USC-Stanford: A look at how the teams match up

Stanford quarterback Davis Mills (15) hands off to running back Cameron Scarlett (22) against Northwestern during the second half on Saturday in Palo Alto.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

USC (1-0, 0-0) vs. Stanford (1-0, 0-0)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Coliseum. TV: ESPN. Radio: 790.

Marquee matchup

USC passing game vs. Stanford pass defense. Any remaining hope for USC’s season rests on the right arm of freshman Kedon Slovis, who, unlike in his unexpected debut a week ago, has had time to prepare as the Trojans’ starting quarterback. But even a week of preparation may not be enough for a freshman facing off with Stanford’s secondary, which came out strong a week ago. Against Northwestern, Stanford gave up only 117 passing yards, while intercepting two passes from Hunter Johnson. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell proclaimed this week that plans on offense wouldn’t change with Slovis under center, and that includes airing it out in the passing game.


Getting offensive

USC (447 ypg, 31 ppg): It’s hard to know how much JT Daniels’ season-ending injury will alter the Trojans’ offensive plans. Slovis has the arm to sling it downfield, but his decision making, in a limited sample size, has been intermittently suspect. It’s safe to expect a conservative start for Slovis and the offense. That could mean an increased focus on the ground game, where the Trojans excelled a week ago. The combination of Vavae Malepeai, who rushed for 134 yards, and Stephen Carr, who accumulated 99 all-purpose yards, could do some damage against a defensive front that might not be as stout as its reputation suggests.

Stanford (365 ypg, 17 ppg): With its starting quarterback (K.J. Costello) also sitting out, Stanford will entrust the offense to a former five-star prospect. Davis Mills has the recruiting pedigree to suggest he can step right in, but he’d thrown only two passes before last Saturday, when he completed seven of 14 passes against Northwestern. More than likely, the Cardinal will count on the run game to control the ball. Cameron Scarlett probably will carry the load, after he had 23 carries last Saturday. His effectiveness should determine whether Stanford can dictate the game’s tempo. An injury to star left tackle Walker Little, who will miss the game, only makes those matters more difficult.

National college football writer J. Brady McCollough predicts who’s going to win selected games this week. He says LSU will go into Austin and defeat Texas.

Getting defensive

USC (462 ypg, 23 ppg): A bright spot in an otherwise sloppy defensive effort, USC’s line proved in its season debut that it could potentially be among the Pac-12’s best. Freshman Drake Jackson flashed his potential early and, along with senior end Christian Rector, could cause trouble for a Stanford offense relying on a freshman at left tackle. Questions continue to linger surrounding USC’s secondary, but aside from a few youthful mistakes, the unit was fine enough in its debut, holding a less-than-stellar Fresno State passer under 50%. A backup Stanford quarterback makes for ideal circumstances again to iron out any issues, but sooner or later, the secondary will face a serious test. Whether Mills will provide that is an open question.

Stanford (210 ypg, 7 ppg): After a year of questions about its normally vaunted defense, Stanford put together a vintage performance a week ago. Only four of Northwestern’s 12 drives reached Stanford territory, and with a freshman quarterback upcoming, Stanford’s defense is no doubt salivating this week. The Cardinal lost their top two tacklers from a year ago, but replacing them didn’t seem like much of an issue in Week 1. Neither did the secondary, which a year ago gave up more yards through the air than all but one Pac-12 team. Cornerback Paulson Adebo, who had an interception last week, could be the conference’s best cover man.

Something special

Over the previous six seasons, only one USC returner managed to score on a kickoff. Adoree’ Jackson returned four of them for touchdowns during his tenure as returner, but since his departure, the Trojans had been in a dry spell. That changed against Fresno State, when Velus Jones took a third-quarter kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. Jones entered the transfer portal over the summer, only to later pledge his fealty to the Trojans again. In his postgame news conference last week, coach Clay Helton turned to Jones and thanked him for returning.

Of note

Last season, in another Pac-12 opener between these teams, Stanford held USC to three points in a 17-3 win. It was the fewest points scored by the Trojans in a game in 21 years.

Injury report

USC offensive guard Andrew Vorhees (foot) will be available to play, but is not expected to start. … Linebacker Jordan Iosefa, who has missed the last month after dislocating his kneecap in camp, will be out at least a couple more weeks recovering from surgery. … Freshman wideout Kyle Ford (knee) was cleared to practice this week, but is not expected to factor into the receiver rotation as of yet.