In advance of Stanford’s football game against USC on Saturday, The Daily’s Do-Hyoung Park chatted with Will Hanley of the Daily Trojan to preview the contest.
Do-Hyoung Park (DP): USC’s offensive showing against Fresno State was absolutely remarkable — 105 plays, 701 yards and 52 points — and it seems that the hurry-up, no-huddle offense worked to perfection for the Trojans. Cody Kessler, who operated under a very pro-style offense last season, looked comfortable in the new system and showed the ability to lead an offense that arguably had the best showing in the Pac-12 last week. How well do you think that this success will translate against a Stanford defense that is bigger and faster and has a track record of shutting down hurry-up offenses?
Will Hanley (WH): I certainly think the Trojan offense will struggle on Saturday, at least to an extent. Nothing will come easily, which will frustrate the team, especially the younger players. I think eventually, however, the offense will break through. Many of these players, most importantly Cody Kessler, were on the team that outlasted Stanford last year. Kessler knows how efficient he’ll have to be, and he knows that his top target (Marqise Lee last year, Nelson Agholor this year), will often be covered. Tailback Buck Allen, who was also a key player in last year’s game, will know he has to be patient and pick his spots as to not beat himself up against a physical team. Perhaps most importantly, we have a head coach who has played Stanford and knows what it takes to beat them — even if he hasn’t always had the right team to do it..
DP: The Trojans have one of the stoutest front sevens in the conference, but the biggest question that has loomed has been the defensive depth. Against slower-paced teams like Stanford, that seems to be less of an issue, as was shown last year when the Trojans almost exclusively played their first-team defense against the Cardinal. However, Leonard Williams, a consensus first-team All-American on the defensive line, has been dealing with an ankle injury and he’s reportedly been held out of practices as well. Although it’s been reported that he’ll play, do you think that this could potentially be a weak point for the USC defense on Saturday?
WH: USC’s defense never seems to get enough credit, especially when the unit kept the team afloat during the dark days of 2013. I’m not too worried about Leonard; Sarkisian insists the All-American is ready to go for Saturday’s game. Plus, Williams is used to playing through pain — he played nearly all of last season with a nagging shoulder injury. I am worried that Stanford’s offense will stay on the field and tire the Trojan defense out. Bend but not break only works for so long.
DP: After having to prepare and game-plan for Fresno State’s fast-paced offense last weekend, the USC defense will have to regroup and get ready for a very different, more complicated and more physical Stanford offense. How effectively do you think they will be able to get ready for a contrasting Stanford scheme? Do you think there will be early-season adjustment pains as well?
WH: I’m sure the USC defense will show some growing pains on Saturday. Stopping a team like Fresno State is all about athleticism, of which we have plenty, and instinct. Stopping a team like Stanford, on the other hand, is about staying within your scheme while playing mentally and physically strong football. Luckily, most of the team’s front seven — guys like Williams, Hayes Pullard and J.R. Tavai — have done it before. In the secondary it’s a slightly different story. Younger leaders such as Su’a Cravens will really have to help that group pull together.
DP: It’s no secret that some people within the USC program wanted to see Ed Orgeron given a chance to be the full-time head coach after his success last season. However, with the hire of Steve Sarkisian, Trojan fans got an experienced coach that’s been with the program before and turned around a mediocre Washington team in his time in Seattle. Apart from the Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown fiasco, how well have the team and fans adjusted to life under Sarkisian?
WH: Coach Sarkisian has been a perfect fit at USC. He is a great balance between Orgeron and Kiffin: plenty of football knowledge with enough personality thrown in. We all loved Coach O, and he brought life to a team that could have easily given up last season. It probably wasn’t fair that he didn’t get at least a better look at the USC coaching job, and he certainly deserves a shot to coach somewhere else. But that’s all in the past, and the nation is already seeing how great of a coach Sarkisian is. What we witnessed on Saturday was everything Sarkisian wanted to pull off at Washington; he just didn’t quite have the personnel for it. Now of course I’m not positive that his offense’s performance will continue to amaze, nor am I sure that his lack of defensive acumen won’t come back to bite us. For now, though, we can’t help but be excited.
DP: What does USC need to do to win on Saturday? What are the key matchups that you think the Trojans will need to win, and who are some players for Stanford fans to keep an eye on as potential game-changers?
WH: I’m not too worried about any matchups in the running game. I think both front sevens are solid enough to cancel each other out, and the game’s real battles will come through the air. The Trojans have to remain dynamic in the passing game. Cody Kessler must be able to look past his first read — as I’m sure Stanford will be all over Nelson Agholor — and find his other options. Freshmen receivers Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith must adjust to the physicality and speed of a Pac-12 game while getting used to the pressure of such a big game. If Stanford can stuff the run, pin down Agholor and those two guys can’t get it done, it’ll be a long day for the Trojans.
DP: Do you have a prediction for Saturday’s game and final score?
WH: USC does just enough to win, 24-20.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.