Oregon Football 2012: Keys to Victory over No. 9 USC
If the Oregon Ducks had to circle one game on their schedule at the beginning of the 2012 season, without question, it would be Nov. 3, against the USC Trojans.
Not only did the Trojans take down the Ducks at Autzen stadium last year, but they thrashed Oregon's chances of getting back into the BCS national championship discussion.
Although the Trojans were the favorite coming into the season, a pair of losses to the Stanford Cardinal and Arizona Wildcats has USC behind the No. 4 Ducks in the BCS rankings at No.17.
Now that Oregon is the favorite to win the showdown on Nov. 3, will the Ducks come into the matchup feeling untouchable, or will they run into the coliseum seeking vengeance from the upset in 2011?
Here are the keys Oregon needs to utilize to overcome their southern foe in 2012.
The first key for Oregon to come away with a victory against USC is quarterback Marcus Mariota.
At times this season, Mariota has shown flashes of brilliance. Other times, he has made decisions that show his inexperience at the position.
Throughout the summer, Chip Kelly and fellow teammates spoke praises of Mariota's calm and unshakable demeanor. So far this season, their words have held true.
Oregon doesn't want to fall behind the Trojans like they did in 2011, so it must be key for Mariota to silence the hype leading up to the game and execute Kelly's game plan.
If Mariota comes out and gets the ball into the hands of the many playmakers on his team, I see the Ducks running away from the coliseum with a big win.
Oregon needs to get their lightning speed tempo going early, and for that to happen, they need to establish a solid rushing attack.
Last year, it was not LaMichael James who ran wild against the freakishly talented Trojan defense, but instead, Kenjon Barner who racked up 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Oregon didn't solidify their ground game until the second half of last year's bout. If the Ducks can go into the coliseum on Nov. 3, and repeatedly punch USC in the face with their explosive backfield, Oregon will have their way.
This game will be the toughest test Marcus Mariota has had to date. USC will bring blitz packages all night long, looking to force interceptions and fumbles.
Mariota needs to be ready to escape the pocket and make smart decisions with his legs. Getting to the outside and keeping plays alive will be vital for Oregon on third down.
Not only will the men of Troy have to cover the many playmakers Mariota can throw to but also the speedy Mariota himself.
Oregon Ducks Defensive Backs
Last year, Matt Barkley stretched the Ducks defense for 323 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Barkley's duo of assassin receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee together received 240 of those yards and three scores.
The biggest key for Oregon's defense this coming Saturday has to be maintaining USC's receiving corps.
Nick Aliotti, the defensive coordinator for Oregon, has a bend-don't-break defensive scheme implemented.
He coaches his players to keep everything in front of them and keep from giving up big plays.
That's exactly how USC effectively attacked Oregon last year. They made big plays down the field in one-on-one matchups. Come game day, the Ducks will be looking to lock up those downfield threats, but it won't be easy.
Oregon's cornerback tandem of Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will both have their hands full with Woods and Lee lining up across from them Saturday.
If these two prominent defenders can keep the Trojan receiving duo in check, which has proven to be a difficult task this season, it will be on the Oregon offense to put this game away, which is exactly the position the Ducks want to be in.
Before signing day in 2011, De'Anthony Thomas was a sure "get" for USC's recruiting class.
Unfortunately for Lane Kiffin, Thomas decided he wanted the ball in his hands on offense rather than playing defense at USC. Needless to say, Thomas signed to play with Oregon instead.
Despite the Trojans upsetting Oregon last November, the "Black Mamba" shined receiving and returning the ball throughout the game.
Thomas proved that he could wound a Trojan defense, and this year, he will look to do nothing less than that.
Much of Chip Kelly's game plan will include getting the ball into De'Anthony Thomas' hands any way he possibly can.
Utilizing Thomas, Kelly can spread out the Trojan defense, create potential big plays and use him as a decoy to keep pressure off Mariota.
Maybe more important than anything, Thomas is headed back down to his homeland in Southern California where he "ran" things during high school.
Saturday, I think we'll see Thomas show everyone at home why he chose to keep the ball in his hands and just how exciting of a show he can put on.
Thomas will come out firing on all cylinders against the Trojans. He will most likely be the X-factor in this showdown and a key component to the Oregon Ducks leaving Southern California with a victory.