Can Stanford spoil Lincoln Riley’s Pac-12 debut?

Sept. 9, 2022, 6:33 p.m.

The energy in the Coliseum was palpable for the first time in over half a decade last week. USC’s (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) amalgamation of off-season additions played greater than the sum of its parts against Rice.  The Trojans scored more points in their 66-14 win against Rice than at any point in Clay Helton’s tenure as head coach. 

During their recent down years, USC has had several kryptonite opponents. Arguably their biggest? The Stanford Cardinal (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12). Stanford has won nine out of its last 14 meetings against the Trojans, including last year’s drubbing in the Coliseum. The Cardinal will once again have a chance to stunt the Trojans’ rise to the top of the Pac-12 on Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif. 

“I always remind people that we’ve been playing USC longer than we’ve been playing Cal,” Stanford head coach David Shaw told the press on Tuesday. “I think we’ve had a lot of exciting games, especially over the time that I’ve been here.”

While the Cardinal dominated Colgate in their season opener, the team still made several mistakes across all units. Stanford cannot make the same mistakes on Saturday if the team wants to come out victorious. 

“We were able to make some mistakes without costing us the football game,” said Shaw. “Any of those mistakes in a tightly contested game could lose a game for us.”

Stanford’s defense will have to look considerably better than it did last season, when the Cardinal ranked 106th in total defense. USC quarterback Caleb Williams is one of the best in the nation, and he has an elite stable of wide receivers.

“[Lincoln Riley] wants to give their playmakers the ball in space,” said senior safety Johnathan McGill. “Our eye discipline is something we’re going to have to work on for this upcoming week.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom for the Cardinal. In junior Tanner McKee, Stanford possesses one of the only quarterbacks in the Nation who can go toe-to-toe with Williams. McKee had one of his best performances last season against the Trojans, accumulating 234 yards passing and two touchdowns. However, USC’s 33 new transfers make it difficult to project any past matchups toward this year’s performance.

“It’s definitely a new year, can’t dwell on the past,” McKee said. “I definitely think we can come in with confidence due to the work we put in in the offseason than the fact we beat them last year.”

McKee is surrounded by a group of athletic, experienced receiving threats. These include star junior TE Benjamin Yurosek, fifth-year receiver Michael Wilson, fifth-year receiver Brycen Tremayne, senior Elijah Higgins and junior receiver John Humphreys. And it certainly seems like the trust between the quarterback and receivers has been forged. 

“If we can find a one-on-one matchup, that’s all that we’re looking for with the guys that we have at receiver,” McKee said. “Our guys with Brycen, Elijah, John, Mike, Ben, all those guys can make plays on one-on-one matchups.”

This game is a chance for McKee to show he’s a first-round talent, and that he is able to compete with the best quarterbacks in college football.

Kickoff for the game is set for 4:30 p.m PT at Stanford Stadium.

Kaushik Sampath is a desk editor for the sports section. He is a sophomore from Fayetteville, Arkansas, who's undecided on his major. You can catch him watching and ranting about his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks or hanging out with friends on campus. Contact him at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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