Stanford illuminated what is now perhaps an unprecedented gap in their historic rivalry vs. USC last Saturday night. Stanford won for the seventh time in nine games, and while Troy smolders, Stanford follows the Trojans south to face UCLA once more in prime time on the hallowed Pasadena ground of the Rose Bowl.
As we turn the page towards the challenge ahead, two big takeaways from the USC game take the spotlight this week: Ryan Burns vs. the blitz and Bryce Love between the tackles. We have heard all offseason how hard Love has worked to become a between the tackles “complete” back. That’s going to have to be more than icing on the cake if Stanford’s going to truly compromise defenses forced to deal with McCaffrey and Love on the field simultaneously.
Overall Burns had another solid if unspectacular performance. He missed McCaffrey on a double move that should have been six and he foolishly challenged Adoree Jackson on a deep ball that was poorly thrown and chosen. Other than that though, his overall game was pretty much what Stanford asked of him.
However, Burns was noticeably unsuccessful against the blitz. On the four occasions when the Trojans brought the extra heat, Burns was 1 for 4 for 15 yards. With Stanford overpowering a thin USC defensive front, Burns’ struggles with the blitz were hardly impactful. However, with road games coming up in Pasadena and then Seattle in the next 13 days, teams will undoubtedly getting after #17, so we’re gonna look at the play where he was successful here.
The first time Burns saw a blitz was actually the best result of the night or Stanford. The Cardinal had a 1st and 10 early in the second quarter and emerged into a Trips Right Single Left Single Back formation. USC counters with three down linemen plus hte right outside linebacker upright at the line. USC had one linebacker over center and one, Cameron Smith, lined up six wo safeties yards off the LOS over Right Tackle A.T. Hall.
Both linebackers blitz at the snap, but the line holds off the inside linebacker and Daniel Marx picks up Smith expertly, allowing Burns to hit Trenton Irwin on a curl route on the right side. Stanford picked up 15 on the play, and Burns stayed calm, trusted his protection scheme, and delivered a nice ball to Irwin.
Love Between The Tackles
Early in the second half, Stanford put McCaffrey and Love together in the backfield, and motioned McCaffrey out to the left into a Trips Left Strong Left (Tight End Left) and Love in the backfield. With no receiver on the right, USC lines up with two down linemen and two upright linebackers, a front familiar to Stanford fans from last year. The Trojans are in a Cover 2 defense (two deep safeties) but still have seven players within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
At the snap, Taboada and Guards Johnny Caspers and David Bright go man-on-man at the line of scrimmage, while Burkett and the Tackles, Hall and Tucker, fire off immediately to the second level. Love takes a read option handoff going right to left and hits the hole vacated by Tucker and maintained by solid blocks from Taboada and Bright and with the second level erased, Love finishes the run but only after getting into the Trojan secondary for a big gain.
The scheme on this run was perfect, and the execution was even better. Down 6 on 7 at the point of attack, the Cardinal turned the tables with the three firing linemen going straight to the linebacker level where USC only had two defenders. Most importantly, Love hit the hole, made a great little cut, and finished the run hard.
Stanford came back with Love on the next play, this time out its I Formation with Tight Ends bracketing the line and a Single Receiver Right. The Cardinal runs Power, pulling Bright while the rest of the line down blocks. Love follows “Salty Dave” right through the hole and picks up four yards, just like in the days of Taylor and Gaffney. As an aside, Dalton Schultz had a great day blocking, much of it against SC Captain Michael Hutchings of Concord De La Salle.
With a 1st Down in the fourth quarter, Stanford again put Love at Tailback in their Power I formation. Caspers downblocks, Bright pulls from left to right into a kick out block, creating a great seal for Love, who patiently yet aggressively hits the hole and slips through the arms of the collapsing Steve Ku’itolovatu, then brushes off of Dalton Schultz who was engaged and in the process of pancaking Hutchings again. Love almost emerged into total daylight but for the ankle tackling of Porter Gustin.
Stanford and USC are clearly programs passing each other on opposite moving elevators. The Cardinal now takes on a UCLA team that appeared very stout defensively against BYU on the road. Nobody needs to tell UCLA that they’ve lost eight in a row to the Cardinal, or that they should probably blitz Burns in his first road game as a starter. I wonder though, if Bryce Love truly emerges as a complete back to complement McCaffrey, if anything people tell the Bruins in advance of Saturday night is going to matter.