The Trojans face one of the best receiving corps in the nation this Saturday when they travel to Berkeley to take on the California Golden Bears. California has an impressive trio of talented wide receivers in DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan.
Junior DeSean Jackson is the flashy playmaker of the group. Jackson came into the 2007 season being hyped as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and while he hasn't lived up to the Heisman hype, he is still one of the most dangerous players in the Pac-10 conference.
The speedy wide receiver has caught a pass in 25 straight games for the Golden Bears. So far this season, Jackson has 51 receptions for 586 yards and five touchdowns.
Jackson is also a major threat on special teams. He has returned six punts for touchdowns in his career at Cal, including a 77-yard punt return for touchdown earlier this year against Tennessee.
Senior Lavelle Hawkins has been the Golden Bears' most productive receiver in 2007. Hawkins leads the Golden Bears in receptions (53) and receiving yards (681).
Like DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins also contributes on special teams serving as California's primary kick returner.
Rounding out the group is the steady senior Robert Jordan. A veteran of 39 games, Jordan provides leadership and savvy for the receivers. Jordan has caught at least one pass in a school-record 38 straight games.
Jordan has hauled in 31 receptions for 335 yards and a touchdown this season.
While the California receivers are the best that USC will face all year they are a bit undersized.
Last year the USC secondary set the tone early when Kevin Ellison laid a brutal hit on California's DeSean Jackson. The Trojans' secondary is going to have to be just as physical this year to contain the explosive California receivers.
USC cornerback's Terrell Thomas, Cary Harris and Shareece Wright completely shut down the Oregon State receivers last week and will have to be just as sharp Saturday to keep up with California's Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan.
2. Keep up the Pressure
Last week against Oregon State, the USC defensive line had their best game of the season recording 9 sacks. The night was highlighted by the emergence of freshman defensive end Everson Griffen, who had a team-high 3.5 sacks.
This week USC faces an explosive California offense that features playmakers like Justin Forsett, DeSean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins. The quick strike California offense has had 17 scoring drives of under two minutes this season, including eight drives that lasted less than a minute.
The best way to keep California's offense off balance and out of sync is to get consistent pressure on junior quarterback Nate Longshore.
If given time Longshore is capable of picking apart the USC secondary but if the USC's defensive line led by Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson can create pressure then they can force Longshore to make poor decisions and cause turnovers.
The USC defensive line should be able to get pressure on Longshore and keep him out of rhythm.
3. Establish the Running Game Early
USC is heading into the tenth game of the 2007 season and they still haven't found a consistent rhythm in the passing game. Patrick Turner has had moments where he looked like a No.1 receiver but has failed to be a consistent playmaker. As a result the Trojans will have to rely heavily on their running game this Saturday against California.
The Trojans' running game should get a boost from the news that Stafon Johnson is ready to put his foot injury behind him. Johnson has looked good in practice this week and has been the Trojans best running back when healthy.
If the Trojans are able to establish a physical running game early against California then they could slow the game down and keep the ball out of the hands of California's big-play offense.
The Trojans have a distinct advantage on defense so it will be in their interest to run the ball on offense and eat up the clock.
If the USC offensive line is able to control the line of scrimmage then it could be a long day for the California defense and the Trojans should return from Berkeley with a hard fought victory.