Stanford Cardinal Seeks Revenge Against USC In Title Game

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 25: K.J. Costello
PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 25: K.J. Costello /

The Stanford Cardinal and the USC Trojans collide at Levi’s Stadium for the Pac-12 title game and a likely berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game on the line.

After starting the season 1-2, the Stanford Cardinal have perhaps been the hottest team in the Pac-12. The Cardinal have won eight of their last nine games, and are currently riding a three-game winning streak.

Wins against ranked opponents Utah, Washington, and Notre Dame have shown the physicality and toughness Stanford brings each game. Unfortunately, losses to San Diego State and Washington State have kept the Cardinal from contending for a College Football Playoff spot.

Quarterback K.J. Costello sparked a once vanilla-style offense under Coach David Shaw by igniting the passing game. Costello turned in his best performance last week with four touchdowns and zero interceptions against then eighth-ranked Notre Dame.

Stanford Cardinal Football
Stanford Cardinal Football /

Stanford Cardinal Football

However, destiny was not in the hands of the Cardinal in the 38-20 victory over the Fighting Irish. The results of the Apple Cup would ultimately decide the fate of the Pac-12 North.

To the delight of Stanford fans and players alike though, Washington soundly defeated Washington State in a decidedly one-sided affair.

Washington’s win gave Stanford the Pac-12 North and the right to face USC for the Pac-12 Championship.

It will be the second time these two teams meet this season, after USC came away with a 42-24 win early on in the year.

The Cardinal will want to avoid allowing explosive plays to the Trojans this time around.

USC quarterback, Sam Darnold, had plenty of hype surrounding him before the season with quite a few experts expecting Darnold to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft — should he declare.

His rise to prominence came last season when he took over as the starter at USC and capped the year with a wild win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

But the hype and early Heisman favorite chatter surrounding Darnold came into question when he struggled. He threw nine interceptions through six games with losses to Washington State and Notre Dame, keeping USC out of the playoff landscape.

In the last six games though, Darnold has been making better decisions with the football, tossing only three interceptions over that span. A strong performance in the second half of the season gave USC the Pac-12 South after a 38-24 win over Colorado in Boulder.

Against Stanford at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, Darnold threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns. He also had two interceptions in the game, but the Cardinal could not capitalize on the mistakes.

Running backs Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr each rushed for over 100 yards against a Stanford defense that was not in-sync. Carr has been dealing with a foot injury throughout the second half of the year though. The Cardinal have improved in stopping the run game and hope to limit the impact made by Jones.

Along with the defensive line, the Cardinal secondary is preventing big plays down the field and looking to force turnovers. This group will want to turn in a better effort after allowing Deontay Burnett 121 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the first meeting with USC.

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On the offensive side of the ball, Costello will look to keep the air attack moving — which he effectively did against the Fighting Irish.

By allowing the receivers to factor into the game, the running game will hopefully break through the Trojans defense.

Kaden Smith and JJ Arcega-Whiteside stood out last week as both caught touchdown passes from Costello. The size of the Cardinal receivers should benefit the team in the red zone with the ability to box out defenders on fade routes.

Bryce Love is unlikely to be at full strength but will give his best as he is dealing with an ankle injury. He did not find the end zone last week but managed to rush for 125 yards. In the fourth quarter, Love appeared to aggravate his ankle after getting tripped up near the goal line.

Love rushed for 160 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run, against USC in the first meeting.

The Cardinal offensive line gave Costello time to make plays down the field and they must deliver again against an athletic Trojan defense. Stanford’s line held steady at USC despite allowing two sacks.

In the latest College Football Playoff standings, Stanford checks in at No.12 while USC is No.10, meaning no Pac-12 team will make the final four. Bad losses and Pac-12 teams beating each other up this season prevented even one team from contending.

Stanford has won the conference championship three times since its inauguration. USC made one appearance but suffered a 41-22 loss to Stanford. The winner from the past championship games have come from the Pac-12 North.

Next: Stanford Cardinal Face Notre Dame

A showdown is on hand Friday evening with Pac-12 bragging rights at stake between Stanford and USC. Both teams have come on strong in the second halves of their seasons and should provide a physical matchup.

USC looks to finally regain the throne of the conference while Stanford wants to give them some payback and reclaim the Pac-12 for themselves.