Give your keys to victory against Stanford on Friday.
After the first meeting with Stanford, Clay Helton made the statement that the Trojans had played “to our standard” and that was music to the ears of USC fans who thoroughly enjoyed one of the more complete performances that the team had put together in recent years. There were over 600 yards of total offense while converting 10 of 12 third downs, there was good containment of the Stanford run game outside of one big play, and a 10-minute edge in time of possession. If that was the standard for this team, as Helton stated, then good times were definitely ahead. But as the Trojans sit here on the verge of playing the Cardinal again, this time with the Pac-12 title on the line, that standard has yet to be met again in the 10 games since. So if I’m looking at a key to the game, I’m going to say play to that standard. Be efficient with the football, Sam needs to be Sam, show some two-back sets with a healthy stable of backs, bottle up the running back who is a legit Heisman candidate in Bryce Love, and limit the big passing plays from the new Stanford quarterback just like you did the previous one. If you do that, if you play to that standard of Trojan football, you will be champions.
No.1, the Trojans need to come out and play with the same physicality that they did in the first contest, particularly on both sides of the line. With the improvement Stanford has shown, it certainly won’t be easy, but If the offensive line does its part in this regard, Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr can get rolling again – a huge factor in the Trojans’ earlier victory. The defensive line will have to up its level of physicality as well, limiting the effectiveness of Bryce Love, while also getting after K.J. Costello.
No. 2, the Trojans need to hold onto the ball. Stanford is No. 1 in the Pac-12 with a turnover margin of +14. USC has struggled at times this season in this regard, but they can’t afford to in this game.
And finally, Sam Darnold needs to come up with a big-time performance – the kind that everyone expected on a weekly basis heading into this season. This Stanford team is simply playing on another level compared to when these two teams met earlier this fall, and the Trojans will need to get a memorable outing out of their heralded passer to come away with a victory.
The Trojans’ defense will have to limit Stanford’s sensational tailback Bryce Love. They won’t stop him, but he doesn’t have to run wild either. If they can do what they did when the two teams played on Sept. 9, “hold” Love to 160 rushing yards and just one TD, I like the Trojans’ chances. The Trojans’ defense will need to get to rattle redshirt freshman quarterback KJ Costello, who didn’t play against the Trojans in the first contest, early and often. Costello is a difference maker. Just ask Notre Dame. The Trojans’ inconsistent secondary will have to play its best game of the season because the Cardinal have so many skill weapons. Offensively, it will be all about ball control by the Trojans’ offense, just like the first game when the Men of Troy won the time of possession (34:35-26:25). Trojans’ redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold will need to be vintage Sam Darnold, and the Trojans’ running backs will need to be as effective as the last time when both junior Ronald Jones ll and freshman Stephen Carr each passed the 100-yard rushing mark. The offensive line will have to play a consistent, physical, and flag-free four quarters. What Stanford’s defense didn’t see the first meeting is the development young Trojan receivers like Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman, which could come as a surprise to the Cardinal secondary. Points will be at a premium, and a key could come down to the battle of the placekickers, the Trojans’ Chase McGrath, who has been fighting a groin injury, and Stanford’s Jet Toner. The Cardinal and Gold played their best game of the season the first time these two met, but Stanford has improved immeasurably. Have the Trojans? That might be the biggest key and unanswered question leading up to Friday night’s kickoff.
1) Limit the Stanford run game – any success against Stanford begins with stopping RB Bryce Love and the running game. Love has played the last couple of games on an injured ankle. But that hasn’t stopped him from producing. The Trojan front 7 on defense will have to be aggressive to beat the blocking, but disciplined to prevent Love from hitting cut back lanes.
2) Trojan 1-2 offensive punch – In the first game, USC’s of RBs Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr was too much for the Cardinal defense to handle. Carr, in particular, was also good in the passing game. On Friday, a strong game from Jones, and the return of a healthy Carr should be just as productive in the conference championship game.
3) Field Position – for some reason, I think that field position gained from good special teams play (returns and coverage) and turnovers will play a big part in this championship game. If SC can get a strong contribution from its special teams unit and take care of the ball, it will win this game.
Ok here goes. Friday’s game will be a four quarter test of wills and skills. It’ll be strength vs. strength while looking for chinks in the armor.
Don’t make a big deal about the six days between games. Stanford has had plenty of rest with an October 21 bye plus a Thursday game just after the bye. But they are nicked up…just like us.
Not surprisingly we must control the run game. We will utilize multiple fronts and two to three levels of defense to stop. This is a defense in depth strategy.
Stanford receivers are tall and present a mis-match. We will have to press cover early and get them off their routes and timing. The TE is a major mis-match in the red-zone (he scored a TD in September’s game in the red zone and is a favorite target…and a great blocker) so we’ll have to front him in the red zone which creates a vulnerability to zone read or straight isolation blocking. Therefore its first down red zone or very short yardage when he is most dangerous.
Pressure QB Costello. He is a thrower with a strong arm. Must pressure and give different looks. With multiple coverage looks Costello will often time check down to run play, swing pass or screen. Watch for it.
Screens, draws and some mis-direction plays will be mixed in. Rector is susceptible to speed on the edge…Iosefa is not but Iosefa doesn’t bring the edge pressure that Rector does.
Sam…that’s all, just Sam.
Airtight ball security…no turnovers and short fields or wasted scoring opportunities. Must put points on the board to keep pressure on ‘Furd.
Phillips at NT is a total mis-match for Falah. So we must double him (or chip) and help, otherwise the pocket rush will be up the middle which is effective against Sam and also our stretch run plays.
We will have to use perimeter passing with bubble screens and quick throws. I like this as it tires out a defense and leads to big plays.
Use our two back set with Carr and RoJo (also Ware and Malepeai). We used this set (no TE btw) in September and it was effective in spreading out the defense without giving up power. Carr and RoJo in the backfield at the same time is a nightmare scenario to the defenders assigned to run stop.
Chuma cannot have any penalties…not holding, illegal procedure or personal fouls. currently the count is either 14 or 15 penalties this season on Edoga which is a staggering number.
Kickoff coverage must improve against ‘Furd. They have an excellent controlled KO return team. Not a big break away threat but good at improving field position. This was a glaring problem area in September for us. We have improved but…