In order for the Ducks to complete their quest to a national title, the beginning of three of the next four games on the road (and three games against ranked teams) starts against the Pac-12 favorite that was picked to win it all before the season began. With two losses, a national title may be out of the picture for the Trojans, but a conference title is not. Here’s what Oregon needs to do to notch their ninth win of the season.
1) Oregon’s running attack needs to excel against USC’s rush defense.
The Ducks have the third-best running offense in the country with 330 yards a game, guiding them to the best scoring offense with 53.4 points a game. It’s pure domination, but how legitimate is it? Crunching even more numbers, Oregon’s toughest rush defense they have faced all season was against Arizona – they’re ranked 73rd overall. Recalling that game, it was a slow start for the offense in the first half but it was the defense they saved the day in an eventual 49-0 blowout.
USC comes in with the 29th-ranked run defense. A key defensive lineman to watch will be junior Morgan Breslin, who has 34 tackles on the season (25 solo, nine assists) and an impressive 12 tackles for loss. He will determine whether or not Kenjon Barner or De’Anthony Thomas will have success on the day. In both Trojan losses, they gave up over 200 yards on the ground.
2) Marcus Mariota can’t get rattled at the beginning of the game.
Sun Devil Stadium at night is usually a hard place to play, but after succeeding off of a soft schedule it was obvious that Arizona State was nowhere near ready for Oregon’s running game. Losing Will Sutton early helped Kenjon Barner run all over the Sun Devils in a game that was quickly decided in the second quarter.
That’s the only adversity the Ducks have faced this season. Without question, it makes things twice as hard when Oregon’s not only facing their toughest opponent all season, but a highlighted stage at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in primetime on national broadcast television. Mariota’s job is to not let all that sink in and play his game the same way Chip Kelly has taught him in the previous eight victories.
3) Force USC off the field on third down.
Two problem areas for Lane Kiffin’s squad is racking up over 10 penalties a game and converting just 32.22 percent of their third downs. It doesn’t take much for Oregon to score, just about every touchdown last week against Colorado took less than two minutes. But the Ducks will likely not be able to run it down a Trojan defense that’s better at stopping the run. USC wants methodical drives that keeps Oregon’s offense on the sideline, otherwise Chip Kelly will gain enough possessions to figure out the best way to attack their defense.
Brian Spaen is the lead editor for Autzen Zoo. See his banter with other FanSided writers and love for his favorite west coast professional teams by following him on Twitter.