Following a near flawless opening performance against Fresno State, the newly-minted No. 14 USC Trojans have little time to bask in their victory with a potentially season-defining match up with the Stanford Cardinal on the horizon.
Stanford presents one of the more physical challenges USC will face all season, but on offense there is plenty to be desired.
The Cardinal return just five starters on offense, leaving the unit with a host of spaces to be filled.
Of greatest concern is the offensive line, which will feature just one starter from 2013 — all-Pac-12 junior tackle Andrus Peat.
A completely retooled offensive line and the absence of last season’s top rushers Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson have put David Shaw at a crossroads.
Having relied on a dominant rushing attack for the better part of Shaw’s tenure as head coach, the winds may be changing for Stanford as the crown jewels of the offensive attack now lay in the air and not on the ground.
Junior running back Remound Wright tallied just 20 carries in 2013 yet he carries the mantle of the Cardinal’s most veteran rusher. Barry Sanders Jr., a sophomore, owns a prestigious last name but has yet to prove his value.
In Stanford’s opener versus UC Davis, Sanders and senior Kelsey Young led the team in rushing, but they each had just seven carries. All told, the Cardinal tallied 149 yards on 32 attempts, totals which were lower than any game last season bar the loss to Utah in October.
With questions surrounding the rushing attack and the offensive line, there is added pressure on the performances of returning quarterback Kevin Hogan and all-American wide out Ty Montgomery, who both feature on the 2014 Maxwell Award watch list.
Hogan is also being watched for the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s most outstanding quarterback while Montgomery features among those tapped for the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s top receiver and the Walter Camp Award for the top college football player in the country.
Indeed, it was Hogan who stole the spotlight in the opener with one of the more impressive games of his career. He threw three touchdown passes and racked up 204 yards in just one half of play before being taken out shortly after halftime.
Montgomery was a standout as well with five receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Of course, that was against lowly UC Davis and the Cardinal have much to prove when it comes to strengthening the second-least productive passing offense in the conference in 2013, especially when facing a formidable USC defense.