Christian McCaffrey torpedoed USC’s defense the last two seasons.
As Stanford upended the Trojans three times in 2016 and 2015, McCaffrey tallied 970 all-purpose yards.
How tough was it to bring down the elusive running back?
Reporters covering the Pac-12 championship game in 2015 overheard then-USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and other coaches swearing in an adjacent press box booth at Levi’s Stadium.
Few players in the FBS compiled more yards against one school than McCaffrey did against USC.
The Trojans will no longer face McCaffrey, who bypassed his final season of eligibility for the NFL, when they play host to Stanford on Saturday night. But as they look to snap a three-game losing streak against their Pac-12 North rival and jumpstart a run toward a national championship, the challenge remains the same.
“I’ve been playing Stanford for going on four years now,” said Chris Hawkins, a redshirt senior safety. “I know what they are going to come do. We all know what they are going to do. They’re going to run the football.”
Stanford has turned to two running backs to replace McCaffrey, junior Bryce Love and redshirt sophomore Cameron Scarlett.
“That two-headed monster is really carrying forth what Christian was,” USC coach Clay Helton said.
Will USC fare better?
It would certainly help its effort. In the past nine matchups in the series, the team that had the most rushing yards won.
Another grudge match beckons.
WHEN USC HAS THE BALL
In the Trojans’ season opener, quarterback Sam Darnold was held without a touchdown pass for the first time since his debut start last September at Utah.
Darnold called it his worst performance since taking over for Max Browne as the starter last season. He also threw two interceptions against Western Michigan.
Some of it was jitters after a long offseason.
“My emotions kind of got the best of me there in the beginning,” Darnold said.
But to aid Darnold, the Trojans are also looking for reliable targets beyond receiver Deontay Burnett.
After Burnett, no USC receiver caught more than three passes, and four of Darnold’s 10 incompletions were dropped.
Some of it is due to health. The offense is hoping that tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who has been limited with a sore hip flexor, is closer to 100 percent. Imatorbhebhe can be a threat in the passing game.
Helton and offensive coordinator Tee Martin also hinted that Joseph Lewis, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound freshman receiver, could carve out a…