One of the many things that come to mind when thinking about the Oregon Ducks is offense, flashy uniforms and even more offense. You don't watch this football team to see defense, but surprisingly enough, the defense is a big reason the team has jumped out to an 8-0 start.
The defensive side of the ball will have the ultimate test this weekend against the USC Trojans. Its performance will show us just how serious a contender this program is when it comes to national championship conversations.
Oregon running back Kenjon Barner is only 26 rushing yards away from hitting the 1,000-yard mark on the season. De'Anthony Thomas has picked up 29 first downs and is averaging over eight yards every time he touches the football. Marcus Mariota is probably the best quarterback Chip Kelly has had since he took over the Ducks back in 2009.
Oregon is averaging 540 yards and over 50 points per contest, making this team one of the scariest units in all of college football.
Forget those numbers, the defense is what you should be paying attention to this weekend.
The Ducks are allowing 351 yards per game on the defensive side of the ball, which is good for fourth in the Pac-12. But when you factor in the 618 plays for which this unit has been on the field, which is the 10th most in the conference, the yards-per-play average totals out to 4.55 yards, which is the second fewest of any team in the Pac-12.
While USC may not be the team everybody thought it was going to be in the beginning of the season, as a 6-2 record has already made this season a failure, the offense can certainly move the football.
Quarterback Matt Barkley should still be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Although he has been careless with the football at times, he is still completing 65 percent of his passes and has five games where he has thrown at least three touchdowns. He torched this Oregon defense last season for 323 passing yards and four touchdowns, and is more than capable of going off this Saturday as well.
As far as the receivers are concerned, there is probably no better duo than Robert Woods and Marqise Lee in all of college football. Woods has racked up over 2,000 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns in fewer than three years, while Lee is an absolute monster and is coming off a game where he had over 300 receiving yards.
Both guys will provide mismatches for this Oregon secondary and have the skill set to become first-round picks in future NFL drafts.
There are many great players in the defensive backfield such as Terrance Mitchell, but none are capable of shutting down a player such as Lee, who has terrific size and is the best at picking up yards after the catch.
If the passing game wasn't enough to worry about, the Trojans also have a solid running game, which features Silas Redd. The Penn State transfer is averaging over five yards a carry, has five rushes for over 20 yards and he has scored at least one touchdown in six of the first eight games. With his combination of size and downhill running style, he can wear down this Ducks defensive front and make things difficult the rest of the way.
Oregon is second in the Pac-12, allowing opponents to convert on just 28 percent of its third-down attempts. It has forced 23 turnovers, which is currently tied with USC for the most in the conference, and has allowed only 11 touchdowns on 31 red-zone trips, which is good for 35 percent—also the best the Pac-12 has to offer.
Who wins the Pac-12 game of the year?
The Ducks were able to shut out an explosive Arizona team earlier this year and held Washington State to minus-8 rushing yards, but USC is not like any other offense this unit has faced this season.
One of the main reasons many had picked the Trojans to win this conference in the beginning of the year is because of this offensive unit that is capable of dropping 50 points in the blink of an eye.
And with the USC defense not living up to expectations this year, the only way the Trojans will likely pull off an upset is if the offense can keep up with the Ducks' high-scoring machine. This means that the Ducks defense will be tested to its limits, as USC will look to present a flawless offensive game plan this weekend.
It is one thing to be able to score 50 points a game and move the ball effortlessly, but it has been shown that defense is what wins national championships in college football.
We know what the Ducks are capable of on offense. We will soon find out if the defense is championship-ready.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.