Cal Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. USC

Ryan ReedCorrespondent IISeptember 20, 2012

Cal Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. USC

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    Cal Football put together a good effort last week, almost managing to pull off an upset against then No. 12 ranked Ohio State.

    Unfortunately, however, it only gets tougher next weekend as they travel to Pasadena to face No. 13 USC.

    USC if fresh off of a loss to Stanford which had them drop 11 spots on the AP Top 25, so they are sure to be seeking vengeance.

    Still, Stanford proved to the world that this year's USC team is in fact beatable.

    This article will go through five keys that the Golden Bears must adhere to in order to pull off the upset this weekend.

Run the Ball Well

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    Right now, Cal is ranked No. 36 in the country in rushing yards with just over 208 per game. Last week against Ohio State, they put up 224 including a big 160 yards on the ground from Brendan Bigelow.

    If the Golden Bears are able to get their ground game going, they will stand a much better chance.

    That is true mainly because it controls the tempo of the game. If they are able to hold on to the ball for long periods of time, Matt Barkley will have the ball in his hands less.

    Last season against USC, Isi Sofele was only able to rush for 52 yards. The good news is that he looks entirely capable of having a big game, since he has already amassed 212 yards with a 4.7 yards per carry average this year.

    If Cal is able to successfully run the football this weekend, the team will greatly help its odds of winning.

Limiting Robert Woods and Marqise Lee

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    Limiting Robert Woods and Marqise Lee is certainly easier said than done, but that has to be accomplished if the Golden Bears want to win this weekend.

    Last year, Woods was shut down somewhat during the game against Cal. He managed to catch five balls, but only had 36 yards. Lee, on the other hand, was able to catch four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

    This year, Cal will have to be able to do a solid job on both receivers.

    If the Golden Bears can do that, then Barkley will be forced to throw to his other receivers, something he does much less frequently. None of the other three players who caught passes in last weeks game have over four catches for the season.

    Once again, it's going to be tough, but the Golden Bears need to focus their defense on stopping Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.

Limiting the USC Run Game

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    To say USC is abysmal in the running game isn't fair, but they sure are pretty bad.

    On the season, the Trojans are averaging 121.7 yards per game, good for No. 95 in the country.

    Stanford was able to shut down USC's ground game, holding Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd to a combined 54 yards on 20 carries. Redd was able to get two touchdowns, but his longest run was eight yards and that is the work of solid defense.

    The USC run game isn't keeping Cal coaches up at night, but it is still something to be wary of. Both McNeal and Redd rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, so they obviously have talent.

    If the Golden Bears want to win this game, they need to make sure that neither back has his breakout game this weekend.

Win the Turnover Margin

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    This one is huge for Cal, as the turnover margin is often what wins a game for the underdog.

    Look no further than last week, when Stanford had one fewer turnover than USC and managed to win the game. Combine that extra fumble with a turnover on downs in the third quarter, and the Cardinals had an obvious advantage.

    The hard part will be actually getting USC to turn the ball over. Matt Barkley has already thrown three interceptions this season after only seven total last year, but he is generally accurate.

    Hopefully the Golden Bears will be able to force Barkley into a mistake, or capitalize on a fumble by one of the backs. If they are able to do that, without giving up the ball themselves, then this game will become much more winnable.

Get Pressure on Matt Barkley

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    Stanford was able to win its game against USC largely because the Cardinal got to Matt Barkley often, and the Golden Bears are going to need to do the same.

    Last week, Barkley was sacked four times by the Cardinal, including twice on the final drive. He seemed flustered and ultimately only went 20 of his 41 on his passes, completing under 50 percent of his throws.

    In order to force Matt to have another bad game, the Golden Bears need to knock him down a few times while making sure that he is not given a lot of time in the pocket. Barkley is much too good of a quarterback to be given a lot of time, and he will definitely make them pay if he is.

    Like the other pieces, if Cal is able to get consistent pressure on Matt Barkley, they should have a chance at an upset.