Three keys for the Trojans to beat the Cardinal

The Trojans face the Cardinal Saturday night in the Coliseum and publisher Ryan Abraham is there giving you his three keys to the game for USC to beat Stanford.

The Trojans open conference play against Stanford in the Coliseum. The last five matchups have been decided by one score, with Cody Kessler and the Trojans winning the last two contests.

If USC is able to execute the gameplan in the following three areas, expect the Trojans to pull away and win by more than the 10-point spread.

1) Pick up the pace

Last season Steve Sarkisian tried to slow the game down on offense to protect the talented but thin USC defense. This season depth has went from a liability to a strength and the Trojans need to take advantage.

The Cardinal are down to four defensive linemen to fill the six spots on their two-deep, so USC needs to turn this into basketball on grass.

If Clay Helton utilizes the hurry up with a good mix of run and pass, USC will be able to wear down the Stanford defensive line and put up points in a hurry, especially in the second half.

2) Get aggressive on defense

Last season the Trojan defense blitzed only 13% of the time. So far this season USC has more than doubled its blitz rate, rushing at least five defenders at a 28% clip.

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is less effective facing pressure, so dialing up the blitz early and often will pay dividends for the Trojans.

Head coach David Shaw also likes to keep the passing offense focused near the line of scrimmage as Hogan only completes 28% of his passes on throws of 10 yards or more (tied for worst among Power-5 quarterbacks). To combat the swing passes, screens and dump-offs the Trojan defensive backs will also have to play aggressive in press coverage with no big cushions for the Cardinal receivers.

3) Play a "clean" game

The Trojans are the more talented team and can't allow game intangibles to play a big role and level the playing field.

Thus far USC has only committed 9 penalties through two games, so the Trojans simply need to avoid a double-digit flag day with those big personal fouls and potential ejections for targeting.

USC doesn't need to win the turnover battle, it simply needs to avoid losing it badly. A couple of fumbles and a pair of Cody Kessler interceptions is more than enough to keep Stanford in the ballgame.

And on the special teams front USC needs to avoid Stanford generating any huge momentum plays like punt returns for touchdowns or blocked field goals. Make special teams a wash and allow the offense and defense to decide this one.

If the Trojans take care of business in these three areas, don't expect this to be a game decided by field goals: USC 42, Stanford 17.

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Ryan Abraham has been the publisher of since 1996. You can follow him on Twitter at @InsideTroy or email him at Top Stories