Preview: Oregon at USC
Oregon and USC was scheduled to be one of the biggest games of 2012. A Trojan loss in Arizona last week has lessened the shine, but not the importance for each. The undefeated Ducks remain in the thick of the national championship hunt, while USC still holds aspirations for a BCS bowl appearance. A loss would be crippling to the goals of either program, as the winner continues its hopeful advance and the loser takes a step back. In what may be a preview of the Pac 12 championship game, it’s USC and Oregon taking center stage.
Oregon Ducks (8-0)
National Rank: 2 (AP), 2 (coaches), 4 (BCS)
Last week: Oregon 70, Colorado 14
Oregon leads the nation in scoring (53.9), and has recorded 40 or more points in each game. The Ducks have surpassed the 50-point mark five times, including a season-high 70 against Colorado last week.
Through Chip Kelly’s offense, the majority of production comes on the ground. Kenjon Barner leads the attack, with an average of 121.25 rushing yards per game, despite rarely participating in the fourth quarter. De’Anthony Thomas poses an all-purpose threat, placing second on the team in rushing yards (599) and rushing touchdowns (7), while also leading the team with 24 receptions. Thomas’ average of 18.33 yards per punt return is best in the nation.
The offense is run through first year starter Marcus Mariota, who is the new face at quarterback. The freshman is completing more than 68 percent of his passes, as defenses focused on stopping the run provide large passing windows. Through 8 games, he has thrown for 1,483 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, doing just enough to keep his team on the winning track.
The Duck defense is arguably the best I’ve seen from Eugene. The numbers are somewhat deceiving, with opponents mostly playing from behind and amassing much of their yardage during garbage time. Oregon has a defensive ranking of 35th nationally, allowing an average of 351.50 yards per game. 14 of 23 forced turnovers have come by way of interception, with 4 returned for scores. The Ducks enter Saturday’s game with 23 sacks as a team, and are second in the Pac behind Arizona State in defensive pass efficiency (104.24).
USC Trojans (6-2)
National rank: 18 (AP), 17 (Coaches), 17 (BCS)
Last week: Arizona 39, USC 36
USC is coming off record-setting performances by Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee. The quarterback threw for a school-record 493 yards in the loss to Arizona, while his receiver’s 345 receiving yards establish a new school and conference record. The duo will need another productive afternoon to keep pace with the visitors, and should have more opportunities in the fast paced game.
Ball security was the issue in Tucson, with USC committing 5 turnovers in the loss. Barkley’s three interceptions marked his third game with multiple picks, and USC found defeat in two of them. Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan also lost fumbles in crucial moments of the game, which led to reduced confidence from their coach and more pass attempts for Barkley.
USC is averaging 446 yards and 35 points per game.
The Trojan defense was further exposed by Arizona last week. The problematic corner spot has often been spotlighted as a weakness, and Austin Hill provided more evidence of such in the last game. The Wildcat receiver punished the USC secondary for 259 yards on 10 receptions, with much of the damage coming on yards after the catch. But an equally big breakdown came in the front seven, where the Trojans allowed Ka’ Deem Carey to gain 119 yards. USC prided itself in defending the run, and had not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor in week 3.
Analysis: USC has allowed just two 100-yard rushers this season, and each resulted in a loss. Now it faces one of the nation’s premiere runners in Kenjon Barner. The Trojans successfully contained LaMichael James in last year’s victory in Eugene, and must also corral Barner for a repeat in 2012. It will take gap discipline to succeed, and stamina to finish.
Oregon’s mistake in the last meeting was falling behind. With another 5 minutes on the clock, the Ducks probably win the game. Though the Ducks owned the fourth quarter, the 38-14 third quarter deficit forced them out of character and into the hands of USC. If Oregon can avoid great depths to climb, it will also avoid its first loss.
X-Factor– De’Anthony Thomas– The former USC commit was a key figure in Oregon’s comeback attempt last year, which included a 96 yard kickoff returned for a touchdown. The sophomore will line up everywhere and is a danger in space. It will be up to the Trojan defense to limit his touches or suffer the consequences.
All-Time Series: USC USC leads 38-18-2
Streak: USC has won 1
Last Meeting: USC 38, Oregon 35 (Eugene)
- Oregon has recorded 11 consecutive victories since last season’s loss to USC. It is the second-longest active streak in the country, trailing only Alabama (12).
- Oregon’s 13 consecutive road victories is the longest active streak in the country
- Oregon’s 30+ points scored in 21 consecutive games is the longest active FBS streak.
- Oregon is 7-23-1 versus USC in Los Angeles
- Chip Kelly has lost just one conference road game in his 5 years as Oregon’s head coach
- Oregon is 8-0 for only the third time in 117 football seasons, but for the second time in the last 3 years.
- The Oregon defense has allowed just 8 red zone scores in 4 Pac 12 games.
- On 7 occasions in 2012, the team beating Colorado went on to lose its next game. USC followed a win over the Buffs with a loss in Arizona. Oregon defeated Colorado last week.
- 33 of 54 Oregon scoring drives lasted less than 2 minutes
- Oregon leads the nation in interception return yards (339), and is tied for third in the nation in pick-sixes (4).
- Lane Kiffin is 1-4 all-time versus teams ranked in the AP top 10.