• John Skinner

2017 Stanford Preview

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

An ugly win but not as bad as it is portrayed- It was concerning at the Coliseum for 3.5 quarters, but the Trojans pulled out the victory and learned a few important things.  Like we stated last week, this set-up perfectly for a solid Western Michigan team to push an un-focused Trojan team and coaching staff and magnify some weaknesses. However, too much is being made of the struggles.  SC stuck to a basic game plan on both sides of the ball and had no interest in showing very much to a Stanford team they believe will be the toughest game of the season. The coaches were able to experiment with putting certain players in different situations to see how they would perform while also not exposing new personnel packages that will be important this week.  When the Trojans needed to pull out the victory in the 4th, Sam Darnold was flawless and the defense took things to another level. SC was 4-of-4 on third down conversions in the second half compared to WMU’s 2 –for-7 output.  SC scored a touchdown on each of its final four possessions.  Yes, lots of things to work on but the sky is not falling.

Darnold is a closer- Despite a shaky first half, Darnold settled down in the second half and was flawless at the most important time.  He completed 12 of 14 passes (1 was dropped) in the second half, and he had a fourth quarter passer rating of 191.13.  His rare ability to finish strongly creates an infectious confidence in his teammates and that is what separates him from other great college quarterbacks.

Speaking of QB’s…time to move Jalen Greene back to QB?- Against better opponents Darnold is going to be forced to make plays with his feet and could easily get injured. Even if he is out for a few series, SC does not have an answer for this.  Greene is the second best asset at QB in the program.  Obviously they should keep him involved as a wideout but reducing his role and making sure he is getting quality reps at QB in practice would be a smart move. Like it or not, Darnold will have a target on his back every week and Green is not a standout at the WR position.

Cameron Smith is the heartbeat of the defense- It was obvious the defense was without its leader in the first half vs. WMU. The projected 1st round NFL draft pick must stay healthy throughout the season.

Stephen Carr will be a superstar- Last week we stated Ronald Jones III “Ro Jo” and Stephen Carr will be the best RB tandem at SC since White and Bush. They are off to a good start and unless Carr loses his focus, he will play a vital role in SC making a playoff push.  His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make initial defenders miss is what will separate him from other elite backs.  An opposing Pac-12 assistant coach feels he will be the top running back in the conference by the end of the season and that same coach believes Ro Jo will follow closely behind.  The other benefit Carr will have is running behind a very talented, albeit young offensive line who should only improve this year and be a force next season.

Pac-12 championship game preview?- Some Pac-12 coaches and pro scouts believe people are sleeping on Stanford and this could be a Pac-12 championship preview.  The young recruits they have won’t fully fill the gap of losing players like Christian McCaffrey, but it is not the drop-off people expected and they have a lot of all-around talent in the trenches.

Pendergast will need to mix things up or Stanford will run out of the Coliseum with a victory- Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is known for his success against pass-happy/spread attacks in which he can employ his 2-4-5 nickel defense successfully. However, he has consistently struggled against more traditional pro-style offenses, and that is a major concern heading into the Stanford game.  WMU ran for close to have 300 yards and they don’t have near the offensive line talent of Stanford.  We have heard SC has packages they specifically worked on in fall camp for this game that employ 3 and even 4 defensive lineman.  Pendergast will be the MVP if they stifle the Stanford ground attack.

Young defensive line talent needs to start playing a bigger role- If the staff and pro scouts feels that true freshman DL Brandon Pili is the next Leonard Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu can play at/or near that level as well, then they need to be on the field. Freshman mistakes will happen but without their power and ability to make plays, SC does not appear to currently have the elite defensive line that is needed to be a national playoff team.

Stanford defensive game plan- Even though Darnold is a Heisman level QB, Stanford highly respects the SC running game and believe the key to the victory is making SC beat them through the air.  They will stack the box and rely on the Pac-12’s best secondary to disrupt the SC passing game. The secondary includes three NFL level players in cornerbacks, Alameen Murphy and Quenton Meeks and safety Justin Reid. They will force SC to beat them with another receiver not named Deontay Burnett.

SC offensive game plan- SC knows what they have at running back and will want to run the ball around 55-60% of the time.  The SC coaching staff believes the Stanford secondary is the best they will face all year and will need to successfully run to win. However, don’t be surprised if they come out early throwing the ball, especially to the tight ends and running backs. Besides Burnett, SC needs to establish a second wide-out. Look for the tight ends to get to the second and third level far more than they did against WMU, especially if Daniel Imatorbhebhe is healthy enough to spread the field. If SC still struggles identifying secondary targets beyond Burnett, Darnold will need to improvise and create positive yardage with his feet.

Stanford offensive game plan- Stanford will attack relentlessly on the ground with RB Bryce Love (180 yards vs. Rice) and will employ short-yardage back Cameron Scarlett.  QB Keller Chryst is a solid but not spectacular QB and he will look to get the ball in the hands of freshman tight end Colby Parkinson, the #1 TE recruit in the nation last year, and fellow freshman Connor Wedington.   They will keep things simple and do not want to throw it more than 45% of the plays.

Inexperience in the kicking game looms large- The loss of Boermeester could be costly on Saturday.  SC’s last two wins against the Cardinal came down to field goals.  Walk-on Chase Mcgrath will handle the field goal duties.  He looked fine on his extra point attempts against WMU but didn’t attempt a field goal.  Stanford also has a new kicker in Jet Toner. He was 8/8 on extra points and made both of his field goal attempts (34 and 40 yards) in their blowout victory over Rice.

The Bettor’s Guide- SC opened around a 4 point favorite and it immediately jumped to 7 points before settling down at 6.5 points.  SC has won its last 10 at home and is 7-3 against the spread “ATS” in those games.  Stanford is 8-3 ATS in its last 11 game as an underdog and 6-2 straight up as an underdog.

SC is 2-7 in the last nine games against the Cardinal while being 3-6 ATS.  The last time SC was a favorite against Stanford at home (2015), they lost 41-31.

The total is 56.5 points. The over is 4-1 in Stanford’s last five games and 3-0 in SC’s last three games.

Geller’s Take- Time for true freshman WR Joseph Lewis to bolster the passing game – The Stanford Cardinal have the best secondary in the Pac-12, and it will make it extremely difficult for Sam Darnold to connect with receivers. Assuming the Trojans can establish the run game early with a talented trio of running backs in Jones, Carr and Vavae Malepeai, the Trojans need to get freshman wide out Joseph Lewis involved. Lewis, with elite speed and big size (6-foot-2), has been playing well in practice and getting more first and second team reps; Helton even said Wednesday, Lewis may be “a faster JuJu Smith-Schuster.” We know what Deontay Burnett can do, but if he is the lone target, Stanford will double him. With a banged up Daniel Imatorbhebhe not playing at full speed, Lewis’ involvement will be essential this week to the Trojan air attack.

-Austin Geller is a senior at St. Monica Catholic High School and USCfootball.com intern

Carol Skinner Memorial tidbit- Since 2007, Stanford is 9-1 following a bye week and under head coach David Shaw the Cardinal are 6-1 with two weeks to prepare.