Posted on September 4, 2018, by Travis Pulver
It’s easy to look at USC and discredit them because they have a true freshman at quarterback. But, in recent years, Georgia nearly won a title with one. Alabama rode one to a national championship last year after inserting him in the second half. So, that argument doesn’t really hold water.
Stanford, on the other hand, has an established leader at quarterback, a Heisman contender at running back, and a talented, experienced offensive line to clear the way.
So, when these two Pac-12 titans meet on Foster Field in Stanford Stadium Saturday night, will it be youth or experience that wins the day?
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JT Daniels had some growing pain in his first start against UNLV last week. But ultimately, the 18-year old freshman was able to lead the Trojans to a 43-21 win. He didn’t have a stellar passing day, but it wasn’t bad either (22-35 for 282 yards and a touchdown).
“It’s hard to put in words what it’s like to run out there and hear everybody cheering for you and rooting you on. For my first time in the Coliseum, it was really magical,” Daniels said after the game.
He appeared to find a favorite target in a former high school teammate, Amon-Ra St. Brown (seven receptions for 98 yard and a touchdown). The run game held up its end of the bargain with 219 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries.
But the Trojans have to be concerned about their run defense. UNLV gashed the USC defense for 308 yards and a touchdown on 43 carries. They are going to face much better running backs than UNLV’s tandem this season (like Stanford’s Bryce Love). If they don’t fix it, the season could be in trouble already.
Everyone in the country is going to expect to see Stanford ride Bryce Love to victory. San Diego State certainly did in Week One and was prepared to stop him (and did; he had just 29 yards on 18 carries). But in doing so, they left themselves vulnerable to the passing game—and K.J. Costello and JJ Arcega-Whiteside made them pay.
Costello ended up connecting on 21 of 31 passes for 332 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. Six of those completions, 226 yards, and three touchdowns went to Arcega-Whiteside.
“That’s what their game plan was, to load up the box and play one-on-one on the outside,” Arcega-Whiteside said after the game. “That’s what you want and all you can ask for. Now teams know they can’t just load up the box and play one-on-one on the outside.”
Thanks to their success in the vertical passing game, Stanford’s longest drive of the night was only seven plays. Will Costello be able to drive the ball against better teams? Will the passing game step up the next time a defense stops Love?
So—who’s going to win?
USC will probably try to do like the Aztecs and do whatever they can to stop Bryce Love. But unlike the Aztecs, their secondary is probably not going to allow Costello to go off like he did. Then again, with how easily UNLV ran on the Trojans, it is not hard to imagine Love having a career day against them.
However, USC may try the best defense against a guy like Love—keep him off the field. If they can get their run going against a questionable Stanford front, they could control the clock and force the Cardinal to sideline their best player.
The Prediction: Take Stanford to win, but they will not cover the spread (-5). Expect the Cardinal to run much more than they did last week and for Love to be much more effective. Don’t expect Costello to have another huge day. Look for USC to keep it close with the run game but not get enough from the passing game to pull out a win in the end.