USC travels to Palo Alto for battle against No. 7 Stanford

first_imgTwo games into the season, the Trojans have been on both the giving and receiving end of a blowout, but that is likely to change this weekend as the team travels to face No. 7 Stanford in Palo Alto.Despite the odds seemingly being stacked against the Trojans — not being ranked, off-the-field distractions, Stanford’s junior running back Christian McCaffrey — fans should expect a competitive and hard-fought game until the end.Stanford has beat USC six of the last eight times the two teams have met, including two victories for the Cardinal last season.  The first meeting ended in a 41-31 loss in the Coliseum before the Pac-12 Championship game where Stanford erupted in the fourth quarter to win, 41-22.USC, however, beat the Cardinal in their most recent game at Stanford Stadium, a 2014 matchup that ended in a 13-10 victory for the Men of Troy.The focus of USC’s defense is on McCaffrey, a Heisman finalist last year. In 2015, he broke the NCAA single-season all-purpose yards record, finishing the year with 3,864 yards. McCaffrey was also the first non-Heisman winner to be awarded the AP Player of the Year in six years.In two games against USC last year, McCaffrey totaled 710 all-purpose yards and in the Pac-12 Championship game he rushed, threw and received a touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Cameron Smith is a critical player if the Trojans hope to contain McCaffrey.“We have got to tackle him,” Smith said. “He’s just a human. He’s a great ball player, but we have got to do our job. He’s very elusive.”McCaffrey isn’t the only problem the Trojan defense will face and preparing for Stanford’s thinking man offense, where two plays are called in the huddle and the quarterback makes the final decision at the line, has kept defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast on his toes.“They give you a lot of things,” Pendergast said. “They give you multiple personnel groupings, multiple formations. They force you to have to adjust and you’ve got to be on your Ps and Qs because of the different things they do and you have to be really good at playing situation football.”The Cardinal are known for their power and strength in the trenches, and their offensive line has great experience as they start three juniors, one senior and one fifth-year senior. On the defensive side of things, the Cardinal start only three sophomores and not a single freshman, compared to the USC defense that lists six sophomores as starters.In the last six regular season meetings between the two teams, the margin of victory has been 10 points or fewer. Redshirt junior quarterback Max Browne, who is in his fourth season, has seen the close wins and loses and understands how important his role will be in determining Saturday’s outcome.“I’ve been here long enough to know this game’s going to come down to a few points,” Browne said. “Very competitive team, very competitive rivalry — especially in recent memory. It’s going to come down to a few throws so just staying prepared and executing what we need to do.”Browne threw his first touchdown pass last week against Utah State, as did backup quarterback redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. Both quarterbacks saw significant playing time, and being able to utilize the strengths of both players in certain situations is something head coach Clay Helton expects to do.Despite the two touchdowns against the Aggies, Browne’s longest pass of the game was 27 yards, and the Trojans biggest momentum plays came defensively (an interception) and from the special teams unit (blocked punt and punt return touchdown).“We missed a few last week,” Browne said. “It falls on my shoulders, so making sure those balls are accurate and giving our guys a chance. I feel like that’s one of my strengths -— just going out there and throwing the deep ball. It’s backyard ball, I’ve been doing that since the good old recess days. Going out there and executing those plays, those plays are big momentum plays, so that’ll be huge for us.”Saturday’s game marks the first Pac-12 game of the season and is being broadcast on ABC. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.last_img

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