As we do every bowl season, we’re reaching out to other SB Nation blogs that play TCU’s bowl opponent on a regular basis to get some “enemy’s enemies” perspectives. We’ll post their responses over the next few weeks, as we continue to prepare for the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Leading things off with this series we reached out to USC’s SB Nation site, Conquest Chronicles, to ask them a few questions. A big thanks to Brendan Kearney for taking the time to provide answers.
Jamie Plunkett: USC had the tall task of beating Stanford twice in one season, thanks to a rematch in the PAC-12 Championship. The Trojans won the two games in very different fashion, blowing the Cardinal out early in the year and getting in a close battle in the PAC-12 Championship. Did you see improvements in the Cardinal from your first game to the second, and if so, what were they?
Brendan Kearney: Stanford absolutely grew from the first matchup to the second. The September game was just so early, I knew Stanford would come out firing in the PAC-12 title game. One big deal I noticed was Stanford’s third down defense. In the first game they allowed SC to convert 10-12, then limited them to 6-13 in the championship game. Being able to get off the field like that shaved them 10 plus points and 5 minutes or so of possession between the two games. While their offense only scored four more points in the second matchup, they just seemed more balanced and cohesive. In the first game they started hot and cooled off in the second half, in the PAC-12 title the Cardinal offense really clicked all game and looked smooth from the second quarter on.
JP: Stopping Bryce Love seems like an impossible task, and he did his fair share of damage against the Trojans. What makes him such an elite back?
BK: The key with Bryce Love is limiting his big play ability. In every game this season he has had a run of at least 30 yards. He had a 50 yard rush or longer in all but two of his games. He broke out a 75 and 52 yarder in his matchups against USC this season. Besides those two rushes his stats looks like this against the Trojans: 37 rushes, 158 yards, 4.2 yards per carry. I’m not saying those starts are bad, they’re just not spectacular. I mean 4.2 ypc? I know it’s easy to just take away big stats, but the point is this: TCU needs to limit his big plays. Force Stanford to have 10 plus play drives, putting more pressure on Costello.
JP: USC saw both of Stanford's quarterbacks, getting Keller Chryst in the first matchup, and K.J Costello in the second. It's assumed that Costello will be the starter in the Alamo Bowl, as Chryst hasn't played the last five weeks. What can you tell us about Costello's ability?
BK: From what I’ve seen from him I can tell you that Costello is really smart with the football. You won’t see him force a lot, he has only had two interceptions in his seven games where he was significant action. He won’t light up the stat sheet, he has only eclipsed the 200 yard mark once this season. Stanford is just relying on him to be serviceable, enough to keep the TCU defense honest and not selling out completely to stop Bryce Love.
JP: Offensively, USC pretty much had their way with Stanford, amassing 73 points and 1,124 yards of offense in two games. What did USC do that was so effective against Stanford's defense?
BK: I believe Sam Darnold was what really made this offense click in both games. It seems obvious to just say that, but it was clear from this season that when he struggled, the team struggled. I mean just look at WSU or Notre Dame or Western Michigan. In prime time situations, the guy just seems to step up and make the big plays, and in both games he really punished that Cardinal secondary.
JP: USC has had its fair share of dominant college QBs. How does Sam Darnold stack up to Trojan QBs of the past?
BK: I think Darnold will be viewed as one of the best quarterbacks in SC history, but a tad below Carson Palmer and Matt Lienart. He didn’t win a national championship or a Heisman, but he has immense talent and heart. If he can finish the season strong, leading USC to back to back solid bowl victories, people will really appreciate his performance as a Trojan.
JP: If the PAC-12 had to expand to survive, which Big 12 teams would you want to see added to the mix?
BK: Looking at it proximity wise, I would love the addition of Oklahoma or Kansas. Having another football powerhouse in OU would make for great competition year in and year out, and Kansas would bring incredible basketball hype. I doubt either will happen but hey a guy can dream, right?
JP: What can TCU fans expect from their encounter with Stanford fans in San Antonio?
BK: While I haven’t had many encounters with Stanford fans, I have never had a negative one. My boss here at CC also runs the Stanford blog, and he’s a pretty nice guy, so I’ll give majority of them the benefit of the doubt. They should be more than friendly enough, but don’t be afraid to talk a little smack.
JP: Thoughts on who wins the game? Who will you be pulling for?
BK: I am tempted to pull for the conference, especially because I don’t have much hate for Stanford at the moment given the Trojans emerged victorious against them not only once, but twice this year. But I have always admired Gary Patterson, and TCU has been a fun team to watch this season. My gut tells me Stanford just squeaks out a victory, but I’ll be rooting for the Horned Frogs.
Once again, a big thanks to Brendan Kearney for taking the time to provide answers.
The next Q&A will come this Thursday, when I chat with Emily Abellon of Oregon’s Addicted to Quack.