USC vs. Cal: What Trojans Must Do to Avoid Massive Upset

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2013

CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 01: Linebacker Hayes Pullard #10 of the USC Trojans celebrates a USC Trojan interception during the fourth quarter of the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium on November 1, 2013 in Corvallis, Oregon. USC won the game 31-14. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Although USC has played much better in recent weeks than it did earlier in the year, it is important not to overlook anyone. That includes 16.5-point underdog California.

Things have not gone Cal's way this season, as evidenced by the 1-8 record. The Bears' only win came in Week 2 against Portland State. However, many of their games have been close, and they certainly have the talent to pull off an upset this weekend. 

For the Trojans to remain in contention for a Pac-12 South title, they will have to follow these keys to victory.


Establish Run

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 19:  Silas Redd #25 of the University of Southern California Trojans runs against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on October 19, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated USC 14-10.  (Photo by Jonathan D
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It seems like every Southern California offense is based on the passing attack, but this year's version has been much better with a run-heavy playbook.

The best example was last week's win over Oregon State. Silas Redd and Javorius Allen combined for 273 rushing yards with three touchdowns on 38 carries. Besides moving the ball, this also helped control possession to keep the opposing offense off the field.

Additionally, this strategy forced the defense in, which freed up space down the field for some big pass plays.

Considering Cal ranks 88th in the nation with 188.9 rushing yards allowed per game, plus an embarrassing 24 rushing touchdowns allowed, USC should be able to run the ball at will in this game.


Make Plays on Ball

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 13:  Dion Bailey #18 of the USC Trojans intercepts a pass intended for Marvin Jones #1 of the California Golden Bears at AT&T Park on October 13, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Oregon State's Sean Mannion entered last game as one of the top passers in the country, but USC was able to shut him down due to great work in the secondary.

The Trojans defensive backs were not afraid to make mistakes, which led to some aggressive plays when the ball was in the air. The result was a trio of interceptions by Josh Shaw, Dion Bailey and Kevon Seymour, the last two coming in the fourth quarter.

USC is among the best in the country at forcing interceptions, totaling 13 on the year. This should continue against freshman Jared Goff, who has already thrown nine picks this season.

Cal averages 54 pass attempts per game, and it will likely throw the ball a lot in this one. It will be key to slow this attack down by ending drives with turnovers.


Get the Ball to Marqise Lee

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 03:  Marqise Lee #9 of the USC Trojans runs with ball during the game against the Oregon Ducks at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 3, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

When Marqise Lee is healthy, he is arguably the best wide receiver in the entire country. Unfortunately, he has been limited over the past month with a knee injury.

Still, the junior proved he is just fine with his 105-yard performance against Oregon State. Of course, he only had five catches and still appeared to be less than 100 percent.

With another week to get healthy, Lee should become fully involved in this offense. Last season, the receiver had seven games of 10 or more receptions, including one of 16. This year, he has not had a single contest of more than eight.

If Lee proves healthy enough to make plays, quarterback Cody Kessler has to do whatever it takes to find his best target. Otherwise, the offense is not running with as much efficiency as possible.


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