Four Downs: Ohio State

Keenan Allen (US Presswire)

Junior wide receiver Keenan Allen must elevate Cal with big plays on offense and special teams to upset Ohio State.

BERKELEY, Calif. – How can California give the Pac-12 its fourth win over a Big Ten team this season, and come away with major momentum headed into their conference opener next week? A masterful showing from wide receiver Keenan Allen, and the Golden Bears making marked improvement on defense are among Cal Sports Digest's keys to the game.

-Keenan, Make A Moment
Keenan Allen will, barring injury, own every significant Cal receiving record by the end of his junior season. But the Bears have been unable to turn that production into marquee wins, going 14-13 with the future first-round pick at their disposal.

Allen's three best statistical performances have come in losses, none closer than eight points despite totaling 32 receptions for 527 yards and two touchdowns against Washington, Oregon, and USC last season. All his greatness has yet to result in a signature victory for Cal, but that can change Saturday.

This is Allen's chance for a defining game, to make a defining play that will elevate his time at Cal beyond mere numbers. He needs to come through with a key catch, a big punt return, something that sparks the team to finally reach its potential.

Ohio State has a secondary that has come up with plenty of interceptions, but is also giving up 281 passing yards per game. Allen must attack senior cornerback Travis Howard, who has three picks in two games, and carry Cal to a win that can change the direction of this campaign and his legacy.

-Do The Little Things
Make no mistake about it, Cal has the personnel to come away with the upset win at the Horseshoe, but the margin for error is very slim. That means cutting out the unnecessary mistakes that have killed them through these first two games.

No more penalties, especially personal fouls born out of frustration or aggression. Cut down on self-inflicted third and longs. Make plays when they present themselves.

More than anyone else, quarterback Zach Maynard must resist the temptation to do too much. There will be times when the right move might be throwing the ball away or taking a sack instead of lobbing a pass into tight coverage resulting in a turnover.

It might not take a perfect game to beat Ohio State, but it will definitely take more than the erratic performances Cal put in against Nevada and Southern Utah.

-Make A Stop On Third Down
Not that long ago, being within shouting distance of Penn State in any defensive category would have been a point of pride. This season? Not so much.

Cal has allowed 21 third-down conversions in two games, second-most in college football behind only the Nittany Lions with 22. Opponents have converted 52.5 percent of the time when the Bears had a chance to get off the field, which ranks No. 111 out of 120 teams.

While the defense has done a good job in not allowing explosive plays, aside from two exceptions, Ohio State has a different kind of athlete at its disposal. Give them chances to extend drives, eventually Cal will break and surrender touchdowns.

The biggest challenge will be balancing the desire to pressure quarterback Braxton Miller without allowing him to break free and scramble, so defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast must be judicious with how he attacks on third down.

-Bring The Pain To Braxton
Everyone believed Miller would be a perfect fit for Urban Meyer's spread option offense, but not to this extent. Through two games, the sophomore has accounted for nearly 70 percent of the Buckeyes' total offense and is responsible for seven of the team's 11 offensive touchdowns.

With multiple injuries at tailback, Miller has taken on an enormous role in the ground game, with 44 carries through two games. The next highest total belongs to Carlos Hyde and his 24 attempts before suffering a knee injury against UCF.

While projected starting running back Jordan Hall could return this week from a cut foot, Miller is the focal point of the Ohio State attack. Every time the Cal defense gets the chance, they must punish Miller to create doubt in his mind and make him hesitate.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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