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USC Football: Keys to the Game vs. Cal Golden Bears

In a battle of undefeated Pac-12 teams, here is what the Trojans need to do to earn a crucial conference victory

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Trojans have had a quite the season, and it’s only been three games.

Narrow victories over unranked opponents and a convincing victory over a then 14th-ranked Stanford Cardinal team have given USC quite the maddeningly inconsistent squad.

Now the Trojans face the undefeated Cal Golden Bears in what is USC’s first road game of the season—a very underrated facet of this game. Unlike the past couple of weeks, there are only two pivotal opportunities the Trojans must address to win this game.

Defense is the most crucial here. USC have been stingy all season and have been on the bend—yet to break.

The unit as a whole has had success pressuring opposing quarterbacks with a charge lead by outside linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Porter Gustin.

The secondary is loaded with talent from junior cornerback Iman Marshall, sophomore Jack Jones and the emergence of Marvell Tell III. However, the unit needs to work on creating more turnover opportunities—especially with the potential return of wide receiver Demetris Robertson.

With all those things considered the big key here is…


Poor tackling continues to plague this Trojan team. For all the talent and opportunities this defense has, tackling is an issue for everyone—minus Cam Smith of course.

The Trojans were fortunate in their last contest against the Texas Longhorns with Chris Warren III running for only four carries, however that shouldn’t be the case with Cal’s Patrick Laird.

Laird has exploded onto this year becoming the guy in the backfield getting his year rolling with 278 yards, four touchdowns and an impressive 7.5 yards per carry average. Laird has also chipped in eight receptions for 94 yards and one score.

Cal can control the pace of this game by feeding Laird and taking shots down field on a tired and stifled Trojan defense. Time of possession and pace will win this game for Cal, however considering the Trojans can get to the backfield and reach Laird—they just have to finish the play.


Here, watch this

See what happened there—minus the interception, that happened five times in the first half!

Poor tackling on one end of the ball and dropped passes on the other end (how is this team 3-0?!!) is a recipe for absolute devastation. The Trojans have many missed opportunities on offense—and yes some of these involve Darnold’s cross-body throws, but we’ll reserve criticism for Darnold until the receivers surrender less drops

Once a QB, converted WR Jalen Greene is the primary culprit of these dropped passes. Greene has shown an abundance of versatility and can legitimately prove to be this team’s ultimate weapon on offense—but HE NEEDS TO CATCH THE DANG BALL.

Deontay Burnett is heavily-targeted out of necessity while Stephen Mitchell Jr. is also a part of the Butterfinger Gang in USC. I don’t see this team as truly balanced, due to the lack diversity in the passing game.

The running back duo of Jones III-Carr have been mostly solid throughout the season, but adding another dimension in the passing game will make this team much more dangerous.

If USC continues to drop passes in this game particularly on passing downs, we’ll be in for another barn-burner—considering they won’t have home-field advantage, this one might end differently.