Know your foe: The Oregon Ducks
No. 5 USC at No. 10 Oregon
Saturday, October 31 2009
After a season opener that included a loss to Boise State, and the sucker punch heard round the world, the Oregon Ducks have quietly flown under the radar and into the top 10. Faced with humiliating defeat in what was supposed to be a revenge game, and the barbarianism and suspension of star player LeGarrette Blount, Skip Kelly’s program could neither hide from the cameras or remove its name from print.
Through eight weeks of football, the Ducks have shaken off the negative press. A team once thought to be floating motionless on a pond is now full of life, leading the Pac 10, and clearly in the national championship hunt. This was a unit originally believed to be the most capable of ousting USC from its seat upon the conference throne. And provided with a Halloween setting, we will see if these Ducks are worthy of the scare or just another group of posers made up to be something they are not.
TRICK OR TREAT
There’s isn’t a more opportune moment for a blackout, and Oregon students are expected to comply on Halloween night. Doing their part in controlling the backdrop for this crucial game, an Autzen Stadium crowd will look to their team to control the action on the field.
Oregon is powered by the spread offense, and both quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and tailback LaMichael James are crucial to its success. The Ducks rank 14th in the nation in rushing, with the legs of this pair providing most of the production. Masoli has played through the pain and injury of a bad knee, and enters this game less than 100 percent. He represents the third mobile quarterback the Trojans will face this year, already defeating Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State, and losing to Jake Locker and Washington.
Anyone watching and reading about Oregon in the past week has surely seen the repetitive focus on the so called “high flying” Ducks offense. Truth be told, despite being ranked 16th in scoring, Oregon ranks 66th in total offense (368 ypg). In comparison, the Trojan offense, as conservative as it began the season, ranks 13th nationally at 440 yards per game. USC’s past opponents, Oregon State, Notre Dame, and Cal, have more productive offensive units.
The reason for the lagging production total is simple. The Ducks are 108th in the country passing the ball, which represents the lowest of all Trojans opponents so far this season. USC is most threatened by balanced attacks, so emphasizing the need to air it out is a definite key to Oregon success.
Another myth exposed is that Oregon lacks defensively. When the Trojans travel to Eugene tomorrow night, they will face the best defense since playing Ohio State in the second week of the season. The Ducks rank 19th in total defense, allowing season opponents fewer than 300 yards per outing. When you couple the defensive effort creating short fields, you come to understand their ranking in scoring offense without productive numbers. If there is a soft spot, it would be against the run, which could prove favorable for USC on an expected rainy field that would limit passing abilities.
The last time Pete Carroll lost to a ranked opponent was on October 27 2007, in Autzen Stadium, and to the Oregon Ducks. The Trojans have won 3 of the last 4 in the series, but the Ducks have won 6 of the past 11.
It has been noted that the Southern California defense has become victims of collapse in the second halves of the last two ballgames. But unlike Notre and Oregon State, this defense is better built to contain Oregon’s run oriented spread than the more balanced attacks seen in prior weeks. As much as most would love the storyline to be Ducks offense versus Trojans defense, the more important factor may be Matt Barkley performing against a stout foe. If the freshman can play with little error and continued confidence, the Ducks may be in for a long day.
All Time Series: USC leads 36-15-2
Streak: USC won 1
Last Meeting: 2008, USC 42, Oregon 10 (Los Angeles Coliseum)