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Pac-12 Championship Game: The USC defense against Stanford's offense

The Stanford offense has been highly effective this season and the USC defense will have their hands full on Saturday. Here are a few keys to defensive success for the Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship game.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Contain Christian McCaffrey:

This first key is both the most obvious and the most important. McCaffrey is a special player who can do it all. He is setting rushing records on the ground, he's returning kicks for touchdowns, he is a receiving threat and he has even thrown for a touchdown pass. The guy changes the game and teams that have success against Stanford tend to do well in containing Christian McCaffrey or at least prevent him from taking it over. If McCaffrey has even an average (for him) game rushing the football it could be a rough game for the Trojans.

Invite "bad" Kevin Hogan out to Play:

If USC can contain Christian McCaffrey they stand a much better chance of winning the conference. Just containing McCaffrey, however, is no guarantee of success. Last week Notre Dame's defensive front was able to limit Christian McCaffrey but the Cardinal offense still put plenty of points on the board in a thrilling victory. This is because Kevin Hogan is a skilled veteran quarterback with plenty of weapons like Devon Cajuste, Austin Hooper, Michael Rector, Bryce Love and others.

Notre Dame was unable to stop all of these weapons skillfully directed by Kevin Hogan under center. When Hogan is on his game the offense is difficult to stop. We have seen at times, however, that you can throw Hogan off of his game. Oregon, Northwestern and even Washington State were able to crash the box and cause havoc in the backfield. When this happened Hogan's decisions and passes grew more erratic and less reliable.

Until last week against UCLA, Justin Wilcox and the USC defense were either unwilling or unable to bring steady, consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The big question is which defensive strategy will the Trojans bring with them to Santa Clara, the one we saw against Oregon and many others, or the one we saw against UCLA? If you allow Hogan plenty of time to make throws then the pressure will be on the young USC defensive backs to prevent the Cardinal passing attack from carving up the USC secondary.

Get off the field:

Stanford loves to control the clock and limit the number of possessions with extended methodical drives. This puts a strain on opposing defenses which can leave them worn down at the end of a close game. Obviously the USC defense needs to get stops, but the Trojans need to reduce Stanford's time of possession, particularly if the USC offense gets off to a slow start. It has been said before all week but it is worth repeating. This game will come down to who is more physical. Stanford's offensive line is very physical and has few problems pushing opposing defenses around. The Trojan front will have to be even more physical to get the Stanford offense off the field.