When the Trojans meet up with the California Golden Bears this afternoon, they’ll do so with laundry list of things to improve from last week’s loss to Stanford. Let’s take a look at the keys to the game:
Protecting Matt Barkley: In Palo Alto, the Trojans gave up four sacks, half the amount they did in all of last season. The pressure mounted on Barkley and forced him into poor situations all night, leading to poorly thrown balls and drops. Success against Cal seemingly has to begin and end up front, with the Trojans needing to find a way to regain that patented stout USC offensive line.
Establishing the run: USC ran for just 26 yards against Stanford, ultimately abandoning the run in the second half after the Cardinal were blowing up the offensive line on each play. While the running game’s performance wasn’t as bad as the 1998 Sun Bowl in which the Trojans were credited with negative 23 rushing yards, by USC’s standards, 26 is ridiculously low. For the offense to thrive and for the passing game to function with playaction passes and bootlegs, the running game will have to be established. If not, the Trojans’ offense just isn’t as potent as we all thought it would be.
Containing Keenan Allen: Allen is tied with Robert Woods for third in the conference in terms of receptions with 20, and he’s coming off of a year that saw him put up record-setting numbers for Cal, raking in 98 catches for 1,343 yards. He’s by far the best receiver the Trojans will face this season, and with the past struggles of USC corners-not-named-Robey, he’s cause for concern in the Trojan secondary. They can’t afford to have him replicate his performance in last year’s USC-Cal game, when he had a career-high 13 catches for 160 yards, capping a three-game stretch in which he had 32 catches for 527 yards.
Pressuring Zach Maynard: If you were to tell anyone a year ago that Maynard would be in the argument for the conference’s second best quarterback behind Matt Barkley, you would have been considered absolutely crazy. But the truth is that he’s statistically one of the greatest Cal quarterbacks ever, as odd as that sounds. Lane Kiffin said he had his best game ever last week against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes were still able to sack him six times and force a late interception to assure their victory. The Trojans need to rattle Maynard and cut down on his vision, as he’s just 6-foot-2, but plays with a wide base that reduces his height.
So what’s is going to be? What’s the biggest key to victory for USC over Cal? Vote in our poll and leave your comments below.