JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR (Jr.) vs. Alijah Holder, CB (Jr.)
JuJu Smith-Schuster, a second-team All-American, is undoubtedly one of the Trojans’ deadliest weapons. In the first installment of the Stanford-USC rivalry last season, Stanford had trouble keeping up with Smith-Schuster, who recorded 153 yards off 8 receptions, along with a touchdown. While the Cardinal came up with a better answer for him in the Pac-12 Championship Game (i.e., Alijah Holder limited him), Saturday’s matchup will be one Stanford must lock down to help prevent USC from efficiently moving the ball downfield. A positive sign for Stanford? Smith-Schuster has only had 8 receptions in the first two games of the season (1 against Alabama and 7 against Utah State). And in last week’s performance, which included 2 touchdowns, he only notched 56 yards off 7 receptions. Holder, who played shutdown coverage against Kansas State’s top receiver two weeks ago, will look to extend his impressive performance against one of the gems of the conference.
Zach Banner, RT (5th Sr.) vs. Solomon Thomas, DT (Jr.)
When USC’s offense and Stanford’s defense take the field, it will feature a matchup of two standouts: USC’s All-Pac-12 first team Zach Banner vs. Stanford’s All-Pac-12 honorable mention and team captain Solomon Thomas. In attempting to pressure USC’s new quarterback, Thomas will have to carry more weight than usual with the probable absence of fellow lineman Harrison Phillips, but Thomas has had his share of success against the Trojans in years past: most memorably, a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown to seal the Pac-12 Championship Game last December. In a marquee matchup with plenty on the line, Thomas will look to be as potent as he has proven he can be against one of the tougher matchups he’ll face all year.
Casey Tucker, LT (Jr.) vs. Noah Jefferson, DT (So.) or Rasheem Green, DT (So.)
It’s not a secret that one of the biggest factors that will determine Stanford’s success this season is how well the offensive line, with two of its three new starters replacing a pair of NFL draft picks, will fare. After a strong first half against a talented Kansas State defensive line, the unit showed some inconsistency in the second half. The Tunnel Workers’ Union will have to put together a more complete performance against USC on Saturday. Casey Tucker will face either Noah Jefferson, who is battling a shoulder injury and missed the Utah State game, or, more likely, Rasheem Green. With Christian McCaffrey having destroyed the Trojans in their previous two meetings, Tucker must do his part to make sure the AP Player of the Year can repeat the same dominance he had against USC in 2015.
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.