Sep 14, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans linebacker Hayes Pullard (10) leads players onto the field before the game against the Boston College Eagles at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Boston College 35-7. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC vs. Utah State: Five Trojan Keys to the Game

After suffering an embarrassing home loss to the Washington State Cougars in which the offense only managed to score one touchdown, Lane Kiffin and the USC Trojans answered their critics with a resounding 35-7 victory over the Boston College Eagles.

Kiffin showed he was capable of not only crafting an effective game plan, but also that he is able to implement one, and the defense continued to prove they are a force to be reckoned with.

While the win was much-needed, some would say a necessity, the Trojans must continue to improve if they hope to walk out of the Coliseum on Saturday with another victory.  Here are five keys to the game:

1. Control Chuckie Keeton

Chuckie Keeton enters the game completing 78% of his passes, averaging over eight yards per completion, and has tallied 12 touchdowns to only one interception.

Though it is only by 16 yards, Keeton also happens to be Utah State’s leading rusher with 187 yards on the ground accumulated through three games.

Keeton is the prototypical quarterback that has given the Trojans fits in years past and while he likely won’t be shutdown completely, turning him one dimensional will go a long way in the Trojans securing a victory.

2. Win third down

The Aggies boast the fourth best third down conversion percentage in the nation at 65%, and they also lead the nation in the number of third down conversions.

Winning the third down battle(s) starts with getting ahead on first and second down.

Second in the nation with 12 sacks, if the Trojans are able to keep the Aggies in third and long situations, it should greatly increase their chances of getting off the field after third down.

Still developing their depth and battling injuries, the Trojan defense can’t afford to be on the field for upwards of 90 snaps.

3. Maintain a balanced offensive attack

Tre Madden has opened the season with three straight games over 100 rushing yards and is the first Trojan player to do so since Marcus Allen accomplished the same feat in 1981.

With Silas Redd missing time due to an unspecified injury, 17-year-old true freshman Justin Davis has filled the void, exhibiting poise that is unprecedented for such a young player.

Now that Cody Kessler was anointed the starting quarterback, Kiffin seemed comfortable removing the handcuffs and calling a multitude of offensive plays, eliminating the predictability factor.

Kessler responded with his best performance to date, going 15-17 for 237 yards and most noticeably didn’t throw an interception.

The Trojans will need to maintain a balanced attack, as we’ve already seen how stifling a conservative, singular-focused offensive approach can be.

4. Turn up the pressure

Make no mistake about it, the Trojan defense put forth a tremendous effort against the Eagles.  The defensive pressure was enough to often force Eagles quarterback Chase Rettig into poor decisions and hurried progressions throughout the game.

However, what was absent in the stellar performance were sacks and turnovers, which have been staples of the 2013 defense thus far.

The Aggies enter the game with the sixth rated offense in the nation and at the helm, dual-threat quarterback Keeton is surely going to try forcing the Trojan defense to play on their heels.

To combat this, the defense must be the aggressor, control the line of scrimmage and force the Aggies into turnovers.

5. Eliminate penalties

Perhaps the lone disappointment in the Trojans’ victory over the Eagles was the amount of penalties they were called for.  In total, the Trojans were flagged 10 times for 100 yards.

Had the Eagles been able to better move the ball, the penalties may have affected the outlook of the game.  Should the penalty woes continue, the Aggies pack enough offensive punch to make the Trojans pay.

The defense is playing well enough that without the aid of penalties, the Aggies could be in for a long afternoon at the Coliseum.

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Tags: Cody Kessler Justin Davis Lane Kiffin Silas Redd Tre Madden USC Football USC Trojans

  • Trojan_SD

    Big game. Anxious to see how it turns out. USU is certainly a significant step up in competition from our previous opponents, at least based on last year’s performance. Both the D and the O will need to be clicking in this one. Can’t afford to be caught looking forward to ASU.

    • Matthew Moreno

      I’m looking forward to seeing how USC responds to the challenge the Aggies will present- this will by far be the best offense our defense has faced. Considering the rushing attack has looked good, USC should be hopefully be able to sustain drives to help give the defense a breather

  • lcaldwell

    USC Guy working and living in Utah. Utah State is a legit team and is capable of knocking off a big time team. They are well coached and explosive. USU QB Keaton is the real deal when it comes to dual threat QB. USC has problems with mobile QB’s. I am really hoping that our 5-2 defensive scheme will pay off by being able to contain USU offense. I am extremely nervous for this game!!

    • Matthew Moreno

      The defensive line has been controlling the line of scrimmage and I think that bodes well for hopes of disrupting the Aggies’ offensive scheme.

      It’s definitely going to take a full team effort to walk away with a win. The offense can’t put the defense in bad spots, and the defense can’t allow the game to turn into a shootout.

      • lcaldwell

        I totally agree that the defensive line has looked scary good! I am also hoping that O-line can get a substantial push against USU 3-5 Defense. I was under the impression that a pro-style offense has the upper hand against a 3-5, but correct me if I am wrong.

        The offense has to produce every week or this is going to be a long season when we get into conference play. The Wazzu game was pathetic..

        • Matthew Moreno

          To the best of my knowledge, Utah State runs a multiple defense. I think they’ll try to stack the box and put the onus on Kessler to beat them with his arm, however I’m not sure how successful that will be for them.

          First, USC has still been able to pick up good yards on the ground against defenses that have stacked the box.

          And second, if they commit too many men to the box and leave one-on-one coverage on the wide receivers and tight ends, you’d have to like Lee’s, Agholor’s, Grimble’s, and Telfer’s chances in winning those battles.

  • disqus_5mzWKSTg3O

    Let’s get back on Kiffin’s nuts so soon. He’s got to rattle of some more wins against competent teams. BC maybe be a 5 win team and that’s in the acc.
    As for his play calling, again I would like to see what he does against a better defense where he HAS to make 2nd half adjustments. How many games has USC won while being down at the half vs. how many games has USC lost while up at the half?

    This is a very telling stat comparison and is an indication of what kind play caller Kiffin is.

    • Matthew Moreno

      While you do raise valid points, given how bleak things looked after the loss to Washington State, there needs to be some credit given to Kiffin and the team.

      Kiffin made adjustments going into the game and can’t be faulted for his team building a lead, thus not forcing him to make 2nd half adjustments.

      • disqus_5mzWKSTg3O

        That’s just it. The offensive game plan was so bad agaisnt wazzu, Kiffin could have not lowered his or USCs expectations any less, only positive could have come out of the BC game.

        He could have grabbed a dusty, old game plan of the bottom shelf and he would have had a ‘good’ game against BC.

        • Matthew Moreno

          I wouldn’t say only positive could have come out of the game against Boston College. There was a similar sentiment after the Hawaii game and look how that turned out.

          Boston College certainly wasn’t an elite opponent. But had the Trojan offense performed like it did against Washington State, the outcome could have been different.

          • TrojanChuck

            Looked like they did against Washington State again yesterday…ugh.

      • disqus_5mzWKSTg3O

        He has to make adjustments after the half when he has the lead. Good play callers know to tone down the play calling when there’s a big lead, but I point to te AZ game last year. Yes, ease up on the offense, but you still have to step on the other teams throats.
        The AZ game is on of many examples where Kiffin is not able to call a complete, 60 min game.

        • Matthew Moreno

          You’re correct. I didn’t mean to imply that with a lead, 2nd half adjustments don’t need to be made. You of course presume the opposing team will adjust to what you’ve been doing and then you adjust as necessary.