Saturday night’s USC vs. Stanford score wasn’t a pretty one for the Trojans, who scored their fewest amount of points since 1997.
The lowdown: USC opened the game with more than a little concern as the defense conceded an easy touchdown drive to the Cardinal, capped by a six-yard Bryce Love touchdown. Early struggles and an injury to quarterback JT Daniels left the offense wanting.
Hanging on in a 7-0 game, head coach Clay Helton gambled on fourth-and-two near the end of the first half, but Daniels fumbled and Cardinal quarterback KJ Costello led a last-minute scoring drive. He completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Colby Parkinson to give Stanford a 14-0 lead at the break. They wouldn’t look back.
The two teams traded field goals in the third quarter, and Daniels’ first two interceptione in the game’s final minutes sealed USC’s first loss of the season.
The takeaway: USC’s woes on offense were heightened and their defensive performance was typical. While the Trojan defense gave up more than their share of chunk plays, including Love runs of 59 and 28 yards, they ultimately held the Cardinal to a margin which could have been overcome.
Unfortunately, the offense wasn’t even close to matching that margin. They repeatedly struggled in pass protection, even if Stanford’s four sacks feel somewhat minimal compared to the performance.
USC couldn’t recognize blitzes and every Cardinal twist, stunt or delayed blitz seemed to disrupt Daniels, who rarely had enough time to go through his progressions in the passing game.
While the rushing attack showed positive signs at times, the Trojans’ hopes to repeat as Pac-12 champions won’t be serious until they can address their woeful pass protection. It led to stalled drives and wasted opportunities, which ultimately resulted in scoring just three points.
Player of the game: Stanford tight end Kaden Smith looked like a bonafide Mackey Award candidate. He caught four passes for 77 yards, including a back-breaking conversion on 3rd-and-23 in the third quarter.
Stat of the game: Stanford held USC to their lowest scoring total since 1997, when No. 7 Washington shut out the Trojans, 27-0, in Seattle.
Next on tap: USC will head on the road again next week, this time battling the Texas Longhorns in Austin. The rematch of last year’s overtime thriller will have Tom Herman’s team seeking vengeance and the Trojans looking to rebound from their first loss of the season.