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USC Vs. Stanford: Keys To The Game (Hint: Matt Barkley & Robert Woods Are Involved)

The USC Trojans have a monumental task at hand on Saturday night, facing the undefeated Stanford Cardinal at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a nationally televised game on ESPN. Along with No. 9 Michigan St. battling No. 13 Nebraska and No. 11 Oklahoma facing No. 10 Kansas St., the battle in Los Angeles between the No. 4 and No. 20 teams in the nation is a top college football game of the day. Here are the keys for the Trojans to beat the Cardinal:

Barkley To Woods

This should come as no surprise. The connection between quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods has been prolific this season. Woods has 72 catches through just seven games for 902 yards and eight touchdowns this year. Even though there are five games remaining in the season, Woods is already sixth all time in catches by a Trojan in a single season. Woods is nine catches behind Mike Williams (81 catches in 2002) for fifth place.

Last season in Palo Alto, Barkley and Woods hooked up 12 times for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Barkley threw for a then career-high 390 yards as USC led late in the fourth quarter, only to lose 37-35 on a last-second field goal. Barkley this season has cut down on the mistakes, throwing just four interceptions against 19 touchdowns. He has completed 68.2% of his passes after a 61.3% completion rate during his first two years.

The Ground Game

Andrew Luck is a given, a true superstar at quarterback that will likely get his numbers no matter what the Trojans do. Last year Luck completed 20 of 24 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns, but USC was able to hang around in the fourth quarter. In 2009, Stanford ran all over USC for 325 yards in a 55-21 romp at the Coliseum, the most points ever allowed by the Trojans. Stopping the Cardinal running attack is paramount for the Trojans.

This season, Stanford ranks 17th in the nation in rushing, averaging just over 219 yards per contest. They rushed for a school record 446 yards last week against the Washington Huskies. However, USC ranks 11th in the country in rush defense, allowing only 91 yards per game on the ground. But, as Scott Allen noted at Rule of Tree, Washington came into last week's game 17th in the nation in rushing defense, and are now ranked 57th.

First Half

USC has trailed just once at halftime this season, falling behind 21-9 at Arizona State, and that was their only loss in seven games. In the first half, the Trojans have outscored their opponents by an average of 17-8 this year. As noted by Nikil Selvam earlier this week, the Cardinal have been magnificent in the opening 30 minutes this year.

Stanford, winners of their last 15 games, have not trailed at halftime since November 28, 2009 against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a span of 21 games. USC was tied with Stanford 14-14 at halftime last season. Stanford has outscored their last 20 opponents 453-145 in the first half.

Saturday's 5 p.m. PDT game will be televised nationally by ABC. For more on USC Football, check out Conquest Chronicles.