their rules: man-to-man stay with your man and in zone be ready to pass stuff off. We have to be able to rush the passer, the ball gets out quick, so if you got a chance to get there, get there fast otherwise the coverage has to hold up and, hopefully, not for too long, and hopefully not for too long on their side because the ball has to come out fast. The big thing for us is rallying and tackling.

“They have a couple of running backs (Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr) that are hard to bring down. They do not go down easy. For us, it is clearing our responsibilities, and once the ball declares itself, find the ball carrier and get him on the ground.”

Stanford head coach David Shaw (photo above) is acknowledged by his peers as one of the best coaches in the Pac-12.


The Obvious:
The Trojans’ offense averages 31.0 points per game while the Trojans defense allows 23.0 points per game.

The Not So Obvious: Stanford’s offense averages 17 points per game while the Cardinal defense allows 7 points per outing.

The Obvious: Many experts believe that the Trojans have one of the toughest schedules in the country, especially its first 6 games.

The Not So Obvious: Stanford claims it plays arguably the nation’s toughest schedule in 2019. The Cardinal began the season against 2018 Big Ten West champs Northwestern, which was received votes in both preseason polls. Throughout the season, Stanford hosts preseason No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 11 Oregon and No. 13 Washington while traveling to No. 17 UCF and No. 23 Washington State.

The Obvious: Trojans wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is considered one of the most talented receivers in the country.

The Not So Obvious: Stanford sophomore receiver Osiris St. Brown is the brother of the Trojans’ Amon-Ra St. Brown.  

It will be a true family affair in the Coliseum when the Trojans host Stanford, as Troy’s sophomore receiving standout Amon-Ra St. Brown (photo above) will do battle with his brother, Osiris St. Brown, who is a receiver for the Cardinal.

The Obvious: The Trojans have seven players from Bay Area schools.

The Not So Obvious:  Those Trojans from Bay Area schools include DL De’jon Benton (Pittsburg HS), ILB Grant Jones (De La Salle HS), TE Sean Mahoney (Archbishop Mitty HS), OT Jalen McKenzie (Clayton Valley HS), TE Erik Krommenhoek (Monte Vista HS), OG Alijah Vera-Tucker (Bishop O’Dowd HS) and DL Caleb Tremblay (Vintage HS).

The Obvious: All cardinal and gold fans’ eyes will be trained on true freshman quarterback Kevon Slovis, who is subbing for quarterback JT Daniels, who suffered a season ending knee injury last week against Fresno State late in the second quarter.  

The Not So Obvious: At Desert Mountain High in Scottsdale, Arizona, Slovis was tutored by NFL great Kurt Warner.

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and Super Bowl winning quarterback Kurt Warner (photo above) was the high school mentor for Trojans’ true freshman QB Kedon Slovis, who is making his first college start against Stanford.

The Obvious: The starting quarterback for Stanford will be sophomore Davis Mills, who replaces starter KJ Costello. Last week against in a relief role against visiting Northwestern, Mills went 7-for-14 for 81 yards.

The Not So Obvious: Mills is a former 5-star recruit from Greater Atlanta Christian in Duluth, Georgia. A science, tech, and society major, Mills (6-4, 214) has played in two games, last week against Northwestern and last season in a win over UC Davis. He has two athletic sisters, Erin, who played tennis at Tusculum, and Ali, who played tennis at South Carolina.

The Cardinal will start redshirt sophomore Davis Mills (photo above), a former 5-star quarterback out of Duluth, Georgia. Like the Trojans’ Kedon Slovis, Mills will be making his first college start.

The Obvious: Trojans junior defensive lineman Connor Murphy saw significant playing time last Saturday against Fresno State.  

The Not So Obvious: Connor’s brother, Trent, was a consensus All-American outside linebacker at Stanford (2010-13).

Trojans’ junior defensive lineman Connor Murphy (photo above) is the younger brother of former Stanford All-America outside linebacker Trent Murphy.

The Obvious: Does it just appear like the Trojans are a Pac-12 school that seems to always open conference play?

The Not So Obvious: This is the ninth consecutive year that Troy is playing in the Pac-12’s first conference game of the season.

The Obvious: Both the Trojans and Stanford list their football series record as 62-33-3 in the Trojans’ favor.  

The Not So Obvious: However, but both universities come about it differently. The Cardinal do not count USC’s 25-8 win in 1918, because Stanford claims that a team composed of Student Army Training Corps players, not the Stanford varsity squad, played the Trojans that year. USC counts that 1918 win, but not its 51-21 win in 2005 that was vacated by NCAA penalty (Stanford’s 2005 loss was not vacated, just USC’s win).

The Obvious: USC has a total enrollment of 47,500 students (undergraduate enrollment of 19,170).

The Not So Obvious: Stanford has a total enrollment of 16,530 (undergraduate enrollment of 7062 students).

USC and Stanford have had a long football rivalry. The USC campus (photo above) and the Stanford campus are considered two of the most beautiful private school settings in the West.

The Obvious: And finally, there will be the usual Trojans’ recognitions during the game and at halftime.

The Not So Obvious: Saturday night’s special recognitions will feature “It’s Joint Forces Day” in the Coliseum, with more than 10,000 military families in attendance and 10 Navy Seals will be saluted for their service. The AFCA Coaches Trophy, presented to the national champion as determined by the coaches poll, will be on display at the game. Trojans junior golfer Gabriela Ruffels, who last month won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, will be honored on the field. The Trojans’ 1999 women’s water polo team, which won the first of the program’s six national championships, will be recognized on the field on its 20th anniversary.



Greg Katz
Author
Greg Katz

Now in his 57th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football staff writer covering USC, is also is a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.


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