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.