When the 2009 season first started, the USC offense faced scrutiny as a then-18 year old true freshman in Matt Barkley was handed the reins to the offense. On the other hand, the Southern Cal defense, with several key members of the unit returning, faced few questions regarding their perceived dominance this year. Throughout the first half of the Trojans’ season, the defense had been the rock that has kept USC in every game they have played while the offense has endured some growing pains with injuries and a young quarterback learning the college game on the fly. However, as Barkley continues his maturation, he will eventually gain valuable experience that will be able to take some pressure off the defense and balance out the USC attack.
Saturday’s 42-36 victory over Oregon State, the team that upset the Trojans’ BCS championship hopes a year ago in a 27-21 shocker in Corvallis, was indicative of how far the USC offense has come on a week when the defense needed the most help. As this game was reminiscent of the 34-27 shootout with Notre Dame in South Bend the week before, a victory would have to be gained from the offense scoring points. Barkley didn’t have his best game, as he threw two interceptions, with a third pick getting called back on a roughing-the-passer penalty against Oregon State. Fortunately for USC, playmaking WR/Return stud Damian Williams saved the day with a key 63-yard punt return that was his second return touchdown of the year, and would prove to be the final points the Trojans would need to secure victory over the Beavers.
Power running back Allen Bradford had the game of his college career as he piled up 147 rushing yards on only 15 carries with two touchdowns—not bad numbers for a backup. Other reserve offensive personnel who shone include wideout Ronald Johnson, who hauled in 99 receiving yards including a gorgeous diving 22-yard touchdown pass from Barkley, and fullback DJ Shoemate, who opened holes for the running back in Stanley Havili’s absence.
The Trojans may need even more out of their second unit as RB Joe McKnight and TE Anthony McCoy are both banged up with their playing statuses still in question. McKnight has a severe laceration on his hand while McCoy sprained his ankle, and had to be helped off the field towards the end of the Oregon State game. While McCoy’s ankle sprain is not considered the dreaded high variety, sophomore Rhett Ellison is expected to start in McCoy’s place next Saturday. USC would love to get a repeat performance out of Bradford if McKnight can’t go. While the Trojans are dealing with injuries at key positions before what could be the toughest game of their season, their Halloween opponent also has some injury issues.
The Oregon Ducks, whose defense ranks 3rd in the Pac-10 and 19th in the nation, are dealing with injuries to cornerback Talmadge Jackson (back, currently listed as day-to-day) and linebacker Josh Kaddu (ankle/foot). USC will need all the help they can get as they travel north to treacherous Autzen Stadium in Eugene, one of the loudest and least friendly venues to play football. Throw in a 50% chance of rain and an expected raucous Halloween crowd, and the Trojans will be fortunate to leave Eugene victorious.
After USC faces the Ducks, the rest of the conference schedule gets easier with home games against Stanford and UCLA sandwiched between games against the Arizona schools. If the Trojans want to return to the Rose Bowl, the site of the Citi National Championship on January 7, they must beat Oregon in Eugene on Halloween first to keep pace with the other top-ranked programs across the nation. As this current crop of Trojan players knows that this year is their only shot to compete for a BCS championship in Pasadena, one can imagine they’ll be focused and dedicated on Saturday, in spite of the potential ubiquity of distractions in Eugene.