LOS ANGELES (AP) With his explosiveness, ability to take over a game in a variety of ways, and No. 5 jersey, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey invites natural comparisons to former Southern California sensation Reggie Bush.
Trojans linebacker Uchenna Nwosu won't go that far, but definitely recognizes the threat the Heisman Trophy contender presents when facing the No. 7 Cardinal on Saturday in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
''I wouldn't say Reggie,'' Nwosu said. ''Reggie is like the G.O.A.T. I don't know who he reminds me of, but he is a great athlete. He is going to be a challenge for us.''
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Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was brought back to USC to contain McCaffrey after he rushed for 207 yards and caught four passes for 105 yards in Stanford's Pac-12 title game win last December. McCaffrey rushed for one touchdown, caught one touchdown reception and threw one touchdown pass to quarterback Kevin Hogan, setting a USC opponent single-game record with 461 all-purpose yards.
In 2013, Pendergast's USC defense held a Stanford team that went on to win the Pac-12 to 17 points in an upset win under interim coach Ed Orgeron despite being in the throes of NCAA-imposed scholarship reductions. That result and the overall work Pendergast did in helping USC win 10 games that season is a main reason why coach Clay Helton brought him back, and Pendergast's tactical acumen will be tested by the versatility of McCaffrey.
''Usually you see a runner or you see a receiver. When you have got the combination of both, you got to make a decision on what you are going to do,'' Helton said. ''You got to mix-and-match. It'll be a great chess match between Coach (David) Shaw and Clancy of mixing it back and forth. Thank goodness he is here.''
Perhaps the biggest difference Pendergast might make in containing McCaffrey will come from his mere presence on the sideline. Safety Chris Hawkins said the positioning of former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox upstairs in the press box limited the options available to match Stanford's system of audibles. After outside linebacker Su'a Cravens had 13 tackles in the first meeting against Stanford at the Coliseum, Hawkins said Hogan was changing the play at the line of scrimmage to have McCaffrey run away from where Cravens was lined up.
USC plans to show different looks intended to confuse Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns, who will be making his second career start. The hypothesis as Hawkins presented it is that if Burns can't check into the right play, it gives the defense a better chance at containing McCaffrey.
''The way we are playing them this year, it's not like we are going to be stationary,'' Hawkins said. ''We're going to be moving around. It's going to be hard for him to check, especially with a quarterback where it's only his second start. I don't know how loose the reigns are on him, but I doubt they are like Kevin Hogan's who has been starting for four years.''
''Clancy is great at disguising coverages and being able to show you one thing and at the last second it becomes another,'' Helton said.
The reserved Pendergast wouldn't make any pronouncements about the defense's readiness to contain McCaffrey.
''As a defense in general we're a work in progress, and I think everybody knows they can get better every single day,'' Pendergast said.
NOTES: Defensive lineman Noah Jefferson (shoulder) is doubtful to play against Stanford, Helton said. ... Safety Marvell Tell (concussion) has been cleared to play. . Defensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers has moved back to offense after starting center Toa Lobendahn tore his ACL against Alabama. Rodgers started six games at center last season.