|The past two seasons the Trojans have been left behind by the Ducks|
The Facts: The Trojans Rank #49 in total Defense and giving up 363.8 YPG. Not bad considering they start three Freshman at linebacker (1 true and 2 redshirt). They are stout against the run holding opponents to a meager 100.4 yards per game on the ground. Also the Trojans are solid against the pass ranking #63 in Pass Efficiency Defense but playing in the pass heavy PAC-12 its understandable. They do give up 263 YPG Passing which ranks them at #100 but that is a skewed number in my mind. Overall they rank #49 in Total Defense which measures Yards Per Game but that really doesn't give you the whole story especially in an offensively heavy conference.
Quick Analysis: Anyway, USC looks very good defensively on paper and with the eye test. It has taken this unit time to gel but its apparent since the beat down of the Irish that they have made some huge strides. They have speed at linebacker, one of the best safeties in the country in TJ McDonald, and a big athletic defensive line. Overall the Trojans plays fairly disciplined on defense but at times they have a tendency to overrun plays and the young linebackers have had trouble with their run/pass reads. USC has decent corners that can match up against most of the Oregon receiving corp for 60 minutes.
Quick Look at the Offense: USC's offense is lead by a very calm and efficient quarterback named Matt Barkley. He is not nearly as athletic as Andrew Luck but I personally think Barkley is the better pocket passer. Barkley is not very mobile and when flushed out of the pocket is when the defenses odds of successfully defending him get better. He is in his third year so the game is slowing down for him and you can see that especially as of late. It helps that he two tremendously athletic wideouts in Robert Woods and Marquis Lee. They are both 6-1 with longer arms, fast, athletic, have great hands, and will fight for the ball. They are great targets that will both be playing on Sunday's in the next few years. At running back you have Curtis McNeal who is extremely shifty and deceptively fast. He is not as fast or explosive as Oregon's trio but he does have breakaway speed if Oregon is caught out of position and he is a good interior runner that can get some tough yards. SC does a excellent job of protecting Barkley hence ranking #4 in the country in sacks allowed with six all season. Part of this is because USC will go max protect and allow Woods and Lee to get open.
USC Gameplan: The Trojans will try to control the ball on offense and keep the Ducks offense off the field. They do a good job of mixing run and pass and if they are successful early it can be hard to get them out of their grind you down style. They are athletic enough to beat Oregon on the edges especially if Oregon tries to cover them man up. Defensively they will keep speed on the field to try and match the Ducks offense. Expect them to play man on the outsides and load the box while mixing blitzes to get the Ducks out of rhythm. I expect to see some zone blitzing, lots of stunting, and the linebackers looking to crash hard and fill gaps to stop the run. The Trojans have also been doing extra conditioning and playing more players throughout the year in an attempt to keep pace with Oregon late in the game.
Smoking Gun: Here are the reasons that USC might not win this week. Defensively while the Trojans rank high in a lot of categories, look closer at the offenses they have faced. Stanford and Arizona dismantled the Trojan defense and Arizona State handled them easily as well. Each of these teams had success running and throwing the ball. While the Trojan defense looks good on paper lets go a little deeper in the stats. They rank #8 in Rushing Defense however they give up 3.51 yards per rushing attempt. That would put them somewhere around 30th. If you take it a step further they have only played one team that ranks in the Top 30 rushing offenses (Stanford #19). The Ducks in contrast yield 3.68 yards per rushing attempt but have played 3 Top 30 Rushing Offenses (Nevada #5, Stanford #19, and LSU #30). On Offense Oregon averages 6.79 Yards Per Attempt which is #1 by far and thats including a game vs the #3 Yards per rush defense in LSU. As far as passing defense goes allowing 6.77 yards per pass attempt and 63.75 completion percentage doesn't bode well considering Oregon is #12 in passing efficiency in the Country. Only Stanford which ranks #5 in Pass Efficiency is better in conference. Some other stats that haven't been talked about is that Oregon while ranked #63 in Total Defense is ranked #18 in yards per play allowed at 4.82. Utah is the only team in conference with a better average at 4.75 and they held the Trojans to 17 offensive points and 24 points for the game. Cal which give up 4.94 yards per game lost to USC 30-9 but if you look close Cal held the Trojans to 313 yards on offense. To USC's credit they did force 3 fumbles and 2 Int's. Here is one of the biggest stats that goes against USC, and that is they are ranked #61 in 3rd Down Defense Yielding 39.86% to their opponents. That is not good considering Oregon is ranked #39 in 3rd Down Conversions at 44.26%. Overall USC is ranked #49 in total defense but gives up 5.39 yards per play which would rank them #57. Oregon has played 3 defenses this year with better averages, LSU, Stanford, and Cal.
The Verdict: USC though talented has not played a team like Oregon all year. Their defense is fast and good against the run at times and decent against the pass. They have enough playmakers to hang with Oregon but I'm not sure they have enough depth. If they can stay in a rhythm early, cause a few turnovers, and get an early lead they will take the Ducks into the 4th quarter.
I look for Oregon to get after Barkley early and often on Defense. I fully expect to see Oregon shut down the running game and make Barkley beat them with his arm and feet out of the pocket. On offense look for the Ducks to attack USC's young linebacking corp with screens, misdirection, and the good ol Zone Read. I think they will balance attack in the first half and pound LaMichael James between the tackles in the second half. I think the weather plays a factor slowing both offenses a bit. This will be a good game for about a half and the Trojans could lead early but I think the Ducks defense will be too much for the Trojans and the Offense will turn it up in the 3rd quarter and pull away 38-17.
Thanks for reading!