Mekhi Blackmon had seen the play before and knew how to react.
Two years earlier, as a cornerback for Colorado, Stanford tested Blackmon twice on the same jump ball play call; both times he had successfully batted the pass down. This time, as a senior corner at USC, he would do even better.
Blackmon faced regular tests in USC’s 41-28 win over Stanford last Saturday, proving his place as the Trojans’ best corner when Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee took aim at him 10 times.
The worst of those attempts, which Blackmon anticipated, came at a critically early stage on Saturday. Stanford had just completed a seven-minute, 13-game drive and rolled over the Trojans defense with relative ease. Facing a fourth hit, Blackmon latched on to 6-foot-3 Cardinal wideout Elijah Higgins, who lined up in the end zone and waited for a well-known jump ball from McKee.
“I expected the same thing,” Blackmon said, “and when he threw it, I was able to tip it up.”
Blackmon intercepted the pass and sprinted 17 yards out of the end zone before being caught. USC followed the game 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 best cornerback. Blackmon had never been targeted more than seven times in a single game in his collegiate career, but Stanford tested him ten times — nearly a third of his passing plays. Blackmon allowed three catches for 48 yards.
He was also called on three pass interference penalties, but USC coach Lincoln Riley didn’t seem to mind much. He described Blackmon’s reporting during at least one of those calls as “textbook.”
“He was great,” Riley said. “It’s a one-on-one matchup that we’re very comfortable with.”
That was the hope when USC first searched the transfer portal for a top corner that could switch off opposing top receivers or force turnovers if necessary. That type of corner has recently been an endangered species at USC, where a corner hasn’t led the team to an interception since Jack Jones in 2017.
At Blackmon, Riley seems confident he’s found a corner that fits that bill. He’ll have another tough test this weekend when Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener comes to the Coliseum.
“We like it when he goes against everyone,” Riley said of Blackmon.
Ford sits, Haskins starts?
In two games, Courtland Ford and Bobby Haskins played to an exact split on snaps with 57 each on the left. But the balance in USC’s tackle-by-committee approach could shift this week.
Ford, who technically started the first two games in left tackle, sat Tuesday’s practice after suffering an ankle injury during Saturday’s game. He will continue to rest at the start of the week but Riley said he has “made good progress since the game” and is “on the right track”.
If he can’t go, Riley said USC has “a lot of faith” in Haskins.
“That’s going to happen inevitably in a season,” Riley said. “If he’s ready to go, that’s great. If not, of course Bobby will play no matter what.”
USC rush end Romello Height has spent the last few weeks in training in and without a yellow non-contact jersey as he deals with an ongoing shoulder injury that left him in a sling on 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 keeps him out on Saturday – or even longer – remains to be seen.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/story/2022-09-13/usc-football-lincoln-riley-mekhi-blackmon Lincoln Riley trusts USC corner Mekhi Blackmon ‘against anybody’