USC Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Stanford

Rick McMahanSenior Writer ISeptember 13, 2012

USC Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Stanford

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    With USC's own personal "albatross" looming on the horizon this Saturday, the time has come for the Trojans to shake off the cobwebs that have accompanied the start of the 2012 season and live up to the avalanche of hype that comes with being regarded as one of college football's best programs.

    Along with dealing with a top-20 Stanford team that has beaten USC three straight years, the Trojans will also be looking within to find the kind of consistency that will be needed if the men of Troy truly expect to find themselves in this year's National Championship game.

    But first thing's first.

    That beginning step starts on the road against a formidable Cardinal team that has absolutely no fear of the Trojans, No. 2 ranking and all.

    For the cardinal and gold to win their biggest game so far in 2012, it will take a much sharper performance than anything they have delivered so far.

    This slideshow will look at what the Trojans will need to do to break the Cardinal's winning streak and justify their lofty status on college football's landscape.

    Though there are many things that USC will have to do well this Saturday, here are the five that are most important.

No. 5: The Trojans Offense Must Stay in Manageable Third-Down Situations

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    Despite Lane Kiffin's 2012 policy to not reveal injuries to his players, it was recently revealed that kicker Andre Heidari underwent knee surgery and will be lost for at least three weeks.

    Because of this, the Trojans offense must manage their play-calling to accommodate a strategy that finds the Trojans going for it on fourth downs where they otherwise would have turned to Heidari and his reliable leg for three points.

    It is well known that Kiffin has no qualms about going for it on fourth down under normal circumstances, and now he will have no excuses not to if his stud kicker isn't suited up.

    But to be successful, USC must not be in fourth-and-long situations.

    That means third-and-short will be the order of the day.

No. 4: Get Others Besides Lee and Woods Involved in the Passing Offense

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    Barkley to Woods...Barkley to Lee...

    Trojans fans have heard those two phrases plenty of times so far in 2012, but for USC to fulfill all of the expectations for the offense, there will have to be a greater variety of options.

    With only four receptions for the tight ends and just a handful for the running backs, a Trojans offense that focuses too much on their dynamic duo of Woods and Lee is one that allows for far too much predictability.

    Of course, Lane Kiffin knows this and is likely just setting up opposing defensive coordinators for a steady diet of other Trojan contributors as the season progresses.

    If so, it should start this week against Stanford.

No. 3: The Trojans Defensive Line Must Pressure Nunes

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    Considering the scrutiny that the Trojans defensive line was subjected to prior to the start of the season, Ed Orgeron's boys have done pretty well.

    Led by defensive tackle George Uko and surprise JUCO transfer, end Morgan Breslin, the D-line has been as consistent as any unit on that side of the ball in 2012.

    However, pressure and sacks is not the glaring weakness of the Trojans this year, as we shall see later in this slideshow.

    But for the Trojans defense to be at its best, Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes must not have the luxury of time to do his thing.

    That means the USC defensive line must be dominant this Saturday.

No. 2: USC Must Establish the Run

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    Certainly the task of establishing the run against the Cardinal got much more difficult with the injury of center Khaled Holmes last Saturday against the Orange.

    Holmes, whose value to the Trojans extends far beyond just snapping the ball and blocking, is one of the finest offensive linemen in the country, and he simply cannot be replaced by just any other player.

    But replaced he must be, and that unenviable task will fall to redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi.

    Hobbi is a very good player and will only get better, but it will take a concerted effort by the "big uglies" who surround him to help, because it is imperative that both running backs (Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal) have nice games to take the pressure off of Matt Barkley and the passing game.

    If either--or both--Trojans running backs have a big game against Stanford, Barkley and his "flying circus" passing game will make life miserable for their opponent.

    And that will translate into a big USC win.

No. 1: The Trojans Pass Defense Simply Must Get Better

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    Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Last year, USC's pass defense was an abysmal 102nd in the country, and this year they are only marginally better.

    With the corner opposite Nickell Robey a source of constant concern, solutions must be found by Saturday if the Trojans are to win this game comfortably.

    An argument can be made that Torin Harris, who was injured for most of 2011, only needs playing time to round into the kind of form that will allow the Trojans to finally defend well against opposing pass offenses.

    If this is the case, now is the time for Harris to find his groove and help out the rest of the defense in this portion of that side of the ball.

Conclusion

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    Thus far in the 2012 college football season, the Trojans have been in a "no-win" situation.

    Beating Hawaii and Syracuse in the manner in which they did was never going to satisfy the enormous expectations the Trojans have heaped upon them for this year, and frankly, nothing that occurred in the first two games met the high standard of excellence needed for USC to reach the promised land in 2012.

    That changes this Saturday.

    With Stanford sticking like a painful craw in the Trojans throat after three straight years of futility, the men of Troy will have an opportunity not only to gain a measure of revenge but also justify their high ranking by beating a top-15 team.

    It won't be easy, but the road to a National Championship never is.

    This slideshow featured five keys to beating the Cardinal on the way to that quest.

    Achieve these objectives, and 3-0 becomes the Trojans' reality.

    Fail to do so, and...