Four Downs: Arizona

Creating explosive plays in the running game and containing Arizona receiver Juron Criner are among the four keys for the Trojans to bounce back from its first loss.

-Break the big play
With a young offense that is struggling on third down, the only solution is to create some explosive plays that bypass third down all together. Quarterback Matt Barkley and the passing game have fared alright, working in long passes to Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and tight end Randall Telfer.

But the running game hasn't been able to deliver, with starters Marc Tyler and D.J. Morgan not able to break a rush longer than 26 yards. To put that in comparison, Barkley managed a 12-yard carry.

Against three of the premier offenses in college football, Arizona has allowed 25 runs of 10-plus yards, nine of which covered more than 20 yards. USC head coach Lane Kiffin credited both the quality of competition and the inexperience of a rebuilding Wildcats defense.

"They are kind of going through what we did a year ago early on," he said. "They lost a bunch of really good players last year. These systems take a while for guys to get used to them and be able to play in them."

With Arizona coach Mike Stoops likely focused on limiting Woods, Tyler must take advantage and finally deliver a big play.

-Contain Criner
The 2011 season is only four games old and has already been a strange one for Arizona senior wide receiver Juron Criner. There was the preseason speculation that he was dealing with a serious medical condition and wouldn't be available this year. Then he missed the game at Oklahoma State after undergoing an appendectomy, only to return the following week against Stanford with 48 yards and a touchdown.

Criner is a prototypical standout NFL receiver, with a rare mix of size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and athleticism that should make him a first round pick. In his last visit to the Coliseum two years ago, he caught the game-winning touchdown in Pete Carroll's final home game, but the Trojans largely kept him under wraps last season in spite of his six receptions for 98 yards.

Linebacker Chris Galippo went as far as calling Criner "a beast."

Given the struggles the USC secondary had last week with Arizona State's big receivers, they will have to improve substantially this week to limit Criner. He has the explosiveness to leap over a defender and take the ball away. His speed and power make him dangerous after first contact on the kinds of screens and quick passes the Trojans couldn't limit in Tempe.

Cornerbacks Nickell Robey and Anthony Brown will have to play at their best against Criner, who might be the best receiver they face all season even with Michael Floyd on Notre Dame looming.

-Win the turnover margin
For years, USC dominating the turnover margin was as constant as the rising sun, but that advantage has disappeared over the last few seasons.

In four games, USC has just three takeaways and hasn't fared better than even in turnover margin. They were somehow minus-two against Utah and managed to win, but lost two fumbles and had two passes intercepted at Arizona State to turn the tide of that 43-22 loss.

That has to change against the Wildcats, who have committed just one turnover but have collected only two in response.

Cranking up the pass rush to create some strip sacks or forced throws would be a good start.

-Work through the injuries
The bye week is on everyone's mind. Kiffin, assistant head coach Monte Kiffin and Galippo all pointed out the important of going into it with a win, creating some momentum before they retake the field in 12 days at Cal.

The Trojans have fared pretty well in terms of health, but they started to accumulate this week. Linebacker Lamar Dawson, corner Torin Harris and running back Amir Carlisle are all unlikely to play, while left tackle Matt Kalil and Woods are looking worn down.

If USC can get through Saturday with a 4-1 record, those players should be able to recharge and return in good shape for a very difficult stretch run.


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