The Game That Had Been Circled On Both Team’s Calendars For Months Lived Up To The Hype With USC Taking A 42-24 Win Over Stanford
One of the best bounce back games in recent memory for the Trojans, they moved the all-time series record to 60-32-3 in favor of USC
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10 years later, USC would not be upset at the Coliseum again.
After a preseason of hype and a lackluster opening game vs Western Michigan, USC showed what all the talk was about with a dominant win over PAC-12 North bully Stanford by beating them at their own smash mouth game. With over 600 yards of total offense, the Cardinal were run out of the Coliseum nursing their ankles after having to deal with Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr for a full 60 minutes.
The dub pushed the Trojans back to their #4 preseason ranking and cemented their status as CFP contenders. After a game of this magnitude, there is tons to take away from this so let’s get to it!
1. Feel Free To Rejuvenate The #DarnoldforHeisman and #USCCFP Campaigns
All week, I had to defend Sam Darnold and the entire USC team on Twitter for their subpar showing against Western Michigan last week. The team struggled for much of the game and was actually projected to lose according to ESPN’s FPI (Football Power Index).
Specifically for Darnold, his shoddy play coincided with Josh Rosen’s magnificent comeback performance versus Texas A&M; there was talk about whether Darnold was even the best quarterback in Los Angeles, let alone a Heisman frontrunner.
You may now put your all worries to rest. He is back. I stated in my Week 1 Takeaways that he probably wouldn’t have another game like that the rest of the year and the Trojans would cement their playoff legitimacy against a good Stanford team. Both predictions came true.
Darnold finished Saturday 21/26 for 316 yards, four touchdowns and a QBR of 95.8. In case you’re counting, that’s 27 more yards, four more touchdowns and a +24.8 QBR improvement since last week. Even more impressive was the fact that he averaged 22.8 yards per attempt while being blitzed, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do when Stanford’s front four is trying to take your head off.
Meanwhile, the whole team made a big statement that they need to be taken seriously in the playoff discussion this year while simultaneously getting that nagging Cardinal monkey off their back. For all the bandwagon fans who went on a weeklong hiatus, now would be a great time come back because things are looking up in LaLa Land.
2. Ankle Bully Inc. Might Have Headquarters In LA
One of the biggest reasons SC manhandled Stanford was because of the recent revival of the run game. However, revival might be an understatement given the way the entire unit has looked. Not only do they have one elite back, they have two plus two more very good backs. The quartet of Ronald Jones, Stephen Carr, Aca’cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai have been an absolute wrecking crew the past two weeks, totaling 521 yards on the ground between the four of them. Jones and Carr, in particular, have been quite impressive.
The dynamic duo has a full set of skills at their disposal from strength to pure speed and everything in between. RoJo and his extra 15 pounds of muscle have fully activated Beast Mode as he sheds tackles with same ferociousness of a certain Skittles-loving running back from Oakland.
Carr represents a similar running style, with a similarly lethal level of effectiveness. He’s snatched six ankles in two games, including four on one play. The ankle breakers are worth the price of admission alone. Seriously. This duo might be the best pair of tailbacks SC has had since Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Every team has been warned. Don’t arm tackle and double tape your ankles before you play the Trojans or you’ll pay the price.
3. Work In Progress
While the overall game result turned out in the Trojan’s favor and there was a lot of improvement in the past week, there were still some lingering issues which need addressing before they get into conference play. The team was flagged eight times for 90 yards, a point of issue with USC teams that could probably be carbon-dated at this point.
Sam Darnold, for all his excellence, still threw two more ill-advised interceptions, bringing his TD to INT ratio to 1:1. His ability to make those 50-50 throws are what makes him elite, but what could also capsize the Trojan’s season if the issue persists.
Just throw the ball away and take the loss of downs. The front seven stiffened over the second half and played much better overall, but they still got gashed for a 75 yard touchdown run by Bryce Love because of a miscommunication. Meanwhile in the secondary, Iman Marshall and Jack Jones have all world potential at the cornerback slots, but it’s time to start relying on technique instead of talent.
In the big scheme of things, the issues aren’t apocalyptic. But if USC wants to take the next step towards true title contention, they have to be able to play a full 60 minutes of clean, solid football.
4. Second In Command
All year, everyone knew who the #1 WR would be. After a 13 catch, 3 touchdown performance in the 2017 Rose Bowl, it was practically a given that Deontay Burnett would be filling Juju Smith-Schuster’s shoes. So far so good on that front as Burnett has churned out 16 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns through the first pair of games.
After also losing Darreus Rogers and his ability to make possession catches and move the chains, there were fears about who would fill the role of the #2 WR. When Burnett outgained the rest of the entire receiving core by himself against Western Michigan, people were ready to hit the panic button. Hold your horses folks, SC may have just found their man. After a modest 4 catches for 39 yards against the Broncos, Steven Mitchell Jr. exploded for 94 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinal Saturday.
His 49 yard grab helped position the men of Troy for perhaps their most important score of the game right before halftime. Both of his touchdown catches came in the back of the end zone, where he displayed improved route running and awareness while finding the soft spots of Stanford’s defense. With his elite speed (4.48 40) and quickness, don’t be surprised if Mitchell continues his bounceback season from a torn ACL and cements himself as the #2 receiver in the next few weeks. With defenses focused on Darnold, Jones II, Burnett and the litany of other weapons USC has at its disposal, a 50 reception, 800 yard season is definitely in the cards for Mitchell Jr.
5. Take Care Of Business
“1-0 every week.” That is Clay Helton’s motto for the 2017 season and a good one at that. However, it can’t be understated how big of a win this was for the Trojans. To defeat a team who had beaten them eight out of the last eleven times exactly the way they had been manhandled the past few years had to feel good for both players and fans alike.
Now, with the chip off their shoulder, they can finally move forward. With the hardest game of the regular season out of the way, now is the time to really focus. While the September schedule still has some traps, including the upcoming home game against Texas and a Friday night visit to Pullman, October and November will get exponentially easier as they get to play doormats Oregon State and the Arizona schools along with unranked Utah and Colorado. ESPN’s FPI rankings have USC projected to win every game except the Notre Dame game and even in that game, expect Vegas to favor the Trojans.
Overall, SC has a very good chance to run the table to the PAC-12 Championship game and make it to the CFP. But the only way that happens is by continuing to take games one by one. We’re back Trojan Nation. Fight On!