Over the course of the last few years, the Pac-12 conference has become one of the strongest in all of college football. This Saturday, Stanford will take on USC with major conference and playoff implications.
Although it’s tough to predict the future, it will be extremely difficult to reach the College Football Playoff as a team with two losses. That means this conference battle between the Cardinal and the Trojans is more important than ever, with plenty of difficult games remaining on each team’s schedule.
Both programs have matchups against Arizona State, Notre Dame and UCLA remaining, while Stanford also takes a trip to Oregon in November. If either squad has intentions of reaching the playoff, then this game is a must-win.
Like any other conference game, the outcome is sure to be tight. This typically means a few plays and a couple of impact players will decide the game. Let’s break the game down and examine the players who will influence its result the most.
USC Quarterback Cody Kessler
Kessler is the most important player for this Trojan team. The quarterback was incredible in the team’s opening game against Fresno State.
The junior completed 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns by using 10 different receivers. He also added 28 rushing yards and another score on the ground.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian’s uptempo offense worked wonders in his first game. The team ran 104 plays and gained a ridiculous 701 total yards.
Kessler will again be vital in USC’s efforts to take down Stanford. The Cardinal defense is much better than that of Fresno State’s, so the quarterback will have to remain patient and pick his spots.
Although they will probably try to run 100 plays again, the key for Kessler is to avoid turnovers and make smart plays. If the Trojans give Stanford more opportunities and good field position, then I don’t like their odds.
Stanford Wide Receiver Ty Montgomery
Like Kessler, Stanford wideout and all-around playmaker Ty Montgomery will be the driving force of the Cardinal attack.
In the season opener, Montgomery caught five passes for 77 yards and a score. The elusive receiver also returned his first career punt for a touchdown and put to bed all questions about his surgically repaired shoulder.
Montgomery is an amazing weapon to have and will be crucial in the game this weekend. The 6’2”, 215-pound senior is a defensive nightmare because of his versatility. In the victory over UC Davis, Montgomery lined up at several different positions, including quarterback.
With USC’s best secondary player no longer available, Montgomery should be licking his chops. He knows the Trojans must be scheming to defend him, so we’ll see how both sides react.
USC Cornerback Kevon Seymour
The man whose task it will be to slow down Montgomery is USC corner Kevon Seymour. After star corner Josh Shaw got injured and suspended, Seymour became the leader at the position.
Seymour will be huge in this game defensively because of how potent Montgomery is with the football. The receiver was held to only four grabs and 23 yards in 2013, but that was with Shaw handling the duties.
If Seymour can’t handle the playmaker, then USC could be in trouble. They have several athletic corners on the roster, but none of them have a lot of experience outside of Seymour.
Stanford Quarterback Kevin Hogan
Although head coach David Shaw won’t be asking his quarterback to do what Kessler will, Kevin Hogan is still a major component of this game. In Stanford’s first game, he was a very efficient, going 12-of-16 for 204 yards and three touchdowns. He did, however, throw an interception.
Turnovers are exactly what Hogan will be looking to avoid against the Trojans. His job will be to simply manage the game, take care of the ball and get it to his playmakers.
With the strength of Stanford’s defense and the athletes on the offensive side, Hogan will be fine if he just avoids mistakes. If they can pound the ball, maintain possession and score a few touchdowns, then the Cardinal should be in great shape to win the game.
Look for the USC defense to creep up and force Hogan to beat it deep. The USC defense knows what Stanford wants to do on offense and will try to combat that with eight-man fronts. If Hogan can complete a few balls early, it could open up the field for the rest of the game.