PAC12 Championship: Battle of the Running Backs

In College Sports by Jo Anne Mabika

The Stanford Cardinal (9-3) duked it out with The Southern California Trojans (10-2) at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.  Both teams came into the PAC12 championship game with a lot to prove, chasing different types of revenge.  The highlight was the anticipated battle of the ruining backs: USC’s Ronald Jones II v. Stanfords’s Bryce Love.

Setting the Stage

Bryce Love came into the game being considered by many as a top 3 Heisman candidate behind Baker Mayfield and Saquan Barkely.  He’s the highest ranked among Power 5 conference running backs in rushing yards, rushing averages, and 100 yard rush games.  Love’s no. 12 ranked Stanford team has appeared in three PAC12 title games, winning them all.  As a result of having survived the fire before and proved worthy, Stanford was clawing for revenge after USC dismantled their defense earlier this year and handed them a 42-24 loss.

USC’s Ronald Jones came into the game as the first Trojan to have back to back 1,000 yard seasons since 2004.  He is also sixth on USC’s all-time list with 16 touchdowns.  Coach Clay Helton, QB Sam Darnold, and the rest of the no. 10 ranked squad were fighting to be the first team from the South to win the PAC12 title.  Although Darnold had his best game vs. Stanford 12 weeks ago, that was then and this is now.

Friday Night Lights: The Duel

Initially, the Trojans came out strong, running their first play through none other than Ronald Jones for their first down.  Overall Jones ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns.  His ability to patiently wait for an opening and quietly push through Stanfords’s defense was great to watch.  In comparison, rival Bryce Love’s word of the night was courage.  Low hits on his injured ankle sidelined him multiple times, but the kid refused to stay down.  Consequently, Love gritted his teeth and played through pain, leaving his heart on the field with his team.  The versatile running back ran for 125 yards total and had one touchdown.

Stanford QB KJ Costello showed glimpses of potential greatness as he threw daggers that kept his team in the game.  Southern California continued to kick themselves down with costly penalties.  Offsides calls, illegal formations, and miscommunications between Darnold and his receivers gave Costello and Scarlett (his replacement after injury) plenty of chances to get a leg up.  The play of the game came when Stanford’s offense tried to run the ball from inside the 2, for a fourth down.  Uchenna Nwosu had other plans.  That one stop energized a USC defense that has the top number of sacks in the nation and motivated them to hit the gas pedal.  Finally, a fast pass from Darnold to Falo secured the win and USC watched the clock wind down to zero.

Securing the Pac12 Championship for the South took every player on Coach Helton’s team.  Michael Pittman had a monster night with 7 catches and 146 yards. Deontae Burnet, Tyler Vaughns, and Chase McGrath all helped put points on the board.  The defense was stifling.  The fight was difficult, but the celebration will be sweet.

Noteworthy Observations

So what are the takeaways from this rematch? The PAC12 South can finally say they’ve beat the North.  Coach Clay Helton may not have the national championship he wanted, but his team showed that they DO have the fight in them that Trojan warriors in history were said to have.  Sam Darnold showed that he can rise to the challenge, learning from his mistakes and adapting his game accodingly.  Darnold is a crunch time player and his patience in the pocket and decision making down the stretch will make him an asset in the NFL whether he decides to leave USC now or later.  Ronald Jones reminded everyone that he should NEVER be underestimated.  Those jets on his feet will take him to multiple end zones on Sunday’s.  Uchenna Nwosu is basically Dikemebe on a field.