If there’s one recreation Stanford (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) ought to have circled on their calendar this season, it’s this one.
The Large Sport may function Cal, however Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. matchup with No. 10 USC (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) could be greater. That is primetime, Saturday Evening Soccer, with the eyes of the school soccer world on Stanford Stadium anticipating to see the rebirth of a USC program beneath hotshot new head-coach Lincoln Riley. The rebirth of a program that represents the controversial new world of faculty soccer, with its NIL riches and 30-plus transfers on the roster. A program that’s bolting from the Pac-12 on the first alternative, after enjoying second-fiddle to Stanford and others for over a decade.
Fittingly, this system erasing custom is the one accustomed to vacating wins.
There are so, so many storylines coming into this recreation — a tempest, between outdated and new in faculty soccer. However few, maybe insultingly few, revolve round a Stanford crew that has dominated this collection lately and upset then-No. 14 USC within the Coliseum simply final season.
What a possibility for unfancied Stanford to plant its flag on dwelling soil. Final week’s Colgate recreation taught us little, but it surely reminded Stanford followers of simply how proficient the passing assault might be. Fifth 12 months captain Michael Wilson –– wholesome after an injury-ravaged 2021 marketing campaign –– shined, his 2 landing receptions showcasing his route-running and catch radius. Junior quarterback Tanner McKee had a full arsenal, and even when weapons like junior tight finish Ben Yurosek and senior receiver Elijah Higgins have been quiet, the sheer depth within the ability positions confirmed sufficient to get Cardinal followers enthusiastic about taking it to the Trojans by means of the air.
Unanswered questions stay on each strains, as anticipated. The O-line quietly dominated in pass-protection, as McKee and sophomore Ari Patu had clear pockets all afternoon by which to function. Solely as soon as did a Colgate defender get successful on a Stanford quarterback, and each tackles — senior Walter Rouse and junior Myles Hinton — have been among the many high 5 performers on offense, in keeping with Professional Soccer Focus.
That mentioned, Stanford moved the ball too inconsistently within the operating recreation, given the lowly caliber of opposition. Scouting forward, stopping the run occurs to be a weak point for USC: the Trojans struggled to gradual Rice’s (coached by former Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren) power-run heavy floor assault. The bottom recreation might be a possibility, and if the road can proceed to enhance in run blocking, Stanford’s offense might be two-dimensional in opposition to USC.
On the opposite facet of the ball, Stanford’s protection adjusted nicely to Colgate’s dashing assault as the sport went on however struggled at occasions with a cell opposing quarterback. The Trojans clearly might be a a lot sterner check, and Stanford’s means to carry up the run in opposition to a USC squad that averaged almost 7.5 yards per carry in opposition to Rice could dictate the Card’s competitiveness.
In the end, Stanford is trending impartial after Colgate. The win highlighted the crew’s strengths whereas offering little perception into the weaknesses. Will these strengths be sufficient to propel Stanford to victory versus USC? Truthfully… perhaps? Stanford is clearly the underdog, however a as soon as double digit unfold shifted in Stanford’s course early within the week.
There’s some good fundamentals to recommend an upset, too. It is a completely new-look USC crew, who will begin three newly-transferred broad receivers, two new operating backs (together with former Stanford starter Austin Jones) and a brand new quarterback. Enjoying USC now, versus later within the season, falls into Stanford’s fingers, because the Trojans are nonetheless a work-in-progress and Lincoln Riley should be discovering his greatest crew. On Stanford’s facet, you’ve gotten an uber-stable program and training workers, a house surroundings and a really harmful passing assault. You possibly can perceive why a majority of the sensible cash in Vegas backed the Cardinal to cowl.
Personally, I like Stanford’s odds right here — this simply seems like an archetypical upset. I see this as having three outcomes, every equally doubtless: USC blowing out Stanford, USC edging Stanford in an in depth recreation and Stanford pulling the upset.
Not unhealthy odds for the crew ESPN will ignore within the pregame. Right here’s what the Cardinal ought to take into account in an effort to ship a message to the remainder of the Pac-12.
