The USC Trojans and Stanford Cardinal kick off the Pac-12 slate in Week 2 in a battle soaked in history.
A year ago, the Trojans got upset at home against Stanford, and Clay Helton was fired in what sparked an endless coaching search.
A year later, things are very different. Stanford crushed Colgate in Week 1 and the Trojans handled Rice at ease. This game has all types of storylines and could make for some fascinating Pac-12 action.
Here are five keys for the USC offense against Stanford, as the Trojans hope to have a smooth ride on The Farm in Palo Alto against David Shaw, who thinks he can spring an ambush.
CALEB WILLIAMS CONTINUES TO PLAY WELL
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 03: Caleb Williams #13 and Miller Moss #7 of the USC Trojans during warm up before the game against the Rice Owls at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 03, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The story of the year will be the play of Caleb Williams. After all, he is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Williams began his USC career with a strong outing against Rice, going 19 of 22 for 249 yards and a pair of scores before Miller Moss replaced him. The Stanford defense is better than Rice, but nonetheless, this offense hinges on the shoulders of Williams.
THE USC RUNNING GAME
Sep 3, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans running back Austin Jones (6) scores a touchdown in the second half against the Rice Owls at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Former Stanford RB Austin Jones will return to Northern California and play his former team, so that alone is a massive storyline. In the Trojans’ first game of the season, Travis Dye, Raleek Brown, and Austin Jones combined to rush for 104 yards with three scores. Surprisingly, Dye had just 5 carries for 20 yards, fewer than the other two.
Still, the USC rushing attack is potent and will need to have a strong outing against the Cardinal.
THE HEALTH OF RALEEK BROWN
Sep 3, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans running back Raleek Brown (14) poses after scoring a touchdown in the first half against the Rice Owls at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Raleek Brown made a ton of noise in his USC debut. The freshman had 6 carries for 36 yards and a score and added 2 catches for 40 yards while striking the Heisman pose after scoring a touchdown.
However, he left the game with an injury, and that was a concern. Fortunately, Brown tweeted that he feels good on Wednesday, so let’s hope that’s the case.
If Brown can’t go, the USC offense takes a significant hit, so this will be worth monitoring going into the game.
WIDE RECEIVER CLARITY
Sep 3, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans wide receiver Brenden Rice (2) battles for a pass against Rice Owls cornerback Tre’shon Devones (2) in the first half at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The USC WR room is still up for grabs. Jordan Addison had 5 catches for 54 yards and a pair of scores against Rice, while Tahj Washington added 4 catches for a team-high 65 yards.
Brenden Rice and Gary Bryant Jr. each had just one catch and Mario Williams had a pair of catches, so we still aren’t sure who is the #3 option. Nonetheless, USC needs to find a way to get these other receivers involved more, and with a much-anticipated close game, perhaps we will see more of a downfield passing attack.
GET OUT TO AN EARLY LEAD
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 03: Head coach Lincoln Riley of the USC Trojans celebrates a touchdown with Caleb Williams #13, to take a 14-7 lead over the Rice Owls, during the second quarter at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 03, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Trojans can’t afford to play from behind or have this game too close, especially with the game being played at Stanford. The Trojans jumped out to a 31-14 lead at halftime against Rice, then added points in the third quarter, so we saw what this offense is capable of. The offense scored 45 against Rice, while the defense scored 21 on three pick-sixes.
Lincoln Riley and Company need to come out firing and jump out to an early lead to give the defense some breathing room.