We all know about the hype behind USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Let's add in receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to fill the skill-position hype bucket.
But isn't USC known as Tailback U?
Where's the beef? Where are the horses?
The Trojans have managed to get some great players on both sides of the line, as well as some great receivers, but they aren't close to the Oregon Ducks in terms of depth, and that's not going to change any time soon.
But what about the skill positions—the ones who touch the ball or generally have access to the ball by virtue of position. Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defensive backs are consensus skill positions as well as the designated return specialist, who is primarily a receiver or defensive back.
These are the guys who score points or prevent points from being scored. USC has been on a tear landing some highly-rated skill positions but we're wondering how they stack up against Oregon's skill players.
Running back Kenjon Barner was a 3-star cornerback out of Notre Dame High School in Riverside, CA. That's in USC's backyard. But Barner went to Oregon, and no one in Los Angeles probably even broke a sweat over it. Barner is one of the 10 most productive rushers in FBS this season and is a sleeper in the Heisman race.
De'Anthony Thomas is another dual weapon in the Ducks' arsenal. Like Barner, Thomas can both run and catch the ball. Thomas hasn't had nearly the carries as his teammate Barner, but that may change this week. Thomas was a former commit to USC and he may want to ruffle his feathers at the Coliseum on Sunday; the speedster also leads the Pac-12 in punt returns. Last week, Thomas showcased his talents by returning a Colorado punt for a touchdown.
USC's most productive back is Silas Redd, but the Trojans got him via a transfer from Penn State. Redd's an exciting player, but he also is prone to fumble. Redd fumbled in the second quarter against Arizona and was temporarily spelled by D.J. Morgan for a series. Morgan also fumbled in the third quarter.
The running game isn't a Trojan strength. On the contrary, Oregon rushes for an average of 330.63 yards per game, which is more than twice the 154.63 rushing average of USC. The Ducks' skill players are getting it done.
Barkley is a future NFL draft pick, but he has actually thrown more interceptions (8) than Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota (5). Moreover, Mariota's passer rating of 158.24 is fairly close to Barkley's 163.3.
Barkley has had to resort to the pass more often because USC has simply not established a strong running game. It also hasn't been able to overcome its tendency to fumble—the Trojans have only recovered six of its 16 fumbles.
But it's not just on offense where USC's skill players—with the exception of Lee and Woods—have not kept pace with Oregon's.
As much as the Ducks are criticized for a perceived soft defense, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is one of the top defensive backs in the Pac-12. Ekpre-Olomu has broken up 10 passes and defended 12 in eight games. He also has two interceptions.
Trojan defensive backs Jawanza Starling and Torin Harris have combined to break up 10 passes and defend 13. They also have a combined three interceptions.
Oregon has forced 12 fumbles while USC has only forced eight.
Chip Kelly's play-calling should get a lot of credit for showcasing all of the talent on his team. The coach continually has a revolving door open leading from the bench to the field. It's dizzying to watch Kelly's substitutions play out during a game; it's one fresh Duck after another taking to the field like, well...a duck to water.
Oregon has a lot of more toys to play with because it has more scholarships to hand out.
And that will be the norm for the next two years.
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