On Sept. 9, USC repaid Stanford for two years of physical beatings.

In the 42-24 early September rout over the Cardinal, USC racked up 307 of their 623 total yards on the ground, beating running back Bryce Love and the Stanford offense at their own game.

This Friday, USC gets in the ring with Stanford once more, this time in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., for a chance at their first Pac-12 championship since 2008.

"We missed a lot of tackles in that first USC game," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "We have to make sure those four-yard gains don't become 20 yards."

USC needs to balance the Ronald Jones-led run game again, as quarterback Sam Darnold completed 21 of 26 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns last time.

Trojans head coach Clay Helton bets it won't be that easy.

"You're talking about a very hot football team right now," Helton said of Stanford. "A lot of it can be attributed to how the defense is playing."

The Cardinal have won eight of its last nine games, including a 30-22 and 38-20 victories over Washington and Notre Dame, respectively.

The Cardinal front seven on defense held the two explosive offenses 70 yards below their total yardage averages, including stifling the No. 7 Notre Dame rush offense to only 154 yards.

USC hasn't lost since its 49-14 loss to the Fighting Irish.

Since allowing 377 yards rushing in South Bend, USC's defense has limited Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado and UCLA to only 125 yards a game on the ground (top-20 nationally).

They need similar effort to contain potential Heisman finalist Bryce Love, who notched 160 yards and a 75-yard touchdown last time. He's totaled 1,848 yards on the year with nearly nine yards a carry.

Safety Chris Hawkins remembered failing to contain 2015 Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey two years ago in the same game.

"We almost handed one person the Heisman Trophy that day," Hawkins said.  "We're really going to show how old and how much progress we've made in two years."

After Clay Helton took over as interim coach in 2015, USC won the Pac-12 South Division, but they eventually lost to Stanford 41-22 in the Pac-12 Championship game.

Now on the second year of a five-year contract, Helton took some time this week to pump up offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who is fielding interest for the Tennessee head coaching job.

"It's an opportunity he deserves and is ready for," he said. "He is the most complete head coach I've ever been around. Whoever decides to make him their head coach is getting a valuable commodity."

USC is No. 13 nationally in total offense this year at 489 yards a game. They're also fourth in the Pac-12 at 35 points a contest.

Possibly the biggest difference between this game now and three months ago is the location. Stanford plays better in all phases in the Bay Area, even if Palo Alto isn't exactly Santa Clara.

They score 38 points a game at home, and only 20 per road contest.

They average 110 more yards on the ground at home versus away.

They allow nearly a full touchdown less at home with 20 points a game.

Shaw credited the better play to mentality over location.

"I think we have a better sense of who we are," Shaw said, "what we should do and what we probably shouldn't do."

Helton hoped with his team receiving a bye after their 28-23 win over UCLA that they made the extra week of preparation count.

"The biggest factor for us," he said, "is that we were a tired and beat up football team that needed a week to regroup and get healthy."

USC returns their key starters, except for linebacker Porter Gustin (toe).

Kick-off is at 5 p.m. PST on Friday on FOX.