In sports circles everywhere, it’s widely known that defense wins championships.
The problem for USC is that there is no championship to be won, and the defense has played that way for a large part of this season.
Sure, the Trojans’ defense is coming off its most dominating performance yet, strangling a Cal team that throttled UCLA the week before, holding the Bears to no first downs through the first quarter and just 14 points for the game.
But that was a diamond in what has been a rough season for Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron’s defense — the secondary especially — which is why the result of this game against Associated Press No. 1 Oregon, USC’s bowl game as it’s been dubbed, is up to sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley and his troops.
Oregon has come up against some stiff defense this year. The Stanford defense forced two turnovers en route to a 21-3 first quarter lead, and it looked like the Cardinal was on its way to upsetting the Ducks. However, thanks in large part to the Oregon defense holding Stanford scoreless the entire second half, the offense was able to work its spread 3-D offense and come back for the win.
Then there was Arizona State and one of the hardest hitting linebackers in the game, Vontaze Burfict. The Sun Devils forced the Ducks to punt an astonishing 11 times and held them to their smallest point total of the year at 42. Yet, Oregon still won by a comfortable 11 points because the Arizona State offense turned the ball over seven times.
So even if the Trojans defense does get stops and force turnovers Saturday, that’s not a guaranteed formula for success. Obviously it will help the Trojans if the defense steps up and causes a few early turnovers the offense can capitalize on. This would be a change from last year’s match when the Trojans got a few scores down early and had to play catch-up, which failed disastrously.
The point remains that even if the Trojans do get a few stops, it’s inevitable the Oregon offense will get its points much like Scooby-Doo eventually gets his Scooby snacks. For an offense that leads the nation with an average of 55.1 points through seven games, it’s apparent that nobody is going to stop them.
Thus if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Even though Stanford went up big on Oregon, and Arizona State made the Ducks punt 11 times, both offenses eventually stalled — Stanford didn’t score the entire second half and Arizona State didn’t score in the fourth quarter — which allowed the Ducks to stay calm, get back in the game and eventually take it over.
This can’t happen against USC. I’m not saying that Barkley, senior running back Allen Bradford or the explosive wide receiving/kick returning duo of senior Ronald Johnson and freshman Robert Woods need to score every time; the Trojans could probably get away with punting once.
The more USC can score and continue scoring throughout the game, the more it will put pressure on the Ducks and put them in a situation they have not been in yet this year — trailing in the fourth quarter. As we’ve seen in the last three weeks, when a No. 1 team finds itself in a tight contest late in the game, it has choked and faltered.
It’s not like this is an unreasonable request from the offense. Asking it to don kilts and walk around Chinatown as a mariachi band would be unreasonable. The Trojans have scored 48, 49 and 50 points in games this year, almost all coming solely from the offense. Barkley shredded Cal for five first-half touchdowns last game, bringing his total to 20 on the year, which is fourth in the nation. Those five touchdown passes were part of a stretch where the Trojans scored six touchdowns in seven possessions.
That’s the kind of production the offense needs throughout the game to beat the Ducks. With Bradford, redshirt junior running back Marc Tyler and freshman sensation Dillon Baxter — who said he will play this weekend despite a nagging toe injury that’s kept him out of practice the last two weeks — running the ball, the Trojans not only have a dynamic passing attack, but a versatile and fast rushing presence.
If the offense can score with Oregon, which it’s capable of doing, and not turn the ball over, which it has only done three times in the last three games, the Trojans have a good chance of sending the top-ranked team in the nation home losers for the fourth time in as many weeks.
You can also bet they haven’t forgotten about the humiliating 47-20 drubbing in Eugene on Halloween last year. ESPN’s College GameDay was at that game last year, and it will be at USC on Saturday, but the Trojans have the tools to ensure this game has a different outcome.
For Oregon, that’s a scary thought.
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Clarification: 10/28/10: Oregon is the number one ranked team according to the Associated Press rankings. The Ducks are the second-ranked team in the Bowl Championship Series ranking for the week of October 24th.