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USC Football: Oregon Game Preview and Analysis

Andrew Parrone |
November 18, 2011 | 7:48 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

The Ducks look to fly past USC to the National Championship. (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
The Ducks look to fly past USC to the National Championship. (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
Road tests don’t get much more difficult than this.

USC (8-2) travels to Eugene to take on new conference bad boy Oregon (9-1) in a clash of the Pac-12’s two preeminent football programs.

The Trojans exacted some revenge on Washington, pounding the Huskies 40-17 despite taking their foot off the gas for the last quarter.

Meanwhile, Oregon disposed of previously unbeaten Stanford in similar fashion, defeating the Fighting Andrew Lucks 53-30 in Palo Alto.

What to Watch For:

While the official Pac-12 Championship game is being played December 2, this matchup serves as the de facto battle for conference supremacy. More than anything, USC will prove it is back on a national level if it can pull off the shocking upset.

The state of Oregon has not been kind to USC in the last several years, as the Trojans haven’t won a game at UO or Oregon St. since 2005. I’m convinced there’s some sort of voodoo curse in place as soon as they cross the state border.

A big part of the problem is playing at Autzen Stadium.  A veritable haunted house for opposing teams, the environment can be a little overwhelming for young players who haven’t experienced it. 

There are a lot of first and second-year Trojans who have never faced an atmosphere quite like the one they are going to encounter on Saturday night, so don’t be surprised if there are a few penalties early on.

Another big reason for their lack of success is that Chip Kelly and the Ducks are pretty darn good. They have won the last two matchups in relatively easy fashion, including last year’s 53-32 victory. That should light a fire underneath the Trojans.

Oregon is favored by 14.5 points, putting USC as the biggest underdog it has been since the 90s. This also means the Trojans have little to lose, and all the pressure is on Oregon to come up with a decisive victory.

For reasons that cannot be explained, USC did not move up in this week’s AP rankings despite stomping on a decent opponent, and remain 18th in the poll. 

One brilliant voter doesn’t even have USC ranked, which makes you wonder if these guys even know a thing about college football. This should provide USC just a little bit more motivation to come out ready to go.

Don’t look now, but Lane Kiffin might just be the long-term solution at the helm of the Trojans. He’s gotten great performances from his team each week for the last month, and notching the upset this week should make him the slam-dunk choice for Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Oregon’s rise to the top of the conference pecking order has also made recruiting against the Ducks much more challenging (I’m talking about you Black Mamba). Several important recruits will be officially visiting Eugene this weekend, including former Trojan commit Arik Armstead.

When USC is on Offense:

USC QB Matt Barkley
USC QB Matt Barkley
Fortunately for the Trojans, they didn’t need Matt Barkley’s best game to beat the Huskies. That will not be the case this week, as it might take a monumental game for the junior signal caller to knock off the Ducks.

Barkley cannot afford to cough the ball up by forcing throws into traffic. The Ducks won’t lose if they win the turnover battle. He also has to control the tempo while USC is on offense to make sure that his defense gets a breather every once and a while.

Barkley’s job gets significantly tougher if Robert Woods isn’t at full strength. Kiffin said that Woods might miss the game, but you can bet that he will be on the field for the first offensive snap. The question is, how effective will he be?

Fortunately, Marquise Lee should be able to pick up most of the slack if Woods isn’t available. He’s become nearly as dependable as Woods, and he’s just as big a threat to take it the distance on any play. 

Brice Butler would slide into Woods’ empty spot, and while underutilized, has shown he is capable of making the spectacular catch.

John Boyett and Eddie Pleasant form a great tandem at safety for the Ducks, with Pleasant (three interceptions) assuming the role of ballhawk this season.

As with the rest of the defense, Oregon rotates in a bunch of guys at corner. Anthony Gildon, Terrance Mitchell and Avery Patterson will all see a lot of time against USC’s receivers.

I think it’s safe to say that USC’s offensive line is a collective strength now. They continue to clear out huge lanes in the running game while giving Barkley plenty of time in the pocket (only six sacks allowed). Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes deserve a ton of credit for getting their group to this point.

They’re going to need huge contributions from everyone this week, as the Ducks lead the conference in sacks with 32. Dion Jordan is poses a big problem with his gigantic wingspan, and look for linebacker Josh Kaddu (team-leading 6.5 sacks) to blitz frequently.

For the fourth time in five games, Curtis McNeal established a new career high in rushing yards with 148. If he's able to top that mark again, USC is in great shape.

It’s hard to imagine, but Andre Heidari is on his way to an All Pac-12 season as a true freshman. If the game comes down to a kick, Kiffin should have full confidence in Heidari’s ability to deliver.

When Oregon is on Offense:

LaMichael James (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
LaMichael James (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
The biggest thing the Trojans need to focus on this week is tackling in space, especially before the play develops. LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas are some of the most dangerous skill players in the country, which makes it critical for USC to wrap up before they break containment.

While Darron Thomas has been a bit shaky at times this year, he is still second in the conference in passing efficiency, which is ahead of Barkley. Thomas’ biggest skill is deftly running the read-option, and he always seems to make the right decision with the ball in the ground game.

The defensive line finally gave ‘SC fans the game they’ve been waiting for since the opener against Minnesota, racking up seven sacks against the Huskies. Nick Perry catapulted himself into contention for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors with his performance last Saturday (2.5 sacks).

The Trojans desperately need defensive tackles DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou to be available and close to 100 percent healthy this week. Both seniors have missed practice time this week with various injuries, and their presence is badly needed to clog the middle against the Ducks.

It’s pretty incredible that James leads the Pac-12 in rushing with 1,207 yards despite missing two games with a dislocated elbow. He absolutely killed USC last year, so the Trojan defenders need to make sure they meet him in the backfield before he can get to full speed.

As if James and Barner weren’t enough, Oregon’s backfield is so crowded that freshman phenom (and USC dissenter) De’Anthony Thomas has had to do most of his damage as a receiver. He leads the Ducks in receiving yards (423) and is second on the team with seven receiving touchdowns.

Lavasier Tuinei (30 catches, eight touchdowns) is a huge receiver down the field for Thomas, and David Paulson is about as reliable as they come at tight end.

More than any game this season, USC’s defensive backs have to stay disciplined against the option. Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald are great tacklers in run support, but their ability to quickly diagnose the direction of plays and create containment will be even more important.

For weeks now, USC’ pass defense has missed Torin Harris. With so much focus on the run defense this week, having another good corner to defend against the pass would help the Trojans immensely. Maybe this will finally be the week he makes his return.

Oregon’s rebuilt offensive line has paved the way for over 290 yards a game on the ground, and has allowed only seven sacks. Mark Asper, Carson York and Darrion Weems lead the disciplined bunch.

Because Monte Kiffin likes to stick with his base defense for a majority of plays, outside linebackers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey are going to regularly match up with Oregon receivers in the slot. This game is the very reason Bailey was converted from safety to linebacker in the offseason.


By almost every measure, USC is a much better team than they were a year ago. The offense is explosive and takes care of the ball, and the defense has been much better at preventing big plays. Not many teams across the country would want to face this team right now.

However, Oregon is one of the few teams that is more than capable of handling USC. Their level of dominance in the conference over the last several years has been astounding, and they  are unquestionably better than they were when they faced LSU to start the season.

Despite giving the Ducks a bit of a battle, I expect the Trojans to come up short, losing 48-31. USC’s offense will put up some points, but keeping up with Oregon is just too much to ask from this young Trojans’ squad.


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