Lucas Clark: There is no two ways about it, this weekend’s matchup between the No. 10 Oregon Ducks and the No. 5 USC Trojans will be the game of the year in the Pac-10 Conference. Both teams feature a talented and versatile offense, which is backed up by two outstanding defenses.
I think we will have a pretty good idea of how the game unfolds by the end of the first few series, in that if the young Duck offensive line cannot create holes for the speedy Oregon running backs then first-year head coach Chip Kelly will have to turn to the passing game.
The Ducks proved they could move the ball through the air against UW last weekend, but the USC secondary is much more talented.
Josh Jovanelly: There is no doubt that Saturday’s game decides the Pac-10. Going into the season, most people circled this game thinking it would be exactly that, but after Oregon lost to Boise State in its first game, everybody seemed to write the Ducks off — much too early obviously.
Oregon’s inexperienced offensive line is definitely the key as Clark said. USC has the size and the speed up front to stop the Duck rushing attack, but the Trojans have had difficulty in the past with the spread rushing offenses.
A few weeks ago, I would have been more confident in USC’s secondary, but after Notre Dame and Oregon State racked up tons of passing yards against the Trojans, USC’s secondary may be more suspect than you think.
LC: You’re right, Oregon was definitely written off too early, but after the performance in Boise, as well as the aftermath, it was probably deserved.
But the one consistent unit throughout the entire season has been the Duck defense. As a unit it’s suffered more injuries than most teams go through in an entire season, yet it has still managed to allow only three touchdowns in four conference games and held one of the nation’s top running backs in Cal’s Jahvid Best to 52 yards rushing.
Middle linebacker Casey Matthews is having a monster year up the middle and it should be an interesting matchup with him and some of the USC backs like Joe McKnight.
JJ: Oregon’s defense has indeed been impressive, especially recently, but it did give up 36 to Purdue and 24 to Utah earlier in the year.
USC’s offense has been clicking recently. Quarterback Matt Barkley seems to be hitting his stride and the coaching staff is more willing to let him stretch the field to receivers Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson. But Barkley has thrown too many interceptions, something the Ducks can take advantage of.
The key to stopping USC is stopping the rush. Matthews will have his hands full with McKnight and running back Allen Bradford, who can provide the power that McKnight lacks. But if the Ducks can slow McKnight and Bradford and force Barkley into bad throws, things could get interesting.
LC: I see Barkley as being the X-factor. I haven’t been completely sold on him so far this season, but his numbers and the fact that he is still only a freshman partially makes up for it. He leads the Pac-10 in passing yards per game with 256.7, but like Jovanelly said, he has had some trouble throwing interceptions.
His efficiency rating of 148.7 is more than impressive, while Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has improved game by game. Granted, he has only thrown five touchdown passes, but his legs are what make him so dangerous at the position. His seven touchdowns on the ground leads the team and as redshirt freshman LaMichael James gets better so does the Duck offense as a whole.
JJ: A lot of hype has surrounded Barkley and some of it has been a little over the top. He wasn’t putting up the numbers early on in the season, but his poise under pressure is what has set him apart. If ever a true freshman was ready to play in the hostile Autzen Stadium environment, Barkley is that guy, only because he played so calmly against raucous crowds at Ohio State and Notre Dame.
But if Masoli gets going on the ground, USC could be in trouble. USC coach Pete Carroll’s defenses typically struggle against mobile quarterbacks. That’s why Jake Locker had so much success in Washington’s upset of the Trojans.
Masoli looked good last week against Washington and was especially impressive against Cal. He will be the key for the Ducks.