No. 1 Oregon Ducks (7-0, 4-0) at USC Trojans (5-2, 2-2)
2009 Result: USC 20 – Oregon 47
Head Coach: Chip Kelly (Year 2: 17-3)
Stars: RB LaMichael James, QB Darron Thomas
Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Time: 5:00 PM PDT
TV: ABC, ESPN3.com
Radio: KXSC (listen at kscr.org), 710AM
Spread: Oregon (-7)
Matchup: The biggest game of the year is upon us. USC fans have encouraged all fans to wear cardinal to the Coliseum and ESPN”s College GameDay will be on campus as the number one team in the human polls pays the Trojans a visit.
For USC, they gained momentum two weeks ago in their 48-14 romping of the California Bears. The final score doesn’t quite do the performance justice. USC led the Bears 42-0 at the half and cruised to victory. The defense came up with uncharacteristic stops on defense consistently. Meanwhile, the offense continued moving the ball effectively as Matt Barkley threw five touchdown passes and didn’t even have to play the fourth quarter.
But USC isn’t the only team with momentum. The Oregon Ducks are 7-0 and have only been pushed twice. Last Thursday, the Ducks abused UCLA in Eugene by the count of 60-13. In that performance, Oregon gashed the Bruin defense play after play while holding down the fort on defense. For the Ducks, this may very well be their final legitimate hurdle on the path to the national championship game.
In order to pull of the upset, the Trojans offense must take care of the ball, score often, and hope to win in a shootout. Matt Barkley has looked very sharp in his past two performances in throwing crisp passes. Robert Woods continues to shine as a true freshman receiver, leading the team in receiving yards and hauling in a sizable amount of touchdowns recently. Add to that deep threat Ronald Johnson, and the passing attack is formidable. The running game struggled against Stanford, but it re-emerged against Cal and the stable used the two weeks to improve their health. While the Trojans don’t necessarily plan to pound the ball and milk clock on the ground, an effective running game is necessary to keep the Duck defense on their heels and open up the passing game.
USC is running into potentially the best defense it has faced so far. Oregon is allowing about 16 points per game, and has shut down a fair amount of teams. However, Stanford and Arizona State showed some weaknesses. USC has the firepower to score, but Kiffin needs to continue with his imaginative playcalling and effective schemes.
The most impressive unit on the field is certainly the Oregon offense. The Ducks score 55.1 per game and move at a frenetic pace. Even though they are the top scoring offense, the Ducks rank 114 in time of possession because they run a hurry-up offense that challenges the opponents conditioning and ability to adapt on the fly. LaMichael James is a viable Heisman candidate that leads the Pac-10 in rushing and averages 7.2 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Darron Thomas is running Chip Kelly’s Star Wars offense even better than Jeremiah Masoli did a year ago. He has a strong arm, but his accuracy is somewhat questionable. When forced to pass, Thomas has a solid option in Jeff Maehl. He has solid hands and can get open in a pinch. The bottom line is that Oregon is designed to confuse defenses by spreading the ball around and operating quickly.
Unless the defense shows up, the game will get ugly. There is reason to believe they will though. USC has had two weeks to prepare, and Monte Kiffin admitted he has changed up the scheme. He did the same against Cal, and it paid off beautifully. Monte will likely use a similar scheme to the one he employed against Florida last year to slow down the Ducks. If they are to be stopped, the defenders need to mind their gaps and play aggressively. They can’t allow James to reach the second level because he is a small, elusive back. Their best chance is to attack and hope to limit the Ducks. USC doesn’t need a ton of stops, but they will need about four. After being much maligned through the first seven weeks of the season, this is a chance for the defense to earn some accolades.
If USC can, they need to build an early lead and just hope to hold on. The Ducks bounced back from down 18 against Stanford, but that was in Eugene. If the Coliseum is hostile, the pressure will multiply on the Ducks, and they would be forced to throw the ball. With LaMichael James playing a limited role, the onus would be on Darron Thomas to make good throws to beat the Trojans. USC wants to put the pressure on Thomas, who is in his first year as the starting quarterback.
The formula is simple, but the problem lies in the execution. While an upset is going to take the best performance of the year, it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. One reason for hope is the confidence brimming from this USC team. The swagger exuding from Barkley’s tweets and Casey’s comments portray a high level of confidence, and the mental game is half of the battle.
Stats of the week: The visiting No.1 team has lost when College GameDay was present the past three weeks. Oregon hasn’t won at USC since 2000. USC is 4-4 at home when playing the top team in the country.
Final Score Prediction: USC 49 – Oregon 45