(CBS LA)- The opening week of the college football season was a mix of good and bad for the USC Trojans.
They avoided a late upset bid from the Fresno State Bulldogs, holding on to win 31-23, but they also lost sophomore starting quarterback J.T. Daniels for the season to a torn ACL. Making the injury worse, Daniels had gotten off to a great start in offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s new “Air Raid” system, throwing for over 200 yards and a touchdown in the first half. The Trojans open up their Pac-12 slate with a home game against the #23 Stanford Cardinal this weekend.
Granted, Stanford’s first week back on the field was no picnic either. The Cardinal slugged out a 17-7 victory over Northwestern and in the process saw quarterback K.J. Costello leave the game with a concussion and lost left tackle Walker Little until at least mid-season with a leg injury. Costello is out for Saturday’s game in Los Angeles, but the Little injury is the one that concerns CBS Sports Network college football analyst Ross Tucker the most.
“Walker Little, the left tackle for Stanford, is out for awhile. He is clearly their best offensive lineman and a guy that I think is a potential round 1 NFL draft pick. I think this is going to be a really good game at USC,” said Tucker. “To be honest, I don’t think anybody really knows enough about these young quarterbacks for Stanford and USC to really know which one is going to perform better. They are going to have to really lean on their skill position talent and their lineman, because with these two young guys, you really don’t know how they are going to perform in their first start. That makes for a really interesting game.”
With Daniels out, the Trojans turn to freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, while Stanford will turn to junior Davis Mills. Both players will be making their first career starts at the position. If the game comes down to the skill positions players as Tucker says, he gives the edge to USC simply because of the talent level that the Trojans pull in.
“Playing at home, they typically recruit better skill guys than Stanford. It’s not just Costello for Stanford, it’s Walker Little as well,” said Tucker. “I like the Trojans to pull off the upset.”
Even if the Trojans do win this Saturday against the Cardinal, there is still a rough stretch ahead with games against BYU, Utah, Washington and Notre Dame up next. With a freshman quarterback, Tucker says the coaches will need to stress getting the ball out quickly, in order to make life easier for the young signal caller.
“You try to tell the offensive line that you have to put more on their shoulders. You need to be able to carry the load. Everybody else has to step up and play a little bit better. The coaches will try to design things that the quarterback is comfortable with. They will want to get the ball out of his hands quickly with quick look passes, wide receiver screens, stuff like that,” said Tucker. “Basically, all of the things that teams already do to try and put young players like that in a position for success. The problem is, Stanford knows that and all the teams they are playing know that. They are going to try and take away the underneath stuff, the quick stuff, and make him stand in the pocket and throw the ball deep. That is where the chess match, cat-and-mouse game, whatever you want to call it comes into play.”