Oregon Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. USC
With everything riding on it, the colossal game between the Oregon Ducks and the USC Trojans is almost upon us.
After months of yak, yak, yak, these two teams will finally take the field and settle who's best in the Pac-12 Conference, at least for this year. We understand that to coach Chip Kelly and his team this matchup is simply about Win The Day and it's just another game.
Yeah, and I'm the Pope.
It's not just another game. Lose this one, and Duck fans everywhere will crawl into a hole and not be seen again until next September. Oregon's long-suffering fans want their national championship, and they want it now. The real season starts Saturday.
What's it going to take to beat a solid USC team? Let's take a look.
Take the Crowd Out Of It
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Poor USC fans. Even if you hate their team, you have to feel for their fans. Such high expectations prior to the season, and then—wham!—two ugly losses that popped their balloon.
The Trojan fans really, really want to win this game—topple the king, if you will. And there's going to be almost 90,000 of them, presumably vocal in support of their guys.
But if the Ducks can get their usual fast start, the Trojan faithful will cave faster than you can say "surf's up."
Strike early, Ducks, and level the playing field.
Oregon Cornerbacks vs. USC Receivers
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If cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu play the best games of their young careers, the Ducks win. If one or both of them go all La-La Land, USC probably wins.
Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are going to catch some balls—we all know that. The key is to tackle them immediately and limit their big-play explosions.
Additionally, Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson need to pay attention to the short slants across the middle and make sure they don't turn into long slants.
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The fastest way to let an underdog think they have a chance is to let them physically push you around. If the USC O-line makes mincemeat out of Oregon's D-line, Matt Barkley will do what he wants to all day.
Conversely, if the Ducks O-line can't protect Marcus Mariota, that will limit Oregon's offensive options.
This Oregon defense is earning a reputation for being much tougher and more physical than past Duck defenses. In this game, it will be more important than usual for Oregon to throw its considerable weight around.
Show them who's boss, in essence.
Run the Ball Down Their Throats
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De'Anthony Thomas' former Crenshaw High buddies will be waiting for him. It remains to be seen if they can catch him or not.
While DAT and his frenemies are fooling around out in space, Kenjon Barner needs to take the handoff and run. Straight ahead. As fast as his legs can carry him. Again and again and again.
And if there is a big mean man growling at Barner, then Marcus Mariota needs to keep the pigskin and run. Straight ahead. As fast as he can go. Again and again. (P.S. Mariota should slide when he sees the big mean men coming.)
My point is this: Run the football, Ducks. Run it fast, run it hard, and keep running it until the Trojans drop.
He With the Most Penalties Loses
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This would be a good game for both of these great teams to quit making high school mistakes.
USC is one of the most penalized teams in college football. The Trojans have showed an alarming lack of discipline on the field and keep making some of the same mistakes repeatedly.
And, Oregon, you've had some whoppers, too. Not quite as many as USC, but more than I'm sure your coaches appreciate.
If this is a close game, penalties might be the difference.
You don't want that to happen, Ducks.
One More Thing
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If this one comes down to a field goal, make the damn kick, Ducks.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.