USC has looked like a well-oiled machine throughout the first two weeks of the season. The contributions have come from a variety of people, including freshman phenom wide receiver Zachariah Branch, junior quarterback Caleb Williams doing well to maintain his Heisman form, and redshirt junior running back Marshawn Lloyd complementing senior running back Austin Jones so well. The Trojans look primed to contend for not only a Pac-12 title, but a berth in the College Football Playoff as well.
The defense even shored up a bit in last week’s win against Nevada, with the emergence of freshman rush end Brylan Shelby and redshirt senior rush end Jamil Muhammad.
However, head coach Lincoln Riley knows that the work is only just beginning; it starts this weekend when Pac-12 rival Stanford makes the trek down south to face the Trojans in the Coliseum.
This game looks to be a special one because, on top of all the historical significance, it could possibly be the last time the Trojans and Cardinal play for a long while, with both teams opting to join new conferences next season.
“The significance is certainly there,” Riley said. “We’ve talked about that with our guys, we’re not shy about it. This one in particular, yeah. Because of the history and the significance of the timing, we do want to make sure our guys understand the opportunity here at hand.”
The opportunity to build on their 2-0 start is key for this USC team. However, while the talent is apparent, they have not been without their mistakes – Riley would be the first to admit that.
“We’ve had some errors, things we’ve had to clean up,” Riley said. “But we haven’t been overpowered by any stretch and [have been] bringing guys along that we need to bring along.”
The quest to get that first Pac-12 win starts with the defense. In last year’s matchup against the Cardinal, the Trojans gave up 28 points to a Stanford team that finished 3-9 and second-to-last in total offense in the Pac-12. A big key to shoring up that portion of the game will be getting junior linebacker Eric Gentry and senior linebacker Mason Cobb healthy for the game.
Riley is optimistic about their chances to play this week.
“We’re hopeful, I would honestly right now put them both in the questionable world,” Riley said. “I don’t know if either of them is a green light, for sure will go, but I can’t say that either one of them doesn’t have a chance either.”
While the Trojans surely have more lofty goals than just starting off the season 3-0, this win would keep them on track to fulfill their long-term goals, while also giving the Cardinal a nice going-away present.
“I like where we’re headed, and you can certainly see the results,” Riley said. “There’s a noticeable difference right now which is exciting.”