Spotlight on USC’s defense as Oregon’s nation-leading offense leads the No. 1 ranked team.
By Michael Brown
Sentinel Sports Writer
In a role reversal of sorts, USC will take the field this Saturday at the Coliseum against Oregon as the underdog, and attempt to spoil the top-ranked Ducks undefeated start.
The recent pattern of No. 1’s falling on the road to conference opponents bodes well for the Trojans, coming off their best performance of the season two weeks ago when they destroyed California 48-14.
Oregon, No. 1 in the human polls and second-ranked in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), dismantled USC last season 47-20, on Halloween night before a national TV audience.
The 7-point underdog Trojans hope to return the favor by turning the Coliseum into a little shop of horrors for the Ducks.
USC will be helped by returning from a bye week in which they were able to rest injured players, and scheme to prepare for Oregon’s potent spread-option-offense. The Ducks score a nation-leading 55 points per game and also lead the country with 569 yards per game.
Clearly, for USC head coach Lane Kiffin, if the Trojans have a shot at winning it’ll be due to an all hands on deck effort.
“Yeah, the ability to play guys, and so we’re going to try to play more guys than normal and we’re going to need some people that haven’t maybe played that much or made significant plays to step up for us,” Kiffin said.
“We can’t leave our main guys out there the whole time,” he continued. “They (Oregon) just play too fast and (take) too many snaps.”
Kiffin has obviously been watching game tape and reading scouting reports, because to call Oregon’s offense fast is an understatement. It’s not uncommon to see the Ducks run plays with 25 to 30 seconds left on the 40-second play clock.
Oregon’s frenetic pace could spell trouble for the Trojans, who prior to the California game, were having problems closing out games due to fatigue.
Help is on the way however, as defensive end Wes Horton will return after sitting out the past three games with a back injury. The defensive front will also be bolstered by healthier defensive ends Armond Armstead and Nick Perry.
USC’s 87th ranked defense in the nation will need an exceptional performance if it hopes to defeat the Ducks.
Oregon is led by sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas and Heisman candidate LaMichael James at tailback.
During the Ducks Oct. 19 60-13 thrashing of UCLA, Thomas went 22-of-31 passing for 308 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. James leads the nation with 162 yards rushing per game and he has 12 touchdowns this season.
Jeff Maehl is Thomas’ favorite wide receiver, but Oregon thrives on spreading the ball around to multiple players and putting its athletes in open spaces where they then exploit opposing defenses.
The Ducks’ 1-2 punch has left the USC coaching staff scrambling for answers. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, hinted that his signature Tampa 2 defense could be tweaked and modified to counter Oregon’s attack.
Lane Kiffin relaxed the no-tackle practice policy he instituted, to better allow Trojan defenders an opportunity to become accustomed to wrapping-up and finishing plays.
Kiffin said he changed the policy due to the nature of Oregon‘s offense. Simulating the Ducks on offense was another wrinkle Kiffin implemented during practice.
He said, “We’ve spent a lot of time taking our offense and trying to run their offense to help our defense, because it’s so different than anything we’ve had to prepare for.”
Of course, Oregon’s offense won’t be the only offense on the field Saturday. USC comes into the game averaging 37 points per game and 494 yards.
A key to the game may be USC’s ability to limit Oregon’s chances on offense by employing a power running game led by Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler. The Trojans’ offensive line is bigger than Oregon’s defensive front, and could be a potential catalyst in helping spin the clock.
Oregon’s offense receives all of the accolades, but its defense can be effective as well. The Ducks rank 12th in the nation in overall defense, by limiting opponents to 16 points per game. They lead the nation with 25 takeaways on defense.
Defensive end Kenny Rowe (Long Beach Poly HS), led the Pac-10 in sacks last year, and leads Oregon with four this season.
Ball hawks, linebacker Casey Matthews (three interceptions) and cornerback Cliff Harris (four interceptions), are two players to watch.
The game will mark the first time since 1988 that USC has hosted a top-ranked team. USC lost that season to Notre Dame, 27-10, and the Fighting Irish went on to win the national title.
Oregon is 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Pac-10 and USC is 5-2 and 2-2 in the Pac-10.