Now, that’s wasn’t nice. My angelic mother’s words were ringing in my ear over the course of Saturday night: “Is this the way to treat your guests?” Especially guests that have been coming to your home for 118 years, since 1905? Well, jokes aside, the Trojans emphatically sent their oldest rivals out of the Coliseum, out of the PAC-12, and quite possibly, out of college football relevancy for the foreseeable future.
The Trojans 56-10 blowout victory was their most lopsided victory over the Cardinal since christening Stanford’s new stadium in 2006 by pitching a 42-0 shutout. It was their largest margin of victory over arguably the world’s most dominant academic institution since winning 49-0 in 1977. And it was the most points the Men of Troy scored over the wealthiest university to play D1 football…ever.
However, lost amidst the pregame fireworks, halftime drone extravaganzas, and in-game breathtaking highlights were three tangible improvements by the nation’s #5 team:
Three Trojan Takeaways From Stanford Demolition
Big Play Defense
Alex Grinch’s unit went from mediocre to dominant over games one and two. They took another leap into dynamic over the course of their conference opener. The defense went beyond just containing plays to making them, as evidenced by nine tackles for loss and two sacks.
The primary enablers were Max Williams and his first-quarter interception returned into the Cardinal red zone. Solomon Byrd looked like Joe Pesci in a Martin Scorsese film, the primary disruptor with two tackles for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble. While Jamil Muhammad reached his explosive potential yet again with a sack and forced fumble that was ultimately recovered by Tackett Curtis. If the defense can find a way to continue manufacturing sudden change scenarios, there isn’t a team in the country the Trojans can’t beat.
Running Game Rotation
I’ve spoken about the Trojans needing to shift focus from giving lots of guys a few touches to firmly establishing a pecking order. Message received in the first half as Marshawn Lloyd finally got some extended lather as the feature back with nine carries for 77 yards and one touchdown.
Austin Jones chipped in with six carries, 33 yards, and a touchdown of his own while seemingly solidifying the role of change-of-pace RB2.
Caleb Williams also chimed in with a smooth and effortless 21-yard jog into the end zone. A reminder to future opponents that the quarterback keeper must always be accounted for as an occasional third option. This running game hierarchy and variation is an ideal complement to the Heisman winner.
Caleb’s Downfield Accuracy
Speaking of the face of college football, there were only two blemishes to his game last year: a.) periodically holding the ball too long and overextending plays, b.) accuracy of throws greater than 20 yards. Now the Trojans haven’t played a secondary nearly competitive enough to test the former, but Williams looks much improved with the latter. His two best throws in 2023 both came on Saturday – the first was a 75-yard rope in the bread basket of Brendan Rice for an effortless one-play scoring drive. In fact, Lincoln Riley talked about Williams and Rice practicing that play all week and the moment both he and Caleb saw the right formation, they were itching to snap the ball and cut it loose.
The latter was less subtle but perhaps even more impressive. It was his very next pass on the subsequent drive – a back shoulder dart for 22 yards to Dorian Singer that looked eerily similar to an Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams former Packers connection. Williams doesn’t complete that pass in 2022.
For all the praise, we must remind ourselves that USC’s last two opponents lost a combined 15 of 16 games coming into these respective contests with the Trojans. This Stanford team looked utterly lost, the worst version of the Cardinal since the beginning of the Pete Carroll era, as they were attempting to run a Troy Taylor spread offense with David Shaw power players.
As the Trojans head into their bye, they’ve been as impressive as can be. But after one more tuneup contest against Arizona State, we’ll find out if this group has the elusive glass slipper or just a textbook glass jaw.