The Trojans have survived tough road environments this year at Ohio State, Cal and Notre Dame. However, the biggest test of the year will be Saturday night at the toughest place to play in the Pac-10, Auzten Stadium, where the Trojans will battle the 10th ranked Oregon Ducks.
The Trojans will have to survive a real house of hunts with a raucous Halloween night crowd, rain and wind in the 1st half and an Oregon team that is operating at the top of its game.
The fourth ranked Trojans have not left the state of Oregon with a victory since 2005 and will have to play together and disciplined in all phases of the game to for them to leave with a victory.
5 things to keep track of plus the obvious:
1- USC’s Defensive Line vs. Oregon’s Offensive Line: Oregon’s offensive line is fairly inexperienced and has yet to play a top tier defensive line. The Trojans must get penetration early and break-up Oregon’s offensive rhythm. The key to stopping any spread attack is linebackers being able to stay home and cause havoc on the short passing game and mis-directional running plays.
The emergence of the spread offense has led defensive coaches to really focus on it in the offseason and will see if that hard work pays off on Saturday.
2- Force Oregon into obvious passing situations: The Oregon offense is very potent when they are running the ball 2/3 of the time and not forced into throwing situations longer than 10 yards. Oregon only averages 157 yards passing a game. The hurry up aspect of Oregon’s offense is based on a solid running game where they like to hand it off or throw a pass behind the line of scrimmage 85% of the time.
Oregon prefers to throw the ball less than 20 times and Masoli is a weak mid to deep thrower under pressure. Evidence of that was clear in USC’s 44-10 victory over Oregon in the Coliseum last year.
Oregon tailback LaMichael James might be the second best back in the conference behind Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rogers. He is a great cut-back runner and has the ability to make a big gain at the blink of an eye. Containing James will be the key to forcing Oregon into 3rd and long situations.
(More of what to look for after the jump)
3- Trojans will attack Oregon’s young secondary- Look for the Trojans to go after Oregon’s secondary early in the game, specifically Freshman Cornerback Cliff Harris and fellow Freshman Safety John Boyett. The Trojans will want to see if these guys can hang with Ronald Johnson and Damian Williams.
4- Don’t forget about the Tight End!- Though All-American candidate Anthony McCoy is unable to play, the Trojans still need to have steady involvement from the tight end position for the offense to operate to its full capabilities. Rhett Ellison and Blake Ayles need to be utilized and involved early. Without Tight End involvement, the Trojan offense will struggle.
5- Special Teams: In a hostile environment where the stadium feels like it is shaking, solid special teams play will be a major key to the game and lead to huge momentum shifts. The Trojans need to convert field goals, snap well and cover Oregon’s dangerous punt returner. The kick return team gets a boost with Ronald Johnson returning kicks this week. The Trojans will have a very difficult time winning this game without a good performance from the special team’s unit.
The obvious: Avoid 15 yard penalties and turnovers: The Trojans will have an extremely difficult time winning this game if they lose the turnover battle. This is the best team they will play all year.
The Trojans match up well with Oregon and under Coach Carroll they seem to always rise to the occasion when the biggest challenges present themselves. Oregon has not faced a defensive line like the Trojans or a quarterback like Barkley.
Coming off a poor performance against Oregon State, the USC defense will play with a chip on its shoulder and want to show the nation they are one of the best units in the country.
If the Trojans play disciplined and force Oregon into obvious throwing situations they will leave Eugene with a hard fought victory.