1. Contain Derek Carr
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr leads the nation with an average of 405.5 passing yards per game. Carr also boasts a 70.1 completion percentage and only had one game where he completed less than 65% off his pass attempts.
Carr’s touchdown to interception ratio is just under seven to one, with 48 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Many consider the weakness of the USC defense to be the secondary and if they fail to play well, Carr will likely feel as though he’s playing in a passing-league game.
2.. Limit Davante Adams
Sophomore Bulldogs wide receive Davante Adams has amassed 1,645 receiving yards, which places him second in the nation, and he is the FBS leader in touchdown receptions with 23.
Adams averages over 10 receptions and 137 yards per game. Shutting Adams down isn’t likely — he only had two games in 2013 with under eight receptions — but despite their troubles, the Trojans secondary does have experience in limiting potent wide receivers.
Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks was largely ineffective and so too was Colorado’s Paul Richardson.
The responsibility will likely fall on Josh Shaw to once again limit the opponent’s primary receiving threat.
3. Force turnovers
While Carr may not be likely to throw an interception, in two of the five games when he has, he has thrown two of them.
If Carr is off target with one or multiple pass attempts, it is imperative that the Trojans capitalize on it.
As for turning the ball over via fumble, the Bulldogs lost two or more fumbles in three games.
The Trojans gained a turnover in eight games and in an expected shootout, forcing turnovers could tilt the game in the Trojans’ favor.
4. Prevent big plays
To no surprise, the Bulldogs rank among the nation’s best in long yardage plays.
The Bulldogs completed 247 plays of 10 or more yards, which has them tied for fourth, and they have 85 plays of 20 or more yards, which is good for fifth-best.
Statistically, the Trojans are a middle of the road team when it comes to preventing plays of 10 or more yards.
5. Win third downs
Without much depth on the roster, how much of an impact the Trojan defense has had on a game was connected to their ability to get off the field after third down.
Against an excellent third down team in Stanford, the Trojans held the Cardinal to just four of 12, which is well below the Cardinal’s season average.
Although they aren’t quite as lethal as the Cardinal, the Bulldogs are no slouch with a third down conversion rate of 44.51%.
Carr will likely have the defense on its heels but if there is one down where the Trojans do not relent, it needs to be third down situations.