Football looks for improvements before Stanford

Freshman wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown had seven receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown against UNLV. (Catherine Liang | Daily Trojan)

Coming off a strong 43-21 season opening victory against UNLV, No. 17 USC now turns its attention to Saturday’s matchup with Bay Area rival No. 10 Stanford.

USC had a lot of positives to take away from its first victory. Freshman quarterback JT Daniels looked poised and played a smart game as the first true freshman to start on opening day for the Trojans since Matt Barkley in 2009. Freshman receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown showed why he was one of the top-rated players at his position and that his chemistry with Daniels is still strong from high school when they both attended Mater Dei. He led the Trojans with seven receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. Senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware had a breakout game after three years of not being a featured back, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries. Along with sophomore running back Stephen Carr, who had nine carries for 54 yards and a 73 yard kickoff return, the Trojans’ new dynamic duo looked like it is ready to replace the loss of Ronald Jones II, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Against Stanford, however, USC is looking to deliver a much better performance. Head coach Clay Helton is very aware of what Stanford is capable of.

“I have a lot of respect for both their players and their coaching staff, having competed against them for the last nine years,” Helton said. “It’s always been a great game, … a close game [and] a physical battle.”

Last year, USC defeated Stanford twice at home, once in the third week of regular season play and again in the Pac-12 title game. However, star senior and Heisman Trophy candidate running back Bryce Love was unstoppable, rushing for a combined 285 yards and two touchdowns despite USC’s defense being focused on containing him. According to Helton, USC cannot just focus on the ground game this time around.

“Offensively, obviously, one of the better rushing attacks there’s been in our conference over the last nine years, bringing in a premier rusher as we all know in Bryce Love,”  Helton said. “Seeing them last week, against San Diego State, with a loaded box, they had to resort to the passing game. I think that’s kind of been the biggest change for them over the last year, is the advancement of [junior quarterback] KJ Costello, what [head coach David Shaw] has done with him and how he has progressed has been impressive.”

Oftentimes an afterthought to Love, Costello had one of his finest games for Stanford, passing for 332 yards and four scores to one interception. He almost exclusively targeted senior wideout JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who had a monster 226 yards and three touchdowns. Though USC will still be focused on Love, Costello and Arcega-Whiteside give Stanford three elite players that will keep the Trojans guessing.

Daniels’ first trip to The Farm

When asked what his expectations were of his first road game, especially such a high-profile one, Daniels downplayed any nerves.

“Don’t have any,” Daniels said. “I’m really just focused right now on getting to know their defense and understanding what we need to bring.”

Daniels also acknowledged that the Trojans are still growing as a team and that they hope to be much better than they were last weekend.

“Nobody’s mad. We won the game,” Daniels said. “We just know it’s gonna take some time and some extra reps … The more you play, the more comfortable you get at a faster rate. My first couple snaps, I had zero college snaps; by the fourth quarter, I had 30 or so.”

On the transition from the high school game to college, Daniels pointed out two key factors.

“Size and speed [are] obviously something that’s different when you’re going from high schoolers to college featuring NFL football players,” Daniels said. “[The] stadium is definitely a change. Not like Mater Dei, but the Coliseum is pretty good too. In general, there’s just a lot of medium to big things that are a lot different.”