Stanford Cardinal hosts USC Trojans in Pac-12 opener

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images /

A top-20 battle is on hand Saturday at The Farm as the Number10 Stanford Cardinal take on the Number17 USC Trojans in the first conference game of the year.

No doubt last weekend, the Stanford Cardinal knew the San Diego Aztecs’ game plan was to zero in on last season’s running back who led all Power Five backs in rushing yards. Bryce Love never got free, finishing with only 29 yards on the ground.

But after a shaky start, offensively, the Cardinal made the Aztecs pay for focusing on stopping Love with the passing game. A new early Heisman candidate emerged in the form of JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

Arcega-Whiteside tallied six catches for 226 yards and three touchdowns, to help the Cardinal break open a close game after the first half. The Aztecs’ defenders struggled with the size of Arcega-Whiteside, who took advantage of the one-on-one situations.

Stanford Cardinal
Stanford Cardinal /

Stanford Cardinal

Colby Parkinson added a late score in the fourth quarter as Stanford took the opener, 31-10, when the Cardinal air attack highlighted the evening.

K.J. Costello threw for 332 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Costello showed no signs of rust after missing spring practices due to an injury suffered last season in the Alamo Bowl. The fear was Costello would be out of sync, potentially leading to an upset by San Diego State.

After an odd sequence just before halftime, the momentum quickly changed in favor of the Cardinal after Costello found Arcega-Whiteside. The damage came in the second half, ensuring victory.

Ground and pound is the traditional Stanford formula in winning football games, but had to resort to relying on the passing game against San Diego State. Credit the Aztecs for stuffing the Cardinal ground attack, but the improvements just did not come for the Stanford offensive linemen.

The Cardinal must find ways to keep the defense off balance as the ground attack remained silent. Stanford finished with only 50 yards on the ground, the third-fewest under coach David Shaw.

Love took an early hit to his Heisman campaign but will get an opportunity to show off his explosiveness against the Trojans, an opponent he has torched in the past.

USC is coming off an unimpressive 43-21 opening win at home against UNLV. The Trojans’ defense was weak in containing the running game last season. After one game, signs of improvement did not show, as the Rebels rushed for 308 yards.

Once the favorites in the conference during the days of Pete Carroll, USC has never been the same since the NCAA sanctions stemming from the Reggie Bush scandal. With the punishments well in the past though, the Trojans still do not have the same dominance they did when Carroll was the head coach.

There is no question about recruits wanting to go to USC, which features excellent facilities and academics, but the pieces have not yet fallen into place. Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian could not win big games, resulting in seasons going south.

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A corner appeared to have been  turned last season with head coach Clay Helton. USC defeated Stanford twice, including the Pac-12 Championship, to finally bring the Trojans back to relevancy. The only problem – no College Football Playoff as the Pac-12 chose to beat each other up.

Back to the current USC team as Coach Helton chose a true freshman to lead the Trojans at quarterback. JT Daniels emerged out of camp to win the job. He became just the second freshman to start USC’s opener since Matt Barkley.

Daniels managed to shake off the early jitters of making his first start in the Coliseum with 282 yards and one touchdown. He managed to find chemistry with his teammate from high school, Amon-Ra St. Brown, as the two connected for the only receiving touchdown of the contest.

With the loss of critical players on defense for Stanford entering the season, the defense appeared to come together after the early struggles from the offense. The defense held the Aztecs to only three points in the second half.

As Daniels will be making his first real start on the road, the Cardinal defense must make him uncomfortable right from the start. Stanford should have an edge over the young receiving core of USC. Daniels is bound to make mistakes and disrupting the pocket will enable opportunities for potential turnovers.

Stanford’s defense did face adversity as the team did not have an answer to stop Juwan Washington. He racked up 158 yards on the ground but became a non-threat as the Aztecs’ offense began to sputter in the second half.

Aca’Cedric Ware and Stephen Carr will present a tough challenge for the rebuilding defensive line for Stanford. Both can be challenging to bring down if given room to run. The two have given Stanford problems in the past and will look to continue the trend.

College Football Playoff implications are on the line for both teams. Stanford can make a statement and back up the claim if the defense continues to solidify throughout the season. USC hopes to break through finally and finally get back in the national spotlight.

Saturday’s showdown begins at 5:30 pm on FOX.

Next. Stanford Cardinal Open Season Against San Diego State. dark

Early Pac-12 bragging is on the line as a physical battle is on hand between Stanford and USC. Expect a close game to the end as both teams will look to avoid an early loss to the campaign.