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The USC Trojans and Stanford Cardinal will meet in the 2017 Pac-12 Championship game on Friday, Dec. 1 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The winner of the Pac-12 title game will likely go to the Fiesta Bowl; however, USC still has a chance to enter the College Football Playoff picture with an impressive win over Stanford.
These two teams met in Los Angeles on Sept. 9. The Trojans thoroughly dominated Stanford 42-24 in what was one of USC’s most complete games of the season. Stanford started the season 1-2 before coming on strong the rest of the season and finishing with a 9-3 record. Stanford beat Notre Dame 38-20 in Palo Alto last Saturday, while USC is coming off of its first bye week of the season.
USC and Stanford met in the 2015 Pac-12 title game in Santa Clara. Former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey led the Cardinal to a 41-22 victory over USC. The Pac-12 North has yet to lose a Pac-12 title game as Stanford, Oregon and Washington have combined to go 6-0 over Pac-12 South opponents. This is the first game in which the Pac-12 South champ has been favored to beat the Pac-12 North champ.
Get the lead early
In the previous matchup in September, USC went into halftime with a 28-17 lead and held an 18 advantage early in the fourth quarter. That is how you have to beat Stanford. The Cardinal are going to want to use their star RB Bryce Love to control the clock, beat down your defensive line and eventually wear you down in the fourth quarter. That is Stanford football. The Cardinal get into trouble when you force them to throw the ball to try to mount a comeback. Sam Darnold and the USC offense has to get going early. USC needs to be up by more than one score heading into halftime.
Win on the ground
USC rushed for 307 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Cardinal in early September. Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr each rushed for over 115 yards as the Trojans out gained Stanford by 281 total yards and also had the ball for 9 minutes longer than Stanford did.
USC’s rushing offense ranks No. 4 in the Pac-12 conference, while Stanford’s rushing defense ranks No. 7. While Sam Darnold is a spectacular QB, USC needs to win this game on the ground. Get it going early, control the clock and then hit Stanford with some play-action passes. Do that and the Trojans will be the Pac-12 champs.
Get Bryce Love rolling early
Love has 17 carried for 160 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run, in Stanford’s previous game against USC this season. That’s definitely a solid performance. However, because Stanford was down throughout most of the game, the Cardinal were forced to throw the ball more than they would have liked. In order for Stanford to come away with the upset, they’re going to need Love to have a signature game.
If Love does not touch the ball at least 25 times, it’s going to be tough for the Cardinal to beat a tough Trojans team.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
Stanford ranks No. 1 in the conference in turnover margin with a plus-14 advantage. The Cardinal have forced 24 turnovers this season, ranked No. 2 in the conference, and have only given the ball away 10 times this season, which is tied for best in the conference.
Meanwhile, USC has forced the same amount of turnovers as Stanford (24), but has turned the ball over 22 times this season, which ranks No. 9 in the conference.
Stanford is going to need as many possessions as possible. If the Cardinal can score points off of turnovers, great. But even if they don’t, they need to win the time of possession battle and wear down USC’s defensive line. Turnovers are always critical, but it should the number one thing Stanford coaches preach this week. Stanford only wins this game if they win the turnover battle.