USC has the history, the trophies and the lofty rankings but, at least in Pac-12 play lately, there was one team the Trojans have had consistent trouble beating in their in-state rival Stanford.
On Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum though, it was the cardinal and gold that was the big bully in the trenches and the team whose tailbacks were running wild on a good defense. What looked like a shootout early on wound up being an impressive opening statement to conference play as No. 6 USC won their 11th in a row with a 42-24 victory over No. 14 Stanford.
The win comes after six days of wondering what was up with quarterback Sam Darnold, the prohibitive Heisman Trophy favorite who struggled a little in the team’s opening win but responded to all the nay-sayers with a vengeance by starting the game off with 11 straight completions. The redshirt sophomore wasn’t perfect (two interceptions) but was still masterful when moving around the pocket and posted eye-popping numbers of 21/26 for 316 yards and four touchdowns.
As good as he was, his two teammates in the backfield were even better.
That would be the one-two punch at running back in Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr. The former racked up 116 yards and two scores on the ground while the latter, just a freshman, recorded 119 yards. The two not only ran hard to keep the chains moving but showed plenty of burst and quickness to give rise to a potentially new combo of thunder and lightning in Los Angeles.
When all was said and done, the Trojans stayed remarkably balanced and had over 300 yards passing and rushing on the night. Then there was the defense that allowed just a late touchdown in the second half and started to tee off on their opponents with a terrific pass rush.
The loss was undoubtedly one of the more disappointing ones for David Shaw and the Cardinal — more so because they failed to win in the trenches for the first time in forever. Tailback Bryce Love did have some solid numbers with 160 yards and a touchdown on the ground but most of it came on an untouched score from 75 yards out. Quarterback Keller Chryst likewise started strong but the high scoring game quickly got too much for him in the second half.
Few teams were questioned quite like USC was after their opener but Saturday’s blowout win was quite the statement that yes, the program was indeed back on the college football scene. Judging by what happened to Stanford though, it doesn’t seem like the team is done either.