1. Get Tanner McKee right into a rhythm
Tanner McKee’s quarterback play determines the flexibility of this Stanford crew to take care of high quality opposition. Easy evaluation perhaps, however as we noticed within the Coliseum final 12 months, the gunslinger is the person who can put all of it collectively in opposition to the Trojans and allow the Cardinal to compete in a shootout. McKee was elite within the 42-28 upset win, going 16-for-23, for 234 yards, 3 complete TDs and, crucially, no turnovers.
When in rhythm, McKee can lead Stanford to assertion victories in opposition to the likes of USC, however inconsistency can have an effect on his recreation. Take final week: Within the first half, McKee was on music, going 19-for-21 with a pair of touchdowns. It was near the right half for the quarterback. Nonetheless, within the third quarter, McKee missed a wide-open Ben Yurosek on a vertical seam route, probably costing the Cardinal a landing. The following play, McKee made a poor determination, throwing to no person particularly and getting picked off. One unhealthy play impacting one other cropped up in McKee’s recreation final 12 months as nicely, each by way of decision-making (as we noticed Saturday) and pocket presence beneath stress — stress on one play would result in “pleased ft” on the subsequent.
As McKee continues to enhance, he’ll iron out a few of these wrinkles, however for Saturday, Stanford wants to verify their quarterback is dialed in early. If not, this can be a USC crew that feasted on poor quarterback play in final week’s demolition of Rice, choosing off 4 passes and returning three of them for scores.
2. Win first down
One of many final cliches is to “make your opponent one-dimensional.” Paradoxically, Stanford must do the alternative in opposition to USC. We’ve mentioned the struggles defending the run, and USC — that includes Stanford’s beginning operating again from final 12 months, switch Austin Jones — will pound the rock until Stanford forces them to throw.
Key to this are the early downs. If Stanford can win reps in opposition to USC early on and power 2nd and eight or extra, the protection can start to say itself, forcing USC into apparent passing conditions that can give Stanford’s stingy secondary probabilities to make performs. It might be nice if, by the second half, we don’t know what the guests will dial up on first down — we’d know the D-line was getting stops in opposition to the run.
Profitable on 1st and 10 applies on offense, too. EJ Smith’s 87 yard rating on the primary play from scrimmage obtained the headlines final week, however that run apart, Stanford’s backs managed 77 yards on 25 carries (Smith himself averaged 3.1 yards per carry, ex-TD). Given Colgate’s expertise degree, these numbers are underwhelming. Stanford might want to enhance consistency on the bottom to remain on schedule versus a USC rush protection that struggled in opposition to Rice, giving up a pair of touchdowns and over 5.5 yards per carry to the Owls’s backs.
3. Flip round particular groups
Pete Alamar’s particular groups models have been a place of outstanding power for Stanford for the final 10 years. Such constant requirements made the particular groups struggles in opposition to Colgate an actual head scratcher: Stanford fumbled the ball 3 times on punts, main to some turnovers and the lone Colgate rating. Even when issues went “proper,” the unit simply regarded off. For example, a number of occasions junior returners Casey Filkins and Bryce Farrell would begin too shallow on punts and need to backtrack or make an over-the-shoulder play to haul in a good catch on a punt. Each returners regarded uncomfortable, to the purpose the place the fundamental mechanics of fielding punts regarded awkward, and if the struggles proceed, extra errors are inevitable. Add in sophomore back-up kicker Emmet Kenney’s missed PAT, and it was a really ugly day for Alamar’s unit.
It goes with out saying that Stanford can’t afford any particular groups mishaps in opposition to USC. And it goes with out saying that Alamar, Shaw and the workers might be spending vital time this week to work out these points. However in a meaningless recreation like Colgate, the place the hole in expertise makes any actual analysis troublesome, self-inflicted errors on a usually-reliable unit jumped off the sector as a serious space of concern.
Pablo’s Picks of the Week:
- Stanford 35, USC 31
- Sport I’ll be Watching: Alabama @ Texas
- Upset of the Week: Stanford apart, give me Vandy as a touchdown-plus canine over Wake Forest
Pablo might be within the sales space Saturday to name the sport on KZSU.