How USC and Stanford match up in the Pac-12 championship game
No. 10 USC (10-2, 8-1 in Pac-12) vs. No. 12 Stanford (9-3, 7-2)
Friday, 5 p.m., Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara
TV: ESPN. Radio: 710
USC offensive line vs. Stanford’s front seven: If USC had rushed the ball every game the way it did against Stanford in September, the Trojans would be undefeated. USC rushed 48 times for 307 yards. “That USC game kind of exposed us,” linebacker Peter Kalambayi said. But USC was unimpressive last game with 153 yards rushing in 41 carries against a weak UCLA run defense. And Stanford has tightened some. The Cardinal has given up 134 yards, on average, in its last four games.
USC (488.6 ypg/34.8 ppg): Quarterback Sam Darnold is back to his usual self. In October and November, he averaged 296 passing yards per game and threw 15 touchdown passes to only three interceptions. Ronald Jones II has seen a big bump in workload. In his last four games, he averaged 24.5 rushes and 168.5 yards with eight touchdowns.
Stanford (394.1 ypg/32.3 ppg): Stanford’s offense has evolved since K.J. Costello became the starting quarterback four games ago. He has completed 59% of his passes and averages 169 yards per game as the starter. Against Notre Dame last week, he threw four touchdown passes. And he has only two interceptions all season.
That has taken some of the pressure off the offense’s centerpiece: running back Bryce Love. Love ranks first among Power 5 conference running backs in rushing yards (1,848), rushing average (8.6) and 100-yard rushing games (10). He has 11 rushes of 50 yards or more, an FBS record.
USC (409.9 ypg/26.2 ppg): USC, which ranks only 104th in pass defense, gave up a combined 797 passing yards and five passing touchdowns in its last two games. The pass rush has been much better. USC ranks first in the nation with 41 sacks.
Stanford (390.3 ypg/20.7 ppg): Stanford’s run defense has been shaky, but its nose tackle, Harrison Phillips, “just plays in people’s backfield,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “His strength, his quick twitch, his effort to the ball — he’s an elite player in our league.” Stanford, Helton said, is built up the middle: Safety Justin Reid leads the team in tackles with 88, Harrison (87) is second, and middle linebacker Bobby Okereke is third with 84. The next closest has 58.
The Trojans’ trick-play touchdown on a punt return against UCLA vaulted the struggling unit to 13th in the nation in average punt return yardage. USC kicker Chase McGrath has dealt with a groin injury and missed a field goal and an extra point two games ago against Colorado. He didn’t attempt a field goal against UCLA. McGrath has practiced this week with fewer limitations.
Stanford kicker Jet Toner has made 83.3% of his field-goal attempts (20 of 24), second-best in the Pac-12. Stanford’s kickoff unit has allowed its opponent past the 25-yard line just once all season.
USC could become the first Pac-12 South division team, in the six years of the expansion era, to win the conference title. … Stanford has appeared in three Pac-12 championship games and won all three.
Five regular Stanford contributors are from the local area: starting offensive lineman David Bright from Yorba Linda, starting receiver Trent Irwin from Valencia, starting fullback Daniel Marx from Trabuco Canyon, Okereke from Santa Ana and freshman tight end Colby Parkinson from Simi Valley.
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