To get ready for the big USC Trojans vs. Oregon Ducks football matchup tonight at the Coliseum, we thought we’d chat up the Trojans with Michael Castillo, the lead editor for Reign of Troy on the FanSided Network. Let’s grill him.
Autzen Zoo: Was USC caught looking ahead to playing Oregon in their loss to Arizona?
Michael Castillo, Reign of Troy: I think when you look at it initially, they were. All they had to do was beat the Wildcats and they would be playing Oregon for the right to pretty much be the best one-loss team in the nation and right in the thick of the title race. But looking at the game, I don’t think it was looking ahead. Arizona is awfully good, and at the same time, the Trojans had a two score lead in the second half and gift wrapped nearly all of the Wildcats’ first half points. It could have gotten out of hand but SC lacked the killer instinct we saw last year, and that was really the culprit. Since it’s been a common thread this season, it can’t be solely on the idea of looking ahead to the Ducks.
Autzen Zoo: Has Matt Barkley improved, regressed, or stayed the same from a year ago in his quarterback play?
Michael Castillo, Reign of Troy: I’m always careful to say that a player has regressed, and in Barkley’s case, it’s hard to say that an athlete with his talent can suddenly have less talent and poise. I would say that he’s either underachieving or what we saw last year was a performance spike. He’s just had so many moments this season where he’s making decisions that he did in his first two seasons at Troy, which has subsequently led to interceptions and has killed drives. In the two losses, Barkley’s passer rating is 128.5, which would put him at 71st in the nation overall if he did that each week. In wins? Well, he has a 181.0 rating, which would put him behind Alabama’s A.J. McCarron for second in the nation. That says it all.
Autzen Zoo: Silas Redd has played great this season, but Curtis McNeal is nowhere near the same production he had a season ago. Is this based on Redd just getting more touches or McNeal’s injuries?
Michael Castillo, Reign of Troy: Definitely McNeal’s injuries. When McNeal has been healthy, they’ve complimented each other nicely, as Redd is the guy that finds the hole and gets extra yards, while McNeal is better in open space and running through holes for long runs. That really makes them pretty similar to Barner and Thomas.
Autzen Zoo: In USC’s losses, they gave up over 200 yards rushing. What are the keys to stop Oregon’s running attack?
Michael Castillo, Reign of Troy: It’s all about getting to the mesh point and forcing Marcus Mariota to make bad decisions on the zone read. The Trojans have been able to do that for periods against Oregon lately, as seen in 2010 for two quarters and 2011 for three quarters. With a defensive line that has been stellar in their victories, they have the personnel to do it, but it’s about disrupting the zone read, just like Nick Fairley did for Auburn in the title game.
Autzen Zoo: How big of a concern are the penalties and third-down conversions for USC, and which category must the Trojans improve on against the Ducks?
Michael Castillo, Reign of Troy: Both are really important as the Trojans need to keep Oregon’s offense off the field as much as possible. Lane Kiffin had the team watch a montage full of the season’s penalties on Sunday and the players were adamant they’re determined to turn the corner. Are they? We’ll have to see. As for third downs, SC was stellar in those situations in the first half against Arizona, but they couldn’t convert on third down if their lives depended on it in the second half. Overall though, the third downs are probably more important.
Autzen Zoo: What is your prediction on the game?
Michael Castillo, Reign of Troy: I see the game being awfully close and awfully evenly matched. I think it’ll be a lot like the 2010 matchup, with both teams playing hard and even on the scoreboard well into the third, with turnovers making the difference. At that point, either USC can crumble as they did against Stanford and Arizona, or they can find a way to force Mariota to look like a freshman. Call me a homer, but I think the Trojans pull it out. Mariota hasn’t needed to throw on the road and with a weak secondary, the Trojans will make it enticing, leaving him vulnerable to freshman mistakes. Trojans 44, Ducks 38.