Before the season began, the possibility of a 1-2 start to the USC season seemed high, but no one in Troy will be overly happy about the way the Trojans Week 3 match up against Stanford played out.
USC struggled to stop Christian McCaffrey and the Cardinal offense while the Trojan offense never found enough of a groove to light up the scoreboard.
Here’s a look at who stood out in the 27-10 loss for all the right reasons and all the wrong reasons:
Who were the studs?
Adoree’ Jackson: The Trojan cornerback continued to build his All-American resume against the Cardinal. They only threw his way twice, with good reason.
Jackson broke up first deep attempt to Michael Rector in the endzone. Then in the second half he beat Rector to another long ball for the interception.
Stanford’s offense found plenty of success, but none of it came Jackson’s way as he pitched in six tackles, which was second best on the team.
Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II: Neither of USC’s running backs gained more than 70 yards, but the two were the most effective weapons for the Trojan offense. They averaged 5.04 yards per carry, with Jones punching in a touchdown.
That they combined for just 25 carries is a reflection of the scoreline and some questionable decisions on offense.
Steven Mitchell: After a quiet start to the season, Mitchell stood out as the main target for the USC passing attack. He finished with five catches for 55 yards including three first down receptions in the first half.
Christian McCaffrey: USC couldn’t live with the Stanford running back who finished with 165 rushing yards, 73 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
McCaffrey was successful grinding out yards up the middle, flashing his speed on longer runs and getting open as a receiver. It wasn’t the same kind of dominating performance as he had in the Pac-12 Championship game, but it did the trick.
Sep 17, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; USC Trojans offensive tackle Zach Banner (73) prepares to enter the field prior to a NCAA football game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Who were the duds?
Offensive Line Discipline: USC had five false starts in first first half, including three on one drive, and six total in the game. Those pre-snap penalties were small, but crippling, especially for an offense that has struggled to find a rhythm in the first place.
It’s a shame because the offensive line as a whole seemed more effective as a blocking unit, against a tough defensive front like Stanford’s. Unfortunately their early sloppiness killed USC’s offensive chances early, which is unacceptable for such a veteran group in the least hostile stadium in the Pac-12.
Tee Martin: USC’s offense was incoherent against the Cardinal. At times, the Trojans were as bright as they have looked all season, running the ball effectively and effortlessly. Then, they got cute, mixing in zone-reads Max Browne would never run, unnecessary flea-flickers and inexplicable passing plays after strong run gains.
Under Martin, the Trojan offense remained with out an identity, something that hurt them greatly against Stanford.
Martin’s biggest sin remains his usage of JuJu Smith-Schuster. The stellar wide receiver has been shut down twice in three games, partially because the offensive coordinator doesn’t seem to know what to do with him.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Undoubtedly, Smith-Schuster’s lack of targets in the first half wasn’t ideal for the Trojans, but when the ball did come his way, the receiver let his quarterback down. Browne hit Smith-Schuster in the endzone for what should have been a touchdown — one that could have put the Trojans within ten early in the fourth quarter — but the junior dropped it in a one-handed attempt.
Clay Helton: After gaining the first win of his official USC coaching era last week, Helton couldn’t manufacture a second victory in five games. Stanford is far from easy opposition, but Helton’s decisions didn’t exactly help give USC a chance.
The most glaring of those was the decision to punt near midfield, down 17 points with under ten minutes to go. After the game Helton said he wanted to pin the Cardinal deep, but the Trojan defense was too gassed at that point to stop Stanford from milking four minutes off the clock.
Clancy Pendergast: Justin Wilcox couldn’t stop Christian McCaffrey. Neither could Pendergast. But just as his predecessor caught flack for his failure to slow No. 5, USC’s current defensive coordinator must answer for the breakdowns which allowed the Cardinal to control the game.
McCaffrey’s long touchdown catch, which saw Trojan defenders leave the Heisman contender wide open on a wheel route, was as devastating a mistake as breakdowns against Alabama. Later, Michael Rector’s end-around proved to be the killing blow for a USC defense that continues to give up big plays.