Cal Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Ohio State

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2012

Cal Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Ohio State

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    It's been a shaky start to the season for the California Golden Bears. They suffered a disappointing loss to Nevada in the season opener and looked uninspired for much of last week's win against Southern Utah.

    But, all of that is in the past. It's a new week, and the Bears are looking to make a big statement by going into Columbus and beating the Ohio State Buckeyes.

    It won't be easy. Urban Meyer's Buckeyes are ranked No. 12 in the nation according to the Associated Press (via ESPN) and have outscored their opponents 87-26 so far this year.

    The odds aren't great, but Cal still has a chance to steal this one from Ohio State.

    Here are the five keys to the game for the Golden Bears.

Take Away Braxton Miller's Running Lanes

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    Miller has been absolutely killing teams on the ground this year. The quarterback has rushed for 302 yards and four touchdowns in Ohio State's two games. That's more rushing yards than every other Buckeye combined.

    Needless to say, taking away Miller's running lanes will be a huge priority for the Golden Bears this weekend.

    If Cal is able to turn Miller into a pocket passer, their chances of winning the game skyrocket. Miller is an improved passer from last season, but he's still not too far removed from the guy who completed just 51 percent of his passes in 2011.

    He has yet to show that he can consistently beat defenses with his arm, and the Golden Bears need to use that to their advantage. Because, when Miller gets room to run, he often goes the distance.

    Plays like this and this are becoming routine for him. The Bears can't let that be the case this week.

    Cal will have to be disciplined defensively and keep Miller inside of the pocket for a chance at stealing this game.

Zach Maynard Plays His Best

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    Cal quarterback Zach Maynard needs to have one heck of a game this week.

    Ohio State's front seven is one of the best in the country. They've allowed only 102 rushing yards this season. When they faced Miami of Ohio, the RedHawks actually lost a yard in 20 rushing attempts.

    Needless to say, it's tough to imagine Cal getting much going on the ground this weekend. That puts the offensive burden squarely on Maynard's shoulders.

    Maynard has been solid so far this year, but he still hasn't looked like the player he was at the end of last season. In Cal's final two regular season contests, Maynard completed over 70 percent of his passes for 517 yards and three touchdowns. He looked like he had figured it all out.

    That's the guy that Cal needs to show up on Saturday. Maynard can't afford to merely play well. He needs to play at his absolute best.

    Ohio State's secondary, while solid, is the weakest part of their defense. The Buckeyes have given up 281 passing yards per game so far this season. If Maynard plays at the level that Cal fans know he's capable of, the Golden Bears should have no problem moving the ball.

Get the Ball to Keenan Allen

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    Even if Maynard plays the best game of his collegiate career, he's going to need some help offensively. For that, he'll turn to star wide receiver, Keenan Allen.

    Allen was magnificent last year, catching 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. He's been quiet so far this season (only 11 catches for 136 yards), but he's prepared for the Buckeyes.

    He spoke to the Oakland Tribune about the game, saying (per the's Jake Curtis):

    “It's something I've been looking forward to since I saw the schedule.”

    Allen is the one player on the Golden Bears capable of making a big play any time he touches the ball. At 6'3” and 210 pounds, Allen is a huge target, and there's no one in the Ohio State secondary capable of defending him alone.

    Even if the Buckeyes focus all of their attention on Allen, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford needs to find some way of getting him the ball. Allen is great at generating yards after catches, and he's always a threat to go the distance. He'll need to get a lot of touches if Cal hopes to outgun Ohio State.

Protect the Quarterback

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    A big part of Maynard's success will come down to Cal's offensive line. It's hard to imagine him playing well if he's eating the turf every other play.

    Ohio State is going to bring a lot of pressure this week. The Buckeyes have only recorded three sacks so far this season, but don't let the numbers fool youJohnathan Hankins and company can bring it.

    The Cal offensive line is going to have their hands full with the Ohio State front seven. Maynard is good at avoiding pressure and passing on the run, but he'll need time to throw if Cal's going to move the ball well. And, that means that Ohio State defenders can't be in his face on every attempt.

    It'll be a tough task, but if the Golden Bears' offensive line does its job well enough, Maynard and Allen will be set for big games.

Win the Turnover Battle

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    This is a big one. Cal's been pretty sloppy with the ball so far this season, turning it over twice in each of their games. That can't happen against Ohio State.

    The Buckeyes sport an opportunistic defense that has forced six turnovers this year. Cal needs to make sure they don't add to that total.

    If Ohio State forces turnovers and gets any momentum, the game could get out of hand quicklyespecially considering that it's being played in Columbus.

    The good news for the Golden Bears is that the Buckeyes have had their own troubles with ball security lately. After a turnover-free game against Miami of Ohio, they coughed the ball up three times against Central Florida.

    The Cal defense will have to force Braxton Miller and company into similar mistakes this weekend. If they end up on top when it comes to turnovers, Cal has a good chance of taking this one from the Buckeyes.