USC seeks to stop Oregon run
USC last won in the state of Oregon in 2005.
Much has changed since then. Both coaching staffs have been overhauled. Oregon has won consecutive conference titles, while USC serves the second year of its postseason ban. In short, both teams seemed to be headed in opposite directions.
The two teams are set for a collision course Saturday in a nationally televised primetime matchup. No. 18 USC (8-2, 4-2) has won five of its last six contests, while No. 4 Oregon (9-1, 7-0) has reeled off nine straight wins since losing to No. 1 LSU in early September.
â[Oregon is] probably the hottest team in the country especially if you put them in their place,â USC coach Lane Kiffin said. âI donât know that anybody could tell you that thereâs a better team right now, when they play at home, than Oregon Ducks. So itâs an awesome challenge for us and weâre excited to go up there.â
At Autzen Stadium, Oregon has won 21 consecutive home games. This season the average margin of victory for the Ducks at home is 31 points.
Its offense is a big reason why as Oregon ranks third nationally, averaging 46.7 points per contest, and ninth nationally in total yards with 498.3 per game.
âFor the most part since the opener, really nobody has slowed them down for an entire game,â Kiffin said. âThey do it at times. Now we have to find a way to put it together and rotate a bunch of guys in there and keep our gaps and not let the ball get out in space.â
Quarterback Darron Thomas and tailback LaMichael James lead Oregonâs offense. Thomas has thrown for 1,704 yards and 22 touchdowns this year. James leads the nation with an average of 150.9 rushing yards per contest, and has tallied 1,207 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Ducksâ other tailback, DeâAnthony Thomas, committed to the Trojans early before wavering on his decision and choosing Oregon. Thomas has totaled 789 yards from scrimmage, recording 12 touchdowns. With so many weapons on offense and the speed at which Oregon plays, the coaching staff realizes that its defense will face a tough task.
âYou see the tempo on tape and hear about it, but you really have to play against it in person,â assistant coach Monte Kiffin said. âTheyâre so good and theyâre so explosive and do so many things, but you canât stop everything. You have to be sound in what you do and hopefully [we] can slow them down.â
Though Oregon boasts one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, the USC defense has come alive of late. In three of the Trojansâ last four matchups, they have allowed fewer than 20 points and fewer than 270 yards of total offense. USC has also shut down the running game, allowing opponents to rush for just 88 yards per contest in its last five contests.
âWe have a lot of confidence going into this game,â sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said. âBut this offense is very talented with a lot of explosive guys. We have to get lined up because of the fast-paced offense and we have to have a sense of urgency at all times.â
USCâs defense might be clicking, but its offense has also been a strong point of the team all season. More recently, the Trojansâ running game has performed well, totaling more than 200 rushing yards in three of their last four games. Junior tailback Curtis McNeal has been a key reason for USCâs recent success via the ground, totaling more than 100 yards in three of his last four games. With the play of the offensive line and the tailbacks as of late, the coaching staff understands establishing the running game on the road will be key for the Trojansâ offense.
âItâs important,â running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu said. â[Oregon is] the leading rusher in our conference. They run the ball well and thatâs their success. We have to at least bring our best up there, make sure we can run and be efficient. If weâre effective and efficient, it will help us.â
USCâs success running the ball has alleviated some pressure from the passing game, although the Trojans have not had to throw the ball much in their last two games. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley finished just 18-of-28 for 174 yards and one touchdown against Washington and his top target, sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods, recorded just two receptions for five yards. Woods, however, has been dealing with a nagging shoulder and ankle injury and could sit out Saturdayâs game after not practicing all week.
âHeâs going the wrong direction,â Kiffin said. âIf we just keep practicing him, even though we limited his practice, heâs not getting better. Heâs just worn down and the kid is trying to do everything that he can. A lot of kids wouldnât even be playing right now, but he just keeps throwing himself back in there.â
If Woods were to sit out, Barkley still has plenty of other weapons to choose from, including freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee, junior wide receiver Brice Butler, and tight ends redshirt freshman Randall Telfer and freshman Xavier Grimble.
âWe have a great team and we have guys willing to step up,â junior left tackle Matt Kalil said. âWe have a lot of depth and talent. Weâre playing great, but we have to keep doing that and get after it [on Saturday].â
Though faced against a top-five team in the nation, the players are not backing down and have a positive outlook about Saturdayâs game, especially with the progression the team has made throughout the season.
âWe have a lot of respect for this team,â Telfer said. âThey have a great offense, but weâre very confident in our defense as well. As the season has progressed, our camaraderie is a lot stronger and weâre definitely coming together as a unit. Hopefully we can come home with the win.â
Kickoff is at 5 p.m. and the game will be televised on ABC.