Preview: USC at Oregon
Oregon is riding a 9-game winning streak, and is a winner of its last 19 conference games. The only blemish on the season came in the opener against consensus No. 1 LSU, and the program hasn’t lost a game in league play since falling to Stanford in November of 2009.
The recent success has the defending conference champion vying for a second appearance in the BCS championship game, but it will need a little help to get there. It can help itself with a victory over visiting USC, which would enable the program to stand tall among schools jockeying for position, and seal the home field for the inaugural Pac 12 championship game.
The goals at USC are more condensed, limited by NCAA sanctions that place the greater objectives out of reach. The Trojans are winners of five of their last six games, and without penalty, would still be in the hunt for a conference championship and possible BCS bowl birth. As it stands, USC is playing for nothing more than respectability, and there isn’t anything that would trumpet a revival more than a victory over Oregon.
Oregon Ducks (9-1)
National Rank: 4 (AP, BCS)
Last Week: defeated Stanford 53-30
Category Avg rank Rush 291.80 5 Pass 206.50 79 Pass Efficiency 160.94 12 Scoring 46.70 3 Total offense 498.30 8
The Oregon offense is one of imbalance, as reflected in the unit’s 430 rushing attempts to only 251 attempts through the air. The Ducks have run their way to success, spearheaded by LaMichael James, and will continue to compile the carries for as long as a defenses show inability to contain it.
It’s the power of that rushing attack that creates opportunities for quarterback Darron Thomas. The Ducks have a national rank of just 79th overall passing, based on an average of just 206 yards per game. But more importantly, Oregon (160.94) is the second-most efficient passing team in the Pac 12, trailing only Stanford. As a result of the heavy defensive focus on the run, Thomas feasts on play-action, finding receivers in space for high percentage throws.
A third weapon in the arsenal is freshman sensation De’Anthony Thomas, a former Southern California commit. Thomas currently ranks 16th in the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging 149.7 yards per game.
Category Avg rank Rush 147.20 56 Pass 236.70 78 Pass Efficiency 112.87 17 Scoring 21.70 33 Total defense 383.9 61
If Oregon has a weakness, it is said to be defensively. Through the naked eye, the unit has regressed from a year ago. But in truth, and viewing the numbers, the Ducks’ 2011 totals are fairly consistent with those from 2010.
Pressuring the passer is what the unit may do best, and its 32 sacks (5th best in the nation) easily supports it. Nine of those sacks have been recorded in the last two games, and Linebacker Josh Kaddu leads the team with a season total of 6.5. The Ducks are third in conference in scoring defense, and fifth best in total defense.
USC Trojans (8-2)
National Rank: 18 (AP)
Last Week: defeated Washington 40-17
Category Avg rank Rush 166.30 50 Pass 278.40 23 Pass Efficiency 152.39 21 Scoring 34.10 27 Total offense 444.70 28
Robert Woods ranks fourth in the nation for receptions (92) and the Trojans would be dealt a severe blow if he was unable to go on Saturday. The Biletnikoff semifinalist has been nagged by shoulder and ankle injuries, with Lane Kiffin calling his status uncertain for the game in Eugene. His absence would change the USC look on offense, but it would still have the equally talented Marqise Lee.
Lee was recently named the Pac 12 player of the week, for his contributions in the victory over Washington. But the absence of his receiving teammate will create more focus on the freshman, leaving players like Brice Butler to step up and take advantage of opportunities provided.
The running game has received a spark from Curtis McNeil, who acts as the big play threat to Marc Tyler’s power game. McNeil has rushed for 498 yards in the last four games, while averaging 6.9 yards per carry. In return, it opened more windows for Matt Barkley, whose has thrown for 12 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions in those games. Barkley’s 29 touchdown tosses on the season ties Andrew Luck for the Pac 12 lead.
Category Avg rank Rush 100.40 8 Pass 263.40 100 Pass Efficiency 130.14 63 Scoring 24.80 55 Total defense 363.80 49
The Trojans are coming off a great defensive performance against Washington, where they limited Chris Polk to just 36 rushing yards, and the Huskies offense to 244 yards as a whole. There is noticeable improvement in the secondary, but also that familiar hole in the middle.
USC opponents have aggressively attacked the youth of the linebacker corps, finding space in the middle that often acts as a bail out to extend drives. It’s an issue that has plagued the team since the opener, and the solution only comes through growth and maturity, as the freshmen learn game by game.
One major concern is the health of both Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris. The defensive tackles are ailing and questionable for this game. As noted by LSU, and Auburn before them, clogging the middle is key to slowing the Oregon rush attack to increase the odds of winning the game.
Analysis: In most instances, a team will attack his opponent at the weakest point, but this isn’t the case for Oregon. The Trojan weakness comes in pass defense, and Chip Kelly, unlike Steve Sarkisian, will not adjust priorities in an attempt to expose it. Running the ball feeds into the strength of the Trojan defense, but that is what Oregon is built for and will continue to do.
The emphasis on running serves two purposes for Oregon. First, it’s where the team gains most of its offensive production. And second, it wears down an opponent, which is important if USC will not have a full stock of big bodies available. In this game a year ago, the Trojan bigs were noticeably gassed by the end of the third quarter, which allowed Oregon a free sprint to the finish line. If you compare it to other game tape, you’ll see the obvious pattern of fatigue among Duck opponents.
X-factor, McNeal and Tyler: USC entered last year’s game with a “tit-for-tat” approach. It tried to match Oregon’s tempo, even utilizing the no-huddle offense. That game plan inevitably failed, because it took the Trojans out of character. The teams that have beaten Oregon over the past two seasons managed to control the pace and the clock. That was also a staple of the great Trojan teams of the past. This is achieved through the ground game, making Tyler and McNeal major players come Saturday. The objective is to score, while also reducing the amount of Oregon possessions in the game. This approach also gives your defense a breather, allowing for a better stance in that final push for victory.
All Time Series: USC leads 36-17-2
Streak: Oregon has won 2
Last Meeting: Oregon 53, USC 32 (Los Angeles)
- Saturday’s game will mark the 8th consecutive meeting between USC and Oregon in which both teams are ranked.
- Oregon has won 19 consecutive conference games, with the last loss in league play occurring in November of 2009.
- Oregon has won 21 consecutive games at Autzen Stadium, the longest active home win streak in the country.
- Oregon has played to 78 consecutive sellout crowds at Autzen Stadium.
- USC is 12-11-1 all-time versus the Ducks in Oregon, but winners of just 2 of the last 7.
- USC has lost 5 consecutive games in the State of Oregon.
- LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing, at an average 150.9 yards per game.
- Oregon enters as one of the most penalized teams in the country, flagged 75 times this season for a loss of 649 yards.
- USC LB Hayes Pullard and lineman Marcus Martin were Crenshaw High School teammates of Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas.
- Marcus Martin is also the cousin of Oregon’s Tony Washington.