- Bryce Love and K.J. Costello did their thing, but it was the Cardinal defense that was the most impressive aspect of their Week 2 win over USC.
K.J. Costello was sharp and Bryce Love got his carries. Those things were—and will continue to be—expected for Stanford all season. The main question mark for the Cardinal is its defense after losing its top lineman to the NFL for a second consecutive year.
Queries into the strength of the unit were answered when Stanford held rival USC to zero offensive touchdowns in a 17–3 win on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 championship game. It was the first time the Trojans didn’t score a touchdown since their 2016 season opener against Alabama, a 52–6 loss.
The Cardinal may not have Solomon Thomas (drafted by the 49ers in 2016) or Harrison Phillips (Bills in 2017) or All-Pac-12 safety Justin Reid, standout cornerback Quenton Meeks or former starting linebacker Peter Kalambayi (all in the NFL), but it proved dominant. The group pressured USC true freshman JT Daniels, generated a pass rush and sacked him four times.
After going 21 of 35 for 282 yards with a touchdown in USC’s season opener last week against UNLV, Daniels was 16 of 34 for 215 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions this week.
There were times Daniels, who was playing through a bruise in his throwing hand, looked like he was going to be a spark for USC. With 1:18 to play before halftime and Stanford only leading 7–0, Daniels had the Trojans facing fourth-and-2 at the Cardinal 40-yard line. He was promptly sacked by Joey Alfieri for a loss of nine yards and fumbled. Stanford responded with a five-play, 51-yard scoring drive that spanned 44 seconds and was capped by a Costello 9-yard touchdown pass to Colby Parkinson.
Later, with 6:36 remaining in the game, Daniels tried to find longtime high school teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown on third-and-11, but the pass was batted down.
The dagger came with 2:22 left. Daniels was leading his most promising drive of the day as he completed passes of 35- and 28-yards to get the Trojans to the Stanford 15. Then on first down he was intercepted by safety Malik Antoine at the goal line. Daniels threw a second interception two minutes later, which also came at the hands of Antoine.
Stanford controlled the game from the start, driving down the field on its first possession and scoring on a six-yard rush from Love. The Heisman Trophy candidate was held to 29 total yards and no touchdowns in last week’s season opener against San Diego State, but was able to get into more of a rhythm, break through tough tackles and get 22 touches for 136 yards with a touchdown against the Trojans. Costello went 16 of 27 for 183 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. He found at least six different receivers, three of whom had at least four receptions.
After the game, David Shaw said on the broadcast that his team can improve and play better, but with this convincing defensive performance, it showed this team could be the Pac-12’s best candidate to potentially represent the conference in the College Football Playoff race.