2021 Game 2: USC Football vs. Stanford
Stanford Cardinal (0-1. 0-0) at No. 14 USC Trojans (1-0, 0-0)
United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at 7:30 p.m. PT on FOX
Cardinal to Watch: Junior RB Austin Jones
Talented tailbacks have been a staple of the modern resurgence of Stanford football from Toby Gerhart to Bryce Love, but as the results have faded in recent years, the Cardinal have struggled to maintain that power run game. Stanford was 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing the last two full seasons (2018 and 2019), but ticked up a bit last year with Jones as the leading man. While he had a rough opening game against Kansas State (25 yards on 9 carries), he led the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns with 9 in 2020.
Stanford head coach David Shaw could not decide between his two quarterbacks going into their season opener, so he played both Jack West and Tanner McKee, and McKee emerged as the starter for week two against the Trojans. McKee is the pedigree play, ranked the No. 3 pro-style QB in 2018 behind only Trevor Lawrence and JT Daniels, so the talent is there. The key for the Trojans is to not let McKee get his footing and grow in confidence as he's still an inexperienced player having missed two years on his Mormon mission.
Gas Pedal Down
In 2019, Graham Harrell's first year as USC offensive coordinator, the Trojans scored 31 points in a tight opener against Fresno State. They came back in week two and absolutely eviscerated Stanford, opening up the offense for 45 points as Kedon Slovis passed for 377 yards in his first career start. After a balanced game plan in a 30-point effort versus San Jose State, expect Harrell and Slovis to attack the Cardinal more aggressively on Saturday. To do so, they'll need some of the other explosive weapons to make an impact like Michael Trigg or Gary Bryant Jr.
Run It Back
The USC defense played with consistent effort and execution over the course of 60 minutes last week. The Trojans stopped the run, blanketed the receivers and harassed the quarterback. In year two under Todd Orlando, this could be a special group with playmakers at all three levels. Stanford's offense is lacking identity and low on confidence, so this is a great opportunity for USC to build its reputation as a dominant defense.