Week 3 of the college football season showed us two things in regards to this week's Pac-12 showdown: that Cal is better than expected and that Matt Barkley really can't beat the Stanford Cardinal.
Both Cal and USC experienced tough road losses to ranked opponents last week, but this time around one school is guaranteed victory. The Trojans will look to bounce back from an embarrassing offensive performance in Palo Alto, and the Golden Bears hope their strong showing in Columbus carries into Los Angeles.
Matt Barkley's Heisman hopes likely vanished after arguably his worst collegiate game against Stanford. But a weak Cal defense could be just what the doctor ordered for USC's faltering attack.
Some contend that the nation's best quarterback and top two wide receivers play in Southern Cal. But to this point in the season, the Trojans haven't done anything to verify that claim.
A conference home game against the country's 103rd-ranked pass efficiency defense should prove positive for a USC team trying to regain momentum in the national rankings. However, a defensive letdown against Zach Maynard and the explosive Golden Bear offense could eliminate any national title hopes the Trojans still have.
Here are three keys to a much-needed USC victory this Saturday:
Trojans' Offensive Line
A unit that struggled mightily against Stanford one week ago must make improvements in order for the Trojans to get back on track. Inexperience has been a factor for USC's offensive line, which will likely be without all-star center Khaled Holmes once again.
Silas Redd and company totaled just 26 total rushing yards in Palo Alto, and Southern Cal ranks 95th in the nation in that department. A more consistent running game will take loads of pressure off Matt Barkley, who often found himself running for his life last weekend.
If the Trojans can protect the quarterback and move the ball on the ground, there is no reason they can't outscore the Golden Bears.
Stopping the Run
Look for Cal to run the ball early and often in an effort to keep Matt Barkley on the sideline for as long as possible.
The Golden Bears enter Saturday's contest averaging nearly 209 yards per game on the ground—a stat that could prove fatal for a Trojan defense that surrendered over 200 rushing yards last week against Stanford.
Brendan Bigelow and Isi Sofele combined for 250 yards rushing in Columbus against a Buckeyes' defensive line that many expected to be an elite group.
Who will win this week's matchup?
No surprise here: The one-time Heisman favorite and projected first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft has to be mentioned when discussing a critical conference contest for the Trojans.
Struggles on the offensive line unquestionably hindered Barkley last week at Stanford; however, there are no excuses for arguably the nation's best player. With two premier wide receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee at his disposal, the Trojans' quarterback must find a way to improve upon his zero-touchdown, two-interception performance from a week ago.
The good news is that Barkley will be facing the country's 96th-ranked defense, which surrenders more than 32 points per contest. The bad news is that the Trojans will likely be without Khaled Holmes yet again.
USC's running game was virtually nonexistent in Palo Alto, and an unbalanced attack for the second straight week could knock them out of the Top 20. You would have to expect Lane Kiffin's group to do better than 1-13 on third down, but in the Pac-12 there are no promises.