Posted on November 27, 2017, by Travis Pulver
When the 2017 season began, fans of the USC Trojans probably thought their team would use the Pac-12 Championship game to lock up a spot in the CFB Playoffs. They probably thought that Sam Darnold would lock up the Heisman with another stellar day throwing the ball.
But things didn’t quite work out that way.
When they last played Stanford back in Week Two, the Trojans looked the part of a championship contender beating then-No. 14 Stanford 42-24. Darnold completed 21 of 26 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns (and two interceptions). Stephen Carr ran for 119 yards, and Ronald Jones had a 116-yard, two touchdown day.
Offensively, you can’t ask for a much better day than that (minus the picks, of course). Defensively, they did a good job against the pass holding Keller Chryst to 15 completions on 28 attempts for 172 yards and two touchdowns. But their run defense was another thing.
Bryce Love gashed the Trojans defense for 160 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
At that point, everything looked good for the Trojans. They didn’t like that Sam Darnold already had four interceptions, but they were winning games. So, who could complain?
No one—at least not until they lost to Washington State a few weeks later. But even with the loss, they still had a shot to remain in the national championship conversation. They just had to win out—but that only lasted a couple weeks.
The issues with the run defense popped back up when they took on then-No. 13 Notre Dame. Josh Adams led a rushing attack that gashed the Trojans for 377 yards and five touchdowns on the ground with 191 yards and three of those touchdowns.
So, with two losses they were pretty much out of the national championship conversation. But by running the table following the loss to Notre Dame, they earned the right to play for their conference title. They beat Stanford once. Surely, they can beat the Cardinal again.
Right? So—who’s going to win?
For the Trojans to win, they need two things to happen. Sam Darnold has to have a good day. It would be great if he could avoid throwing any interceptions, but they at least need him to get on the same page with his receivers as early as possible. They also need the run game to get on track early and stay on track.
When they get both, things tend to go well for the Trojans. But when they are missing one, they don’t. Against Washington State, Ronald Jones II had a 128-yard, one touchdown day but Darnold struggled (15-29 for 164 yards and one interception).
Against Notre Dame, Darnold was good (20-28 for 229 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception). But the run game was terrible. Jones led the way with 32 of the team’s 76 total yards on the ground.
Stanford is not particularly good at stopping the run or pass which bodes well for the Trojans. If the Cardinal are going to have a chance to win it will be because Bryce Love has a 30+ carry, 200+ yard day. If he can keep the ball out of Darnold’s hands and end Stanford drives with points, the Cardinal may have a chance.
USC didn’t so much beat UCLA last week; it was more like they survived Josh Rosen torching the defense for 421 yards and three touchdowns. That will be encouraging to Stanford fans.
But what will be more encouraging, is their own win over Notre Dame last week. K.J. Costello had four passing touchdowns, and Bryce Love ran for 125 yards. Their defense held Notre Dame’s mighty run game to just 154 yards on 44 carries.
Combine that with a burning desire to avenge the loss from earlier this season, and we have the recipe for an upset. If they can use that emotion to get ahead early, get Love on track, and if Costello can have a good game then Stanford can win.
But don’t count on it.
USC is going to be up for this game just like Stanford will. They will be thinking about how they had dreams of a national title when the season began and will want to at least take home the conference title.
Look for USC to take an early lead and force Stanford to pass more than they want to. Costello isn’t bad, but he will not be able to keep up with Darnold. Trojans are favored by three and will cover the spread.