For Stanford, that was more like it.

A week after the Cardinal opened the season with a win that was without anything to write home about from their Heisman Trophy front-running running back, Stanford got Bryce Love on track for what should be another great season.

Love rushed for 136 yards and scored his first touchdown of the year in a 17-3 victory over USC.

Stanford wasted no time getting Love involved against a vulnerable run defense. David Shaw made sure Love would be a factor right form the start by giving him the football on the first play of the game and giving him multiple touches on the game’s opening drive. One of those touches went for a 28-yard gain (he had 29 rushing yards in Stanford’s season opener against San Diego State), and it was Love opening the low-scoring affair with a six-yard touchdown run less than five minutes into the game.

While Love would continue to tack on yardage to his rushing total, highlighted by a 59-yard gain, the game would go on to prove that lone touchdown was a game-winner.

On the eve of former Trojan quarterback Sam Darnold’s NFL debut as the starting quarterback for the New York Jets, Clay Helton was throwing his freshman quarterback JT Daniels up against an incredibly tough test in Week 2. Perhaps not so shocking was seeing Daniels play like an 18-year old making his second career college start against one of the best defenses the Pac-12 has to offer. Daniels was picked off twice by the Cardinal, including one late in the fourth quarter with the game essentially decided in favor of Stanford.

USC will still likely be fine in the long run. As Daniels gets more playing time and gets the chance to learn from his mistakes and continues to grow as a player, there’s no reason to suggest USC is doomed. They may not be a playoff contender this season (they were not likely to be in that conversation anyway), but Helton has proven to be a reliable coach during his time at USC. The Trojans just need some of their players to develop as the season goes on. But next up for USC is a road trip to Texas, a Big 12 program in a similar position as USC. Programs like USC and Texas are easy targets for heated instant reactions on a week-by-week basis, so next week’s game should prove to have a lot of pressure on the line for both Helton and Texas head coach Tom Herman.

Saturday night showed what makes Stanford a serious contender in the Pac-12. An even balance of defense and running the football is a powerful combo for the Cardinal, but there are still some deficiencies that could come back to haunt them in certain situations. Stanford was just 4-of-13 on third down conversions against USC, but the defense forced three turnovers while the offense never gave up the football.

Stanford has some flaws, but what they do well helps make up for it. Now, with a win in Pac-12 play against the team most likely to come out of the Pac-12 South under their belts, Stanford is getting a jump on the Pac-12 race. Stanford has what should be an automatic win next week against UC Davis, but a road trip to Oregon is coming up quickly in two weeks. That begins a challenging run for Stanford that will culminate with an early November matchup at Washington. If the defense keeps ticking the way it has and Love stays on course, Stanford will find themselves popping up in the playoff conversation.

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.