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O/NSO: Stanford edition

The Obvious: Two bitter Pac-12 private school rivals, defending conference champions and No. 17 USC Trojans (1-0 overall, 0-0 Pac-12) and No.10 Stanford Cardinal (1-0 overall, 0-0 Pac-12), will renew their longtime discord on Saturday evening (5:30 p.m. PDT/8:30 p.m. EDT) in Stanford Stadium (50,424).

The Not So Obvious: With Trojans head coach Clay Helton currently riding a modest two-game winning streak over Cardinal head coach David Shaw, it figures the juices will be flowing between the two coaching staffs and the players. The great irony after last season in which the Trojans were the Pac-12 champions, it was Shaw that was named the 2017 Pac-12 Coach of the Year despite losing twice to Helton. It’s highly unusual when the head coach of the conference champions is not named the coach of the year. Go figure. Saturday also marks the fourth time in the past five years that the Trojans and Stanford will have met in the season’s second week. FYI, the Trojans are 4-4 in Pac-12 openers against the Cardinal.

The Obvious: Stanford opened a 6-point favorite to defeat the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: This is the fifth consecutive year that the Trojans begin league play against the Cardinal, and the sixth time in the past seven years. Stanford, Troy’s oldest current rival dating to 1905, has won seven of the nine meetings until the Trojans sweep last year. FYI, USC is 55-25 in night road games.

The Obvious: Saturday night’s Pac-12 opener in Stanford Stadium will be televised on FOX (5:30 p.m. PT/ 8:30 p.m. ET).

The Not So Obvious: The FOX broadcasters for Saturday will be Joe Davis (play-by-play), Brady Quinn ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­(analyst) and Bruce Feldman (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans’ radio broadcast from Stanford Stadium will air live (5:30 p.m. PT) on ESPNLA 710 AM with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans radio game broadcast will be preceded by a four-hour pregame show beginning at 1:30 p.m. (PDT) and featuring Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Andy Kamenetsky, Chris Hale, Nick Alfano, and WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz. Following the game, there is a two-hour post-game show.

The Obvious: There is a large number of Trojans fans in NorCal that can’t get the USC broadcast of Saturday’s game.

The Not So Obvious: The Stanford broadcast can be heard on flagship station KNBR (680 AM/KZSU 90.1 FM) with Scott Reiss (play-by-play), Todd Husak (analyst), and John Platz (sidelines). There is also a national broadcast on Compass Media Network with Greg Papa (Play by Play) and Tony Hill (analyst).

Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (online channels 136/198 or online channel 960 and on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: Harvey Hyde, a former head football coach at UNLV, is the host of a number well received radio shows that focus in on the USC Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO will be the guest of “Coach” Hyde’s popular USC Huddle Show on KMET (1400 AM) at 11 a.m. The hour  will cover all things Trojans football with a special discussion segment on Saturday night’s Stanford game.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Palo Alto weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 81and a low of 55 degrees, 60 percent humidity, and 0 percent precipitation.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether – in one week’s time – the Trojans were able to correct the glaring issues on both sides of the ball in order to man-up against a Stanford team that had a difficult time running the football but compensated with impressive passing numbers in cruising to a 31-10 victory over a tough and determined San Diego State team.

Offensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ offensive line, which is banged up, can show a lot more physicality in the running game and take advantage of a suspect Stanford defense. All last spring and into training camp the Trojans offensive line worked at being more physical. It’s still early, but the O-line didn’t show much improvement against UNLV in last weekend’s season opener. The good news is that true freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels lived up to the hype, especially in the second half of UNLV. We’ll see whether he can continue his progress against a smart and aggressive Stanford defense led by senior linebacker Bobby Okereke. A major key is whether Daniels can control his poise in the kid’s first big conference road game with national implications. With the exception of gifted true freshman receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, we’ll also find out if the “experienced” Trojans’ receivers can catch the football with consistency, something that was wanting in the first half of the UNLV game. In a game of this magnitude, we’ll see whether offensive coordinator Tee Martin can come up with a game plan that will attack Stanford’s questionable secondary, score points, and keep the explosive Stanford offense on the sidelines.

One of the keys to protecting JT Daniels and creating a rushing offense will be the play of starting sophomore left tackle Austin Jackson. Asked whether the Trojans O-line needs to play more physical or smarter, Jackson said, “I would definitely say both. We need to come out with a lot more intensity at the very first snap. I think we should get a lead early and all the good stuff and play hard for all four quarters. It all starts with preparation, and we’ve had a great week of practice. I think the goal with that is to carry it over to the game. You want to start fast and play fast for all four quarters.”

Defensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ defense can make a giant leap in technique discipline and physicality in defending the running game. If not, the Men of Troy could be in for a long evening. Having given up an alarming 308 yards on the ground to UNLV last week, we’ll find out whether Clancy Pendergast’s preseason heralded defense can limit the rushing damage from the traditionally power-oriented Stanford offense, an offensive that strongly balances between the run and the pass. The Cardinal can move the ball by land or in the air. Whether the Men of Troy can limit the rushing damage from senior All-America tailback Bryce Love and his typical physical offensive line remains to be seen, but they can’t let Love get off. We’ll also see whether the Trojans’ pass rush can be a major factor in keeping improving junior quarterback K.J. Costello from finding dangerous targets like junior tight end Kaden Smith and equally dangerous receivers like seniors JJ Arcega-Whiteside (this week’s Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week) and Trent Irwin. And as always, when the Trojans’ defense plays the Cardinal offense, they’ll find out whether they’re tough enough both physically and mentally.

