Mekhi Blackmon had seen the play before and knew how to respond.
Two years earlier, as a cornerback for Colorado, Stanford twice tested Blackmon on the same jump-ball play call; both times he’d successfully batted the pass down. This time, as a senior corner at USC, he would do one better.
Blackmon faced regular tests in USC’s 41-28 victory over Stanford this past Saturday, proving his place as the Trojans’ top corner as Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee targeted him 10 times.
The most ill-advised of those attempts, the one Blackmon recognized ahead of time, came at a critical early juncture Saturday. Stanford had just mounted a seven-minute, 13-play drive, rolling over the Trojans’ defense with relative ease. Faced with a fourth-and-goal, Blackmon clung to 6-foot-3 Cardinal wideout Elijah Higgins, who set up in the end zone, awaiting a familiar jump ball from McKee.
“I anticipated the same thing coming,” Blackmon said, “and when he threw, I was able to tip it up.”
Blackmon managed to pick off the pass, sprinting 17 yards out of the end zone before he was caught. USC followed the play with a touchdown drive soon after and never looked back.
But that was just the beginning of Blackmon’s night. McKee continued to target USC’s top cornerback. Blackmon had never been targeted more than seven times in a single game in his college career, but Stanford tested him 10 times — nearly a third of its pass plays. Blackmon allowed three catches for 48 yards.
He was also called for three pass-interference penalties, but USC coach Lincoln Riley didn’t seem to mind much. He described Blackmon’s coverage during at least one of those calls as “textbook.”
“He was awesome,” Riley said. “That’s a one-on-one matchup that we’re very comfortable with.”
That was the hope when USC first went looking for a top corner in the transfer portal, one who could shut down opposing top receivers or force turnovers when necessary. That kind of corner has been an endangered species recently at USC, where a corner hasn’t led the team in interceptions since Jack Jones in 2017.
In Blackmon, Riley seems confident he’s found a corner who fits that bill. He’ll have another tough test this weekend as Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener comes to the Coliseum.
“We like him matched up against anybody,” Riley said of Blackmon.
Ford sits, Haskins starts?
Ford, who technically started the first two games at left tackle, sat out Tuesday’s practice after suffering an ankle injury during Saturday’s game. He’ll continue to rest to start the week, but Riley said he has “progressed nicely since the game” and is “on a good track.”
If he’s unable to go, Riley said USC has “a ton of confidence” in Haskins.
“This is inevitably going to happen in a season,” Riley said. “If he’s ready to go, that’s great. If not, obviously Bobby is going to play some no matter what.”
USC rush end Romello Height has spent the past few weeks in and out of a yellow, no-contact jersey at practice as he deals with a lingering shoulder injury that left him in a sling Tuesday.
Those issues flared up against Stanford, forcing him out of the game and prompting USC to give him “a little downtime early in the week,” Riley said. Whether that will keep him out for Saturday — or even longer — remains to be seen.