Football

USC takes on Fresno State in a Saturday night showdown

Trojans looks to build on win over Stanford with a non-conference bout against Fresno State.

Shane Lee and Brandon Pili celebrate a defensive stop. They are both wearing white jerseys and gold shorts.

USC picked up right where it left off against Rice with an offensive showcase against Stanford, axing the tree 41-28.

To no one’s surprise, offensive firepower was the highlight of the game. Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams and junior wide receiver Jordan Addison looked like they had been playing together for years. The play of the day was a 75-yard bomb from Williams to Addison on the opening play of USC’s third drive. It was not until the fourth quarter that the Cardinal showed signs of life, but by then it was too late.

The Trojans continue to wow fans and teams alike. USC’s offense is tied for first in the country in points per game with 53.5. But can the Trojans keep this hot start to the season burning? Or will they flame out?

The Fresno State Bulldogs are next for the Trojans, and the game could be a lot closer than many are anticipating.

Though some fans may be undervaluing the Bulldogs, USC head coach Lincoln Riley definitely is not. At a press conference after Tuesday’s football practice, Riley said, “They’re very experienced. They know how to win. They’ve obviously got a staff there of guys that are extremely experienced and know how to get it done at this level.”

Though they lack the coveted title of a “Power Five school,” the Bulldogs are no easy win.

Senior quarterback Jake Haener leads the Mountain West conference with 737 passing yards. Haener, the former quarterback of the Washington Huskies, has some experience against Pac-12 teams and showed his capabilities against Oregon State last Saturday, throwing for 360 yards and a touchdown.

Growing up in Danville, California, Haener always dreamed of playing for USC under the bright lights of the Coliseum. Though Haener never got the USC offer, he’s ready to prove why he deserved the chance to play in the cardinal and gold.

“Little Jake Haener was too small to play there and didn’t have enough stars on his name so, you know, I never got that opportunity. But now I get to go in there and play and do everything I can to help our team get a win on Saturday.”

USC’s defensive backs will have their hands full with an extra charged-up Haener and star senior wide receiver Nikko Remigio who put up exactly 100 yards in each of the Bulldogs’ first two games.

And even if the Trojans can combat the duo of Haener and Remigio, the Bulldogs’ run game is tough. Senior running back Jordan Mims ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns versus Oregon State.

The main focal point of the Trojans’ defense should be shutting down the run — a challenge the Trojans have yet to remedy this season. In USC’s first game against Rice, the Owls’ only highlight was a 55-yard run by redshirt senior running back Cameron Montgomery. Against Stanford, the Trojans allowed 221 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

If the Trojans want to win big games, shutting down the run should be priority number one. Fresno State will be a good test to see what adjustments defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has made to to contain the run.

On offense, the Trojans will need to build on their passing game. The Bulldogs only give up 215 pass yards per game. However, Williams threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns against Stanford. The Fresno State defensive backs will need to be on their A-game to keep up with USC’s size, speed and physicality.

Setting a good tempo for throwing the ball, as the Trojans did against Stanford, will open up the lanes for the running backs. If USC can get both the passing game and running game going, Fresno State’s offense won’t be able to keep up.

USC’s entire offensive arsenal will be on display this Saturday at the Coliseum at 7:30 p.m.