Well, that part of the season has arrived, where USC travels to that state to play that school in that stadium. To that state, where USC hasn’t won a game since my junior year of high school in 2005, back in the glory days of Matt Leinart and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Against that school, that has put up more than 100 points against USC in the past two years, is one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, and the one that changes uniforms faster than Kim Kardashian changes athletes (too soon?). In that stadium, that is known to be one of the most hostile stadiums in college football.
That’s right: USC is traveling to Oregon this weekend, to take on the Quack Attack of Chip Kelly and the University of Oregon Ducks, in Autzen Stadium. And this time…the Trojans are trying to make things interesting.
The Trojans can beat the Ducks and shake up the BCS. Anyone who’s seen the Ducks play since the LSU game will undoubtedly be raising an eyebrow at this assertion, but for the first time in three years the Trojans have the tools to contain the greatest offensive force this side of the Red River (shout out to Oklahoma State). Like a magician’s trick, once broken down the Blur may be impressive, but it’s not the mythical force that perplexes anyone who sees it. The men of Troy will have their hands full, but if they’re to shock the football world, plunge the BCS into further chaos and put the NCAA in a very uncomfortable position, this is how they’ll do it:
First, we have to answer the question: is Oregon as good as they look? Yes, as a matter of fact they are. They’re an amazing offensive machine capable on any given day of putting up half a hundred points on just about anyone that they play…but—of course there’s a but—Oregon’s numbers have been massively inflated by playing a schedule softer than Perez Hilton after 3 Cosmos and a Shirley Temple. Outside of LSU, the Oregon Ducks have played teams that are simply bereft of talent on the defensive side of the ball. They mean well, but they just don’t have the athletes to stand against a team that runs its offense going two or three players deep at every position. And yes, this includes Stanford, the same Stanford team that surrendered over 100 points in a two-week span. When playing a team with athleticism, the Oregon Ducks have been exposed, as was the case in week one against LSU, and last year in the Auburn Game (or Scam Bowl, as we here like to call it).
There are lessons to be taken from these games and the Men of Troy need to be watching that film very carefully if they’re to utilize their talent and win this game. Do they compare to LSU athletically? Meh..maybe not.
But can they still actually produce the same result? I’m glad you asked. It’s possible, and here’s how.
First, Christian Tupou is going to have to have the game of his life. If there was one thing to be taken out of last year’s championship game (aside from the fact that illegally recruited athletes are paid for or a reason) it’s that a dominant defensive tackle can and will throw a wrench in the Doomsday device that is The Blur. Getting consistent pressure up the middle is key for any team hoping to stop the blur, as it allows the defense to cut the field of play in half and dictate the way that the option is forced to run, allowing the linebackers to react accordingly, all while keeping the offense from being able to assess the defense.
More important than dominant defensive tackle play will be the play of defensive ends Devon Kennard, Wes Horton and Nick Perry. These three have a combined have 87 tackles, 12.5 sacks, and 13 tackle-for-losses. Without them being able to seal and control the edge, the offense will move down the field at will. While they won’t be getting many tackles themselves, by occupying the offensive tackles and forcing the hand of the pitchman, they’ll create opportunity for the linebackers to assess the play and pursue runners freely. Locking up the front five would leave a situation in which the two backs (De’Anthony Thomas and LaMichael James) would be pursued by three defenders, a situation that’s ideal for the Trojans. Thomas, in his freshman season, is averaging 8 yards per carry and an astounding 15.7 per reception. He’s only touched the ball 73 times this season, but it doesn’t matter: when he does, something ridiculous happens. And as for Heisman-hopeful James, I don’t even want to talk about his stats—over 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns already. He eats defenses like line eat double-doubles from In-N-Out, and if USC’s front seven do not stop him, he is going to have a feast.
The Secondary will need to get away from the base Cover-2 zone and play man-to-man on the (comparatively) slower wide receiving core of the Ducks. They are more than capable of doing so, but they have to be careful, as they’ve shown that they’re easily flustered in no huddle situations and still undisciplined in Monte Kiffin’s system. The linebacking corps has been knocked recently for being too aggressive and over pursuing plays. In order to beat Oregon, they’ll need to play disciplined and stay in their lanes. Gang tackling is a must, as South Central product De’Anthony Thomas, and Texans Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are capable of breaking a tackle and taking it to the house on any given play. Ideally the linebackers should be stacked over the defensive ends in order to pursue the plays on the edge. Ultimately, the best thing that the defense can do is force 3-and-outs and stay off of the field. The Ducks are a track team, and due to the nature of the system they’re able to go three players deep at every offensive position. The Trojans can bully the Oregon offense, because as seen in the LSU game, dominant defensive line play is essential in dictating the pace of the game and taking advantage of the small (albeit athletic) Oregon offensive line. Can they do it? I do believe they can.
They say that the best defense is a good offense, and The Trojan offense will score with Oregon. What people don’t seem to understand is that the Oregon defense is nowhere near the caliber of the offense. They were gouged by the Golden Bears, and surrendered over 20 points to the Washington State Cougars. Allow that to process for a second: The Washington State Cougars. In order to win this game, the Trojans are going to have to force the ball down their throats and limit turnovers. We all know about how Matt Barkley’s having a monster season (2782 yards and 26 touchdowns), and how Barkley to Robert Woods or Marquis Lee is the most potent combination in Trojan aerial assault history, but the key to this game will be Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler. Curtis McNeal is right behind LaMichael James in terms of total yards this season (Mcneal has 787, James has 1207), and he is only getting more explosive. If McNeal and Tyler don’t rush the ball a combined 30 times or more, the Trojans will lose this game. Oregon’s defense is designed specifically to defend the pass as they plan to get ahead and stay ahead, but the defensive line and linebackers are ripe for exploitation. A lesson could be learned from Bill Parcells in this regard: in the infamous Wide Right game, The Bills and Giants played one of the greatest game-planned games of all time. The Bills, much like Oregon, ran a no huddle with a Hall of Fame quarterback-running back combination, but they were upset because the Giants held the ball for dear life. This isn’t a very TV-friendly strategy, but the Trojans will need to maintain their composure and keep the ball out of the hands of the Ducks through long and sustained drives that end in TOUCHDOWNS to keep team morale up and the defense fresh.
Anyone who saw last year’s game knows that the Trojans, if not for a 3rd quarter meltdown that ultimately provided the points that kept them from being competitive, are capable of beating any team on any given day, given the talented product that they put on the field. They have the talent, but now we have to see if they’re mentally tough enough to be able to fight off a crowd in Autzen Stadium. I have complete faith in this team, and if they can capitalize on the Ducks weaknesses then they’ll walk out with Lane Kiffin’s signature win and two giant middle fingers to the NCAA.