USC Football: How the Trojans Will Beat the No. 1 Oregon Ducks

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USC Football:  How the Trojans Will Beat the No. 1 Oregon Ducks
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The 24th-ranked University of Southern California Trojans will beat the top ranked Oregon Ducks next Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum. 

Ask John McKay how the Trojans will win, and he may have said, “By scoring more points.”

A slightly more complete answer requires USC to play an entire game the same way they did in the first half (42-0 score) of their last game against the California Golden Bears on October 16. 

Oregon must also play less than their best most of the game as they did for a half against the 13th-ranked Stanford Cardinal and the Arizona State Sun Devils.

But the “devil is in the details,” so additional reasons will be discussed later in this article.

Only Trojan fans believe USC will beat Oregon.  That was likely the case the past three weeks when the top-ranked teams lost (see below), so a fourth week of a No. 1 upset will keep the trend going:

  • October 9:  South Carolina Gamecocks (No. 17) beat then No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (now No. 6) by 35-21.
  • October 16:  Wisconsin Badgers (No. 9) beat then No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes (now No. 10) by 31-18.
  • October 23:  Missouri Tigers (No. 7) beat then No. 1 (BCS) Oklahoma Sooners (now No. 11) by 31-18

USC is usually a highly ranked team when playing other Pac-10 teams, and it has been a long time (October 3, 1992) since playing a Pac-10 team ranked No. 1. 

This can bring out the best in a team, so the Trojans will "Fight On" to victory with their best effort of the year. 

This is the first time in the school's history that Oregon has been ranked first.

How will USC win?  To answer this question, you have to understand what each team has done. 

Here are some average game statistics:

       Category

     USC

  Ranking

    Oregon

  Ranking

Rushing Offense (Yards)

    213.0

     18

    304.4

      3

Passing Offense (Yards)

    281.0

     22

    260.7

     31

Passing Efficiency (%)

    164.8

      6

    158.8

     16

Total Offense (Yards)

    494.0

      7

    569.1

      1

Scoring Offense (Points)

     37.4

     14

     55.1

      1

Rushing Defense (Yards)

    128.6

     39

    127.1

    37

Pass Defense (Yards)

    274

   112

    204.4

    51

Pass Efficiency Defense (%)

    136.4

     89

    100.8

      7

Total Defense (Yards)

    402.6

     87

    331.6

    30

Scoring Defense (Points)

     24.3

   T-60

     15.9

    12

Net Punting (Yards/Punt)

     37.8

    43

     40.4

     9

Punt Returns  (Yards)

     17.8

      6

     17.7

     7

Kickoff Returns (Yards)

     23.9

    28

     21.3

    72

Turnover Margin

      .29

    43

     1.71

     1

Sacks (Number)

     2.14

   T-51

       2.71

  T-20

Tackles for Loss (Number)

      5.9

    56

       7.9

     9

Sacks allowed (Number)

    1.00

    17

      .29

     2

 

Oregon’s running back LaMichael James is the nation's leading rusher at 161.8 yards per game.  Brandon Bair is tied for seventh in tackles for loss at 1.86 per game, and Cliff Harris is fourth in punt returns at 19.8 yards per return.  Cliff Harris is tied for sixth in interceptions with .57 per game.

USC’s QB Matt Barkley is the sixth-best passer with a 167.3 passing efficiency.  Ronald Johnson is seventh in punt returns with 18.7 years per return.

So after reviewing the statistics, there is clearly no way that USC can win.  Wrong!

The USC offense has been very hot the past two games against Stanford and Cal.  Matt Barkley is 28 of 45 for 390 yards vs. Stanford, and 25 of 37 for 352 yards against Cal (in just over two quarters).  He has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in those two games, and 20 touchdowns and four interceptions for the year.

True freshman Robert Woods has 340 receiving yards and five TDs in the past two games.  USC has one of the best collections of skill players anywhere, including Barkley, Woods, speedy WR Ronald Johnson, FB Stanley Havili, and RBs Marc Tyler and Allen Bradford.   

The Trojan offense has been unstoppable, except when it stops itself with penalties or turnovers.

The problem for USC this year has been defense, especially passing defense.  Poor tackling and lack of depth have plagued the Trojans. 

After two last-second losses by a total of three points, it appeared that USC could fold, but the Trojans came back for an overwhelming 48-14 win over Cal, with the only points for Cal against the USC second- and third-string defense.

USC DT DaJohn Harris was quoted in the L.A. Daily News saying “We don’t want to be that defense that gives up.  There is some anger.  Nobody likes to lose.  We’re tired of losing.”

USC has been practicing at a very fast pace for the two weeks before the Oregon game.  Expect some surprises. 

Rumors of a spread offense for 2011 may get a preview in this game.  Maybe the two-point conversions will be needed (and will work).

Several injured key players including DE Wes Horton (back) and RB Dillon Baxter (toe) are expected to return, so USC will be very close to full strength.

Of course, the Ducks have the most-feared offense in the nation, and USC has not done well against a spread offense. 

The pace of the Oregon offense is unmatched.  No one has been able to stop RB LaMichael James, but USC has stopped some good rushers this year.

The Trojan blitz must be even more effective than against Cal in the last game, and the USC defensive front line must slow down and contain the Ducks quarterback and rushers. 

It will be interesting to see if freshman Robert Woods plays in the nickel package due to the speed of the Oregon receivers.  He is as good a receiver as anyone so this could result in an interception if the Ducks are not careful.

Oregon has given up 28.3 points per game through their first three conference games, so USC should be able to score.

USC can afford to take more risks than Oregon.  Lane Kiffin has shown that he is innovative and willing to take chances, so expect the unexpected.

Harry How/Getty Images
USC 12th Man Needed to Beat Oregon

But, the Trojans must play smart and get lucky to win.  USC must avoid penalties especially at key times, create turnovers and avoid making them, and play the best defense of the year, including good tackling. 

Everyone must execute the way they have been trained the entire game.

The Trojans can’t stop the Ducks, but if they can keep them from scoring a few times, dominate the time of possession (Oregon averages only 26 minutes, 40 seconds because they score so fast), and score a lot of points, this could be another upset.

The Trojan fans can make a difference so USC must start fast and score a few touchdowns.  This is a USC homecoming game so it will be well attended.

Hopefully the officials will not be a factor after helping USC lose the Stanford game.

Realistically, USC has about a 25 percent chance of winning, and an equal chance of being routed if Oregon plays a great game and the Trojans are off.  Two weeks ago, even USC fans may have said that the Trojans had no chance of winning.

So, Trojan fans, celebrate a great homecoming game against the No. 1 team in the nation, get behind your team, and savor the fruits of victory together. 

Recruits will be watching, so this game is very important to USC’s next few years.

USC does not get the opportunity to upset many great teams, so this should be fun!

 

*All rankings are from the Week 9 AP Poll (Oregon is No. 2 in the BCS ranking).

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