USC Trojans (2-0) were explosive offensively against their northern California rivals, the Stanford Cardinals. And so far, in two games, there’s been no solving the perplexing college football-based equation on how to stop the offense. There are multiple factors, not just one or two players to key on, but an arsenal of Trojans on a mission to prove they are for real.
Stanford came into the hostile Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with approximately 77,614 of mostly crazed USC fans, booing, roaring and swaying the stadium in tribal-like chants, while viewing a Pac 12 showdown that has been favoring the Cardinal. Knowing their recent dominant history in the rivalry, the Stanford had high hopes of upsetting the #4 Trojans at home. But this is a different USC team, one in contention for a national championship, a thirst for winning, a nose for the end-zone.
The Trojans may have been a bit punch-drunk in the first game, but the offense knew exactly what to do in the second … score, score and score again.
This is an attack that springs off long yardage plays in a snap, as the Trojans completed 74% of their third-down plays, while keeping the opponent to 42% on their third-down efforts. Running backs, Ronald Jones (#25) and Stephen Carr (#7) have proven to be too fast, too strong, and too resilient to be denied the yardage needed and beyond. Even more challenging, is the balanced offense that trusts seasoned sophomore quarterback, Sam Darnold (#14), who has been consistent at buying himself time and connecting to a squad of speedy and scrappy receivers, who get equal satisfaction from catching the ball or de-cleating defenders for fellow teammates. The blocking from the receivers is a hidden treasure, lost in the brilliance and revering of the offensive line, led by offensive linemen like the enthusiastic, Chuma Edoga (#70).
USC got off to a fast start when Darnold whipped a four-yard pass to WR Steven Mitchell (#4). But Stanford’s Bryce Love (#20) quieted the raucous crowd, when he pierced through the hearts of Troy’s return team, outrunning his pursuers unto a 75-yard kickoff return.
The rest of the first and second quarters was a slugfest with both teams scoring a combined four touchdowns and a field goal, leaving USC up 28-17.
Just like the previous game with Western Michigan, the Cardinals were in this game early but couldn’t figure out USC’s offense, nor nullify the game plans of USC head coach Clay Helton and offensive coordinator Tee Martin. So far, the offense looks invincible, particularly with the speed and gutsy running anchored by some pretty rowdy and disruptive blocking. They are a unit that seems focused on a national championship, game–by-game, big play after big play.
The defense and special teams are a little undefined yet, giving up kickoff returns in back-to-back games, and giving up scores in the early quarters. But they wake up early enough and defend well in the later part of the game. When the D-line gets going, they are a force to deal with. DT Rasheem Green (#94) leads the D-line in combined tackles with 12, as the Trojans only allowed one touchdown in the 3rd and 4th quarters.
But if the defense wants to improve, solving the quick and early scoring issues will help. So far, close games haven’t been an issue and the Trojans and clicking all cylinders, and very early in the season. If 25th ranked Texas Longhorns (1-1) are planning an upset against the Trojans this Saturday, they will have to stop the big plays by receivers and backs who demolish single coverage and zone defenses, weaving and breaking away for long yards and scores. USC scores a lot, and teams should ready themselves for an offensive machine that tallies quickly and regularly. If the offense continues to jive and the defense gets a little tighter in the opening parts of games, this is a team to reckon with and the UCLA and SC rivalry is setting up to be a doozie.
In addition to the team, the zealousness and spirit of the game can be felt on the sidelines, where players, injured or not, stand on benches in unison, cheering with the crowd and supporting fellow teammates. In terms of alumni, the sidelines are like a who’s who, with former players dropping by to support and mentor young players.
This is the kind of enthusiasm that makes college football real and substantial, even in LA., where Hollywood has to take a backseat to college football. From the football players, coaches, cheerleaders, spirit leaders, band, and fans, the college spirit could not be any stronger. USC, the private school, is a bit rowdy, and on a mission to prove they are for real. Even more heartfelt, is watching the players sign autographs for their young fans, who just may be playing in the same stadium someday.
USC takes on the Texas Longhorns on Saturday, September 16, at 5:30 p.m. PST.
Additional Photos of USC vs. Stanford by E. Mesiyah McGinnis for the LA Sentinel.