Well, we had a shoot-out on our hands last night, didn’t we?
Oregon defeated USC 62-51 in what was as exciting a game as the Coliseum has seen in a while (or, at least since last year’s triple-overtime Stanford game).
But the Trojans’ defense was unable to make stops on a Duck offense that refused to be stopped.
USC sits at 6-3. The season is far from over. Senior quarterback Matt Barkley still has a chance to lead his team to a 9-3 record, including a big one over a likely undefeated Notre Dame.
But the biggest problem the Trojans face will not be whether they can put points on the board. As we saw Saturday, USC can score with the best of them, even against a stingy Oregon defense.
The problem with USC is its defense. And boy, is it a problem.
More specifically, though, it’s the atrocious run defense.
The Trojans gave up 730 total yards to Oregon, including 321 yards to star tailback Kenjon Barner. Marcus Mariota (yes, the quarterback) ran for 96 yards, including a 58-yard scamper in the first half.
In total, USC surrendered 426 yards on the ground. It was the most a USC team has ever surrendered. Ever. USC has been playing football for more than 100 years.
A few months ago, I wrote the following after West Virginia gave up 63 points to Baylor in a 70-63 victory: “The fact of the matter is that the USC defense is too good to give up that many points. They are too disciplined, have too much pride and are too well-coached.”
I’ll admit it. I was wrong. I was absolutely, positively wrong. I gave assistant head coach Monte Kiffin a lot of credit, thinking that I wouldn’t see a defense coached by him give up 40, 50 and certainly not 60 points. They held Oregon to 35 on the road last year, after all.
But I guess I should have seen this coming, especially from the rush defense. This is a team that gave up 202 yards on the ground to Stanford. They gave up 133 to a not-so-great Syracuse team. They gave up 219 yards last week to Arizona, which is a pass-happy team.
And then there was Saturday night: the worst statistical defensive performance in USC history.
Now, they are not going to play another offense anywhere near as explosive as Oregon’s the rest of the season (unless, of course, they play Oregon again in the conference title game, where the Ducks could put up 85 points).
Arizona State can put up points, and UCLA can too. Notre Dame? Well, we won’t get into that. I don’t know what to make of them right now.
But the Sun Devils are more than capable of putting up 30 on USC, and if the Bruins play like they did against Arizona last night (they put up 66 points), they could give the Trojans a run as well.
Making matters worse for USC is the fact Arizona State has quite the running back in Cameron Marshall, who torched the team for 141 yards and three touchdowns last season, and UCLA has Johnathan Franklin, who just broke the career rushing record for the Bruins. Franklin has 1,204 yards on the season, making him the second-most productive back the Trojans will have faced outside of Barner.
The next couple of games will by no means be easy; they could win all three or lose all three. I really have no clue how things are going to work out for this team.
But I do know this. Monte Kiffin and the defense have a chance to right the ship in the last few games of the season. If they hold (a big “if” currently), they can help this team get nine wins and get a rematch with the Ducks.
The offense will get its numbers. But if the defense can hold the next few teams to, say, 21 points, the Trojans will thrash them.
And if they give up 40? This could get ugly.
I like to give USC the benefit of the doubt. I really do. I think the defense can get it done to close out the season and win the Pac-12 South.
And if the defense hits its stride and visits Oregon for the conference title on the line, we could have ourselves another fun ball game. If they can hold the Ducks to just 40 points, the Trojans might yet have a chance at the Rose Bowl.
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