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USC Trojans Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. UCLA

Rick McMahanSenior Writer ISeptember 6, 2016

USC Trojans Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. UCLA

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    The USC-UCLA so-called "rivalry" has been on an extended hiatus for the last dozen years or so.

    That changes this Saturday.

    When the whistle blows to start the 12:05 contest, a storied cross-town grudge match will once again feature two teams that have something besides pride to play for.

    What is at stake—besides that aforementioned pride—is the southern section "title" and a berth in the Pac-12 conference championship game, likely against Oregon.

    And for once, it won't be USC who enters this game as the clear cut favorite. Instead, the Bruins who have a better record (8-2), ranking and home field advantage are expected by many to end years of frustration against their Los Angeles neighbors.

    So what are the Trojans—who have lost two of their last three games—going to do if they hope to continue their mastery of the Bruins?

    This slide show will look at five keys to a Trojan victory that must be achieved in order to preserve an unblemished record against UCLA by USC's seniors.

    And while an overall solid game will be required to secure that win for the Trojans, these five are an absolute must.

No. 5: USC's Defensive Line Must Get Penetration with Outside Containment

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    Unlike many years past, the 2012 UCLA Bruins feature a dynamic offense led by a talented young quarterback (Brett Hundley) and a prolific running game anchored by Johnathan Franklin, one of the nation's best tailbacks.

    For a Trojan defense that has been woefully inconsistent this year, anything that remotely resembles the undisciplined edition offered against either Oregon or Arizona (both losses) will be exploited by Jim Mora Jr. and his UCLA offensive coaches.

    However, there are opportunities for Monte Kiffin's defense in this game and it starts with something the Trojans do well anyway.

    As one of the top defenses in the nation in terms of tackling their opponents for losses, the Trojans will need to cultivate this aspect of their game if they want to limit UCLA when they have the ball.

    And best of all for the Trojans, the Bruins give up negative plays in droves. In fact, UCLA ranks an abysmal 116th in the nation in this category.

    For the Trojans to be successful this Saturday, defensive ends Morgan Breslin and Wes Horton must not only get penetration but they also must force players inside, where the interior line and linebackers can stuff things in the middle.

    A free running Hundley and Franklin on the edges will spell disaster for USC to be sure.

No. 4: The Trojans Must Reduce Their Penalties

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    Last week, the Trojans finally managed to limit their on-field infractions to a very manageable four penalties for a paltry 40 yards.

    In doing so, it comes as no surprise that their game against ASU resulted in a victory. And by virtue of that relatively mistake-free game, the Trojans are no longer the most penalized team in the nation.

    Interestingly now taking over that dubious distinction is none other than their opponent this week, UCLA.

    So, in essence, the two most error-prone teams in college football will meet with the team least prolific in that category, likely having a more obstacle-free path to a win.

    That means the Trojans must eliminate the yellow hankies on Saturday.

No. 3: USC Must Get Flanker Robert Woods Back into the Game Plan

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    Going into 2012, many college football experts felt that USC had the best receiver tandem in the nation.

    To be certain, wide receiver Marqise Lee and flanker Robert Woods had the credentials to warrant such a claim.

    And while those assertions may still be true, what is also a fact is that Woods has been strangely absent from the equation over the last few games.

    Speculation for why this is so has run the gamut from a lack of health (Woods had offseason ankle surgery) to a concerted effort by Lane Kiffin to introduce Lee into the Heisman trophy conversation by padding his receiving statistics.

    For most discerning fans neither of the scenarios really rings true, but whatever the case, Woods must find himself back in a prominent role for USC's offense to be the best it can be.

No. 2: The Trojans Must Have a Balanced Offensive Attack

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    Despite the fact that UCLA is particularly susceptible to pass defense problems, USC can't turn into a one-dimensional attack.

    For the Trojans to be successful against a fairly mediocre Bruin defense, they must be able to rely on both Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal to get the tough yards on the ground.

    The chances are very likely that UCLA will have to commit to either taking away the pass or the run, and if they can do that the Trojans turn into a very predictable offense.

    Look for the Trojans to attempt to establish the run early and if they can do this, the passing game will be effective throughout the game.

No. 1: USC Simply Must Eliminate the Turnovers

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    Anyone who has followed the Trojans this year will smile and quietly tell you what ails the men of Troy, especially over the last few games.

    Without a doubt, it is their propensity to give the ball away and this is evidenced in their woeful national ranking of being tied for 111th in the nation.

    So far in 2012, USC has turned the ball over 26 times, many of these occurring in the last few games.

    This simply can't continue if the Trojans want to win Saturday.

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