Oregon Ducks vs. USC Trojans Football Preview


This weekend’s Oregon vs. USC game could lock-up the Pac-12 North title, and the Ducks would be representing their division in the Pac-12 Championship game on December 2nd.  On the other hand, this is the best alternative to a bowl game that USC can participate in.  For the Trojans, Saturday’s game is a chance to beat the Ducks and take back control of the conference.

The Trojans continue to create their identity under head coach Lane Kiffin.  One area of improvement is their defensive approach that was drawn up by long-time coach Monte Kiffin.  An aspect of USC’s approach to stop the spread offense has been to recruit faster defensive linemen.  They have also put more linebackers in the box to eliminate some of their multiple safety looks in the defensive secondary.  The Trojans should have two goals this week: contain Oregon’s running game, and put up a ton of points through the air.  It may sound simple – take away your opponent’s strength and score more points than them – but to compete with the Duck’s there are two options: 1) keep up with Oregon’s pace, or 2) slow the game down as much as possible.  The Ducks average 46.7 points a game to USC’s 34.1.  Only Washington and LSU were able to hold Oregon to under 40 points.

USC will bring some very talented athletes on offense to Autzen Stadium.  Junior QB Matt Barkley completed 66.8 percent of his passes this season (347 for 370).  He has thrown for 2,782 yards, 29 touchdowns and only six interceptions.  Robert Woods has been a favorite target for Barkley, but his status is uncertain for Saturday’s game (ankle).  Woods has accumulated 92 catches, 1126 yards and 11 touchdowns and will be missed if he is absent this weekend.  It looks like junior receiver Brice Butler is number two on the depth chart behind Woods.  Barkely’s goal should obviously be to connect as much as possible with his receivers.  Freshman Marqise Lee will be among those targets.  Lee has racked up 52 catches, 732 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

The Trojans also boast some young, talented tight ends that create favorable matchups with Oregon’s linebackers and undersized defensive backs.  At tailback, junior Curtis McNeal’s status is “probable” for Saturday’s game.  Curtis takes the bulk of the carries for USC this season and is coming off a career high 148-yards rushing on 18 carries against the Huskies last weekend.  Senior tailback Marc Tyler splits time with McNeal and is a dynamic runner behind the athletic Trojan offensive line.

Last week, USC pulled away from Washington in the second half for an impressive win to come into their game against the Ducks.  But, USC only has two big wins this year.  They defeated Notre Dame earlier this year, and the Huskies last week.  Other notable contests involved losing a nail-biter against an undefeated Stanford team and suffering a surprising loss to Arizona State.

Coach Lane Kiffin took a few calculated risks last week against Washington.  The fake punt was a great call that caught the Huskies off guard and allowed USC’s punter to run for a first down.  The Trojans also put a lot of heat on Husky QB Keith Price who was sacked four times and suffered knee injuries.  In order to beat Oregon on the road, I would expect to see Lane Kiffin continue to take risks.  It would be good for USC to stretch Oregon’s defense more often than they have attempted to stretch previous defenses this year.  They should take some chances and throw some fades down the sideline to their receivers against man-coverage.  The Trojans cannot afford to let Oregon’s ever-improving defense get comfortable playing loose and aggressive along the line of scrimmage.

The Trojans will be facing the best offense and defense they have seen all year.  There was some noise about Oregon’s level of defensive play earlier this season.  Oregon junior linebacker Michael Clay has stepped into a big pair of shoes left by Matthews and he is wearing them nicely as the defense continues to improve each week.  Clay had 11 tackles (eight solo) against Stanford last week.

On offense last week LaMichael James proved that he is back to Heisman-caliber play.  He rushed for 146-yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries against Stanford.  James, Barner, DAT, Darron Thomas and the offensive line will likely put up big numbers on the ground against USC for the third straight year.

Expect the Trojans to play aggressive with their backs against the wall this week.  I believe that scenario is what scares most Duck fans.  USC is improving and establishing their style of play within Kiffin’s program.  That said, however, it is too early for the Trojans to be a contender in Eugene.

My prediction for this weekend is a classic 2011 Oregon Duck football game.  Both teams will keep this close in the first half.  It could be a cold and wet football game, but that shouldn’t really hurt either team.  Oregon is playing at home for what should be the Pac-12 Championship game between the best teams from the North and South.  Oregon’s defense should be able to get to Barkely and that will put him in an unfamiliar position – under a rush and potentially on the ground.  Barkley has only been sacked six times this season, and has only thrown six picks, but just look to last week’s game and what the Ducks did to Andrew Luck.

My prediction is that Oregon wins by aggressive defensive play, creating turnovers, and wearing USC’s defense down by running the ball for most of the second half.  I predict we’ll see 40 -17 Oregon victory.