The last time USC won a football game in the state of Oregon was in 2005.
The Trojan signal-caller then was Matt Leinart, and the feared USC rushing attack was spearheaded by tandem of LenDale White and Reggie Bush. Oregon had just implemented the spread offense and was using it successfully, quarterbacked by Kellen Clemens.
And now, four years and a devastating 33-31 loss later, the Trojans and Ducks will meet again in Eugene, Ore. on Saturday.
And it seems both sides are still presenting the same problems to each other.
USC still boasts two key running backs — the self-described combination of thunder and lightning, redshirt junior Allen Bradford and junior Joe McKnight. The receivers are there, with juniors Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson slated to start.
“They’re really good,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said in his Tuesday press conference. “They’ve got athletes at every position, they have a stable of running backs, they’ve got two outstanding receivers.”
And the Trojans’ offensive scheme is the same — albeit not as loose with true freshman Matt Barkley now at the helm of USC coach Pete Carroll’s team instead of the redshirt senior Leinart.
“Pete does a great job of putting those guys in position to make plays,” Kelly said. “It’s a tough scheme to prepare for defensively in terms of what they run because it’s kind of unique.”
Of course, the USC offensive attack will not be at full force. Redshirt junior fullback Stanley Havili is expected to miss his second consecutive game with a dislocated shoulder and redshirt junior receiver David Ausberry is all but ruled out with a strained left calf.
McKnight, senior tight end Anthony McCoy and receivers Williams and redshirt freshman Brice Butler all sat out of practice at times this week. McKnight, Williams, and Butler have all been cleared, while McCoy appears to be a game-time decision.
Oregon is also missing its own key skill position player in running back LeGarrette Blount, who was suspended for the rest of the season after the now-infamous punch he planted on Boise State’s Byron Hout after the Ducks’ season-opening loss to the Broncos.
But after the disappointing opener and a close win over Purdue in week two, the Ducks have rebounded, beating consecutive top-20 teams by a combined score of 73-27 and putting together a six-game winning streak.
Junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who completed 18-of-29 passes for 156 yards in Oregon’s 44-10 loss to the Trojans last year, started last week against Washington and ran for two touchdowns while passing for 157 yards. He’s of the same model — a dual-threat at quarterback — as Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor, who many thought would give USC fits earlier this year.
But the Trojans shut down Pryor and they say it could help them when Masoli takes off running Saturday.
“I think that they are similar in their effect they have on the game is very similar,” Carroll said. “They both run tough and they are hard to tackle.”
With Blount’s untimely suspension came the timely response of sophomore running back LaMichael James. Since the second game of the season, James has put up the second-most rushing numbers of any back in the Pac-10, behind only Stanford’s Toby Gerhart.
James carried the ball 15 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the 43-19 win over Washington last week.
“They have presented a tremendous amount of problems for us with their offense,” Carroll said. “It’s such a varied attack with such a good-looking running quarterback with a great style about him. And LaMichael James is really on fire right now, so it’s a very tough attack for us to deal with.”
Saturday’s contest will represent USC’s third road date of the season with a top-25 foe. The first two, Ohio State and Notre Dame, ended as close victories.
The atmosphere at Autzen Stadium will be electric, and as if raucous Oregon fans need any more reason to celebrate, the game will fall on Halloween night.
“We love these opportunities and these situations,” Carroll said. “I think we take them on with a real good attitude that gives you a chance to perform well. We love being in these settings.”