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After a close look at some film and some intense stats, here is the full USC vs. Stanford preview, in which I will break down every level of the game for both teams. Here we go.
For USC the difference of having Chad Wheeler at left tackle is night and day. I realize that the Alabama defensive line is really good, but the left side of the line was crumbling against Utah State. The way the passing game changes is not hard to see, when Wheeler took over after Chuma Edoga was ejected was when Max Browne started to find a rhythm. Funny how good he can be with a clean pocket. This may be the best version of this line coming into the game vs. Stanford which means Lance Anderson, Stanford’s defensive coordinator, will have to get creative with his pass rush.
On the Cardinal side while the offensive line did have some trouble with run blocking against Kansas State, they also did still have bright spots: See the late touchdown run by McCaffrey as a good example. On the up side their pass blocking was much better, which could prove to be the difference. USC fell behind to Alabama once the tide started to air it out. Even after getting solid pressure on the Tide’s quarterbacks in the opening quarter, once they felt the back end slipping they played the linebacker on their heels. The more the Cardinal spread the field the less aggressive the USC defense will play.
Christian McCaffrey can ball out, that is just a fact opposing defenses have to get used to. Specifically in his two games against USC he did not slow down as he rushed for 115 and 205 yards. Since this figures to be a close game I also looked into his stats concerning point spread. When the game is tied he averages 5.6 yards per carry, up by 1-7 points his average goes up to 5.8 and losing by 1-7 points it only drops to 4.9. This guy will produce in a tight game, which takes a lot of pressure off his quarterback. Bryce Love should also be making his season debut against USC, according to David Shaw, which will give the offense another layer of diversity and another back who can catch out of the backfield and in the slot.
The two headed monster in the USC backfield of Ronald Jones and Justin Davis may only take a back seat to LSU’s and Stanford’s. Both backs ran for over 900 yards last season and combined for 16 touchdowns. Both are extremely shifty in space and have great speed. These two are not to be underestimated despite their relatively slow start to the season.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Michael Rector is going to most likely be facing Adoree’ Jackson for the night which was USC’s game plan against the other top receivers they faced. That means receivers Trenton Irwin and Francis Owusu along with tight ends Dalton Shultz and Greg Taboada have to show up and make plays. Taboada showed that he could be a real asset, especially on third downs in the Kansas State game. Now the rest of this crew needs to help out their quarterback and get open because their best receiver will be up against one of the top defensive backs in the nation.
USC has a nasty duo at wide receiver with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Steven Mitchell which will give the Cardinal secondary fits. While the tight ends don’t get a lot of action in the passing attack they may not need them as back up receiver Deontay Burnett has played very well in the first two game reeling in seven catches with a touchdown. Both their backs can also catch out of the backfield or in the slot. This is an offense primed for a full air attack.
Max Browne has been, interesting. He started out strong against Alabama till that front seven sunk their teeth into him. Which happens to a lot of solid quarterbacks, but then he looked awful coming out the gate against Utah State and even sat out early after a pick. The problem is two fold for him, despite the great offensive weapons he has been given. First is that he has no idea what to do when the pocket gets messy, he gets desperate and his throwing gets sloppy quick. The second, and bigger, problem is he is atrocious on third and long. When throwing on first and second down he is around 63%. But on 3rd and 6 or higher he drops to 45%. A quarterback who is going to be facing top level competition like he already has in Alabama, and will continue to face needs to be able to convert some 3rd and 7s.
Ryan Burns Played really well in the opener, he drove the Ferrari without scratching it. Now he needs to do it with his top receiver blanketed. While checking down to McCaffrey is not really a bad play, he needs to spread the ball around to his second and third receivers and he needs to push the defense back to take sure they don’t get comfortable sending the blitz. Burns is going to have to make some tough throws to guys not named Rector and trust they will make a play.
Stanford has built their defensive front around Solomon Thomas and Peter Kalambayi, who are the leaders on the defensive unit. Having Thomas draw the double team on the edge means that Harrison Phillips was getting some great pressure up the middle in the opener as he recorded a sack and batted down a pass along with three tackles. As for the linebackers, their true strength is in numbers. Not only is their entire starting group of linebackers all juniors and seniors, but most of their back ups are as well. Mike Tyler and Noor Davis are both seniors and they work these guys in a lot meaning that their six man rotation at linebacker is somewhat fresh all game long.
As I mentioned before, the defensive front for USC was nasty when they played with their ears pinned back. While the likes of Rasheed Green, Noah Jefferson (likely out for Stanford) and Malik Dorton took up blocks and drew the pressure, linebackers Michael Hutchings and Porter Gustin came down and combined for 2.5 sacks against Alabama. Of course that was all in the first quarter and a half of football. After a long touch down and a turnover to go along with Alabama’s willingness to stretch the field, USC had their linebackers play deeper. This meant trying to depend on their line alone for a pass rush, which proved to be not enough. The Trojans defense looked best when depending on their corners and safeties to hold on just long enough for their linebackers like Cam Smith and edge rushers to get home.
These secondaries are actually pretty close. Both have a stud corner, for Stanford Quentin Meeks and USC Adoree Jackson. Both of those guys will take care of their receiver and each will probably cause a turnover. Both secondaries also had the corner on the other side give up a few big plays. Zach Hoffpauir for the Cardinal let up some big plays in the nickel and USC’s Iman Marshall is still in the burn center for what ArDarius Stewart did to him.
Although both have weaknesses I do like how Alijah Holder played for the Cardinal when he wasn’t mugging receivers in the end zone. He was aggressive at the line of scrimmage and threw off the timing for the receivers. And Stanford’s free safety Justin Reid is a ball hawk and does a great job playing center fielder on the back end.
On the other side Chris Hawkins at strong safety is big in the run game and on the blitz which could be the pass rushing edge USC needs.
Both teams had silly penalties to open up the season on special teams but both also have explosive return men in McCaffrey and Jackson. Watch out for both these guys late in a game to swing momentum on a return.
I think Stanford wins this for two reasons: One- Stanford’s quarterback is better under pressure and when he needs to make a big play in distance. Burns had a beautiful pass to his tight end deep on his own end on third and forever, Browne doesn’t make those plays. Two- The secondary for Stanford is more dependable then USC’s. The drop off between Adoree and the rest of that unit is pretty drastic, while Meeks has Reid and Holder looked good in spots along with Hoffpauir. I take Stanford at home in this one.
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