Football team prepares for rematch with Stanford in Pac-12 championship face off

Senior captain Chris Hawkins gestures to the USC student section in a game against Texas at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. Photo by Jo Danielle Esteban | Daily Trojan

On Tuesday, the No. 10 Trojans continued prepping for the Pac-12 Championship with extra emphasis placed on readying for Stanford’s offensive weapons.

Defending the fade

The fade route is one of Stanford’s go-to offensive play-calls when on the goal line. Since taking over as starting quarterback earlier this month, K.J. Costello has demonstrated an ability to give his receivers plenty of chances in the end zone. With big, physical wideouts like the 6-foot-3, 222-pound JJ Arcega-Whiteside to go along with tight ends Kaden Smith (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and Dalton Schultz (6-foot-6, 242 pounds), it’s no wonder the fade is a staple of Stanford’s offense.

Containing the route will be a tough, but essential task for the Trojans’ secondary, which has given up the fourth-most passing touchdowns in the Pac-12. In particular, safeties Marvell Tell III and Chris Hawkins will be tested, matching up against both receivers and tight ends in the end zone.

“The Pac-12 refs seem to call pass interference every time you touch somebody,” said senior safety and defensive captain Chris Hawkins. “We know they’re going to throw it, it’s what they do, it’s their bread and butter. KJ Costello loves it, hopefully I can sneak over there and snag one of them.”

Love is in the air

In USC and Stanford’s first matchup back in Week 2, the Trojans were impressive in containing star Cardinal running back Bryce Love. Outside of a jailbreak, 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Love rushed for 85 yards on 16 carries before sitting out of the fourth quarter. He never quite took over the game like he has in multiple contests this year, but this time around USC is anticipating a much more impactful performance from the Heisman hopeful.

“He’s a very patient runner,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “He’s very explosive once he decides to make his move, and he does a very good job of letting the blockers kinda sort out in front of him.”

Junior linebacker Cam Smith played an essential role in slowing Love the first time, recording a team-high eight tackles. However, he emphasized the importance of entering Friday with the perspective of it being a brand new challenge.

“For me, I’m going to look at it like we’ve never played them before,” Smith said. “They’ve changed completely as a team, their whole culture seems different … we have to go out there and compete like we’ve never played them before.”

Trojans crack top 10

USC moved up one spot to No. 10 in the fifth edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings, behind fellow two-loss teams Ohio State and Penn State. Stanford experienced the largest jump in the rankings, moving up nine spots to No. 12 as a result of their win over Notre Dame.