Trojans look to stop Ducks’ potent offense

Freshman cornerback Chris Steele returned to practice this week after missing USC’s game against Colorado. (Sarah Ko / Daily Trojan)

USC and No. 7 Oregon sit atop their respective divisions in the Pac-12 heading into Saturday as they both look to knock the other off their current standing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

USC’s defense will likely be welcoming back defensive end Christian Rector, who sat out against Arizona and Colorado with an ankle injury. Rector said Wednesday that he felt 100% for the first time since Week 2 against Stanford.

“I’m just happy to be back out there and happy to be playing for this team,” Rector said. “Dealing with an injury sucks as an athlete, but I think I’m mentally stronger.”

Freshman cornerback Chris Steele also returned to practice Tuesday, while sophomore inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV resumed practice Wednesday.

“[Oregon does] a lot of great things,” Gaoteote said. “But with all that, it’s all just football, so we just got to compete.”

The Ducks are coming off a close 37-35 win against fellow Pac-12 North member Washington State after falling behind 35-34 with one minute remaining in the contest. A last-second field goal by freshman kicker Camden Lewis secured Oregon’s seventh straight win of the year.

Meanwhile, USC is also coming off a near-collapse against a Pac-12 division opponent as it snuck past Colorado 35-31 last Friday. The Trojans were led by freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, who maintained his accuracy, completing 68.2% of his passes for 406 yards and four touchdowns.

Additionally, Colorado senior quarterback Steven Montez was on a roll early on against the Trojans, but after a hit from redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Hunter Echols, Montez did not look the same. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast hopes USC’s defense will keep up the pressure when it encounters Oregon’s potent offense.

“[Oregon] gives you a lot of different personnel groups and run blocking schemes,” Pendergast said. “In the passing game, they use all parts of the field.” 

Pendergast also said Oregon’s offensive line is “one of the better ones” he has seen at the collegiate level.

Oregon is fighting for a spot in the College Football Playoff with senior quarterback and projected 2020 first-round pick Justin Herbert at the helm, while USC is looking to sneak its way toward a Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl appearance. 

“The key to us winning this game is to get the quarterback down,” Echols said. “We know Justin Herbert is an NFL guy, and in order to win this game we’re going to have to put pressure on the quarterback.” 

Echols added that the defense will have to “plaster” Oregon’s receiving corps consisting of juniors Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd and freshman Mycah Pittman, the younger brother of USC senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.

The Trojans will look to maintain their perfect home record at the Coliseum, despite the threat posed by the visiting Oregon offense. Slovis and his talented wideouts — including Pittman Jr., sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown and redshirt junior Tyler Vaughns — must continue to come up with big plays to get points on the board.

The game against Oregon will kick off 5 p.m. Saturday.