Cal Football: 5 Keys to Beating USC
The California Golden Bears (3-2) are gearing up to play the USC Trojans (4-1) on Thursday night in Cal's second straight nationally televised Thursday night game.
The Bears need to rebound from a 43-15 loss to the No. 9 Oregon Ducks, and a homecoming win against the Trojans would be the perfect way to bounce back.
Cal hasn't beaten USC since 2003, but despite the Bears' 0-2 Pac-12 record, there is hope for Cal to pull out a victory at AT&T Park.
Here's how they can get the win.
5. Limit Turnovers and Penalties
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Cal has taken good strides this season in cutting down their turnovers and penalties, highlighted by last week's showing against Oregon.
Yes, Cal did give up 60 yards on penalties, but that was lower than their season average. And as far as turnovers go, Cal had their best game yet.
Zach Maynard didn't throw any interceptions; only one fumble was forced and it was subsequently recovered by Cal.
If the Bears can keep avoiding mistakes, like they did versus Oregon, that is a huge first step to taking down the Trojans.
4. Stick with the Offensive Game Plan
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This season, Cal has one of their best offenses in recent memory.
The Bears boast two of the best receivers in the Pac-12 in Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones. Allen is proving to be as dynamic a player as DeSean Jackson used to be in Berkeley. Jones is as reliable as ever using his size, speed and athleticism to separate himself from defenders.
The man throwing to them, Zach Maynard, Allen's half brother, is still learning the fast pace of the Pac-12, but he has led Cal to be one of the top offenses in the nation.
On the ground, Isi Sofele is on pace to be the next Cal running back in line for 1,000 yards on the season as he has 499 yards through five games.
On top of that, the USC defense is not very good. They got picked apart by Brock Osweiler and ASU along with Nick Foles and Arizona. Their secondary is ranked 98th in the nation, which is even worse than Cal's.
Simply put, the Cal offense knows how to put points on the board. They had an uncharacteristic game against Oregon, but if the Bears can rebound against a penetrable Trojan defense, they can beat USC.
3. Convert on 3rd Down
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The biggest problem for the Cal offense has been 3rd down conversions.
The Bears only converted 29 percent last week and on the season, the Bears rank 70th in the nation.
This failure to convert has stalled drives and kept Cal from putting points up on the board.
To fix this, Maynard needs to work on throwing to the first down marker, not 20 yards down the field.
By finally beginning to utilize Isi Sofele and Anthony Miller, Cal will have a complete offensive attack that must be respected by Pac-12 opponents. If they can do this against USC, it will be tough for the questionable USC defense to cover the multidimensional Cal offense.
2. Contain Robert Woods
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USC's Robert Woods is one of the best offensive players in the nation and is certainly a top three wide receiver in all of college football. He leads the nation in receptions per game with 11 per game. In addition to that, Woods is also second with reception yards per game, 149 yards.
Every week of the season, he has exploited the cornerbacks of each team the Trojans have faced. This isn't new.
Last year, as a true freshman he finished 73rd in the nation in total receiving yards. In the Trojans 48-12 beat-down over the Bears last year, Woods torched the Cal secondary for seven receptions and 116 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cal secondary this year is not as strong as last year and with Woods and his quarterback Matt Barkley a year older and a year better, it will be even that much tougher and that much more important to stop Woods.
1. Apply Pressure to Matt Barkley
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While Trojan wide receivers like Robert Woods and freshman Marqise Lee are terrific playmakers, there is another side to each pass they catch.
The once-heralded recruit out of Santa Ana, California's Mater Dei is finally a junior, and he has taken great strides ever since he became the first non-red-shirt freshman to start the season opener for the Trojans.
While he doesn't have the greatest arm in terms of power, he has great field vision and precision. He is a smart player and knows where to put the ball so his guys can maximize their yardage.
It is because Barkley is so instrumental to the Trojan offense that stopping him is the No. 1 key to Cal beating USC.
The USC offensive line, anchored by junior left tackle Matt Kalil, has only given up four sacks through five games, a number tied for 13th in the country. Teams have had trouble getting to Barkley and that has allowed him to make great throws down the field that have been USC scores.
If Cal can get sacks on Barkley, or even just get through the line and hit him as he's making the throw, they will truly test the Trojans.
2003 was a long time ago, and USC isn't as scary an opponent as they have been in years past. If Cal forces some timely turnovers and locks down on defense, they could make a huge statement on national television this Thursday.