On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll find out whether Trojans sophomore placekicker Chase McGrath, named Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week for his 5 for 5 field goals against UNLV, can extend his season-opening five straight field goal and perhaps more importantly, whether senior punter Reid Budrovich can shake his rough start in the season opener against UNLV where he averaged just 28.8 yards per punt. Stanford has a good placekicker in experienced junior Jet Toner (sister Jensen Toner played soccer for USC) and senior punter Jake Bailey is one of the conference’s best.

The Obvious: The Trojans’ offense is averaging 43.0 points per game while the Stanford defense is allowing 10.0 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans’ defense is allowing 21.0 points per game while the Stanford offense is averaging 31.0 points per game.

The Obvious: Clay Helton is in his third full season as the Trojans’ head coach.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about Stanford and its’s superstar All-America tailback Bryce Love, Helton said, “You know it’s going to be a physical battle, a physical war. Things I take away from it the team that’s rushing the ball better is usually the team that’s ahead in the end. That was the storyline two years ago when we lost and the last two times we’ve played we’ve won. We won the rushing battle. You know you’re coming to the park for a physical, physical grind of 60-minute football.”

On stopping Stanford All-America tailback Bryce Love, Helton added, “For us it’s so much gap control and gap integrity (on defense). He is one of the more patient runners in college football and he has 4.3 speed, but he reminds you of Le’Veon Bell. You don’t see him bounce a lot of balls. He’s waiting for that gap to come open and when he sees it, he hits it a million miles an hour with that 4.3 speed. Tremendous patience and tremendous strength. He’s one of those guys that if you give him an inch, he’s gone.”    

The Obvious: David Shaw is in his eighth season as Stanford’s head coach and is the winningest coach in Cardinal history.  

The Not So Obvious: Shaw has great respect for Trojans’ defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast who’s known for his pressure-oriented schemes. Shaw said, You never know what you’re going to get, it’s been a tough egg to crack.”

The Obvious: A key to the Trojans’ defense will be the challenge of keeping the Stanford offense in check, which will be helped with the return of senior outside linebacker Porter Gustin, who did not play in last season’s Pac-12 title game against the Cardinal due to injury.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about stopping the Stanford offense, Gustin said, “It’s always a challenge. They run an offense that’s different than anybody else in the Pac-12. It’s kind of a switch-up, and you kind of have to prepare differently. Get ready for a physical game in the trenches, it will be fun. Stanford has always been a heavy run team, so we automatically know we have to stop that coming in. Something they’ve developed recently is that they’ve been able to throw the ball really well. Now it’s kind of a double dare, so we prepare for both levels. I am expecting a physical game that comes down to the last minute with Stanford. They will come out full of energy after what happened last year, and we have to come out and match that and be more intense to get the ‘W’.”

The Obvious: A dangerous threat for the Trojans’ secondary is Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

The Not So Obvious: Playing the Trojans, JJ said, We know they’re going to bring their best. We gotta bring it, too.”

The Obvious: Most football people and Trojan fans were impressed last weekend with the performance by true freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels.   

The Not So Obvious: Daniels’ gunslinger opponent for Stanford is another Orange County product in junior K.J. Costello (6-5, 215). All Costello did last Friday is bail Stanford out with his arm by throwing 21 of 31 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception. FYI Costello attended local Rancho Santa Margarita Catholic, which also produce some USC Heisman quarterback named Carson Palmer.

The Obvious: One of the keys to Stanford’s offense is the play of senior wide receiver Trent Irwin, another local from Southern California.

The Not So Obvious: Discussing his friendship with members of the Trojans’ secondary, Irwin said this week, It’s a fun game because I know everyone. I’m happy it’s up here. I know the whole secondary because I ran track with multiple people and played seven-on-seven with them for about four years. We’ll have some fun with it.”

The Obvious: One of the great Trojan freshmen is wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who had a 43-yard touchdown reception last Saturday against UNLV.

The Not So Obvious: Amon-Ra’s brother, Osiris St. Brown, is a wide receiver for Stanford. Asked whether he would talk to his brother before the game, Amon-Ra said, “We aren’t really playing each other since we’re both offensive players. I’ve never played against him the entire time we’ve been playing football, but I’ll probably go up to him before the game and wish him good luck. My parents said they will root for the USC offense when we’re on the field and the Stanford offense when they’re on the field.”

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

The Not So Obvious: Those Bay Area Trojans include TE Tyler Petite (Campolindo HS), CB Isaiah Langley (Foothill HS), P Chris Tilbey (San Francisco CC), OT Jalen McKenzie (Clayton Valley HS), TE Erik Krommenhoek (Monte Vista HS), OG-OT Alijah Vera-Tucker (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd HS), and DL Caleb Tremblay (Vintage HS).

The Obvious: And finally, the Trojans began the first semester of the 2018-2019 school year in August.

The Not So Obvious: Stanford University is on the quarter system and won’t begin school until Sept. 24, which means school will not be in session when the Cardinal entertain the Trojans on Saturday night.

Greg Katz
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th 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 columnist covering USC, is also 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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