U-S-C at Oregon 10-31-09

October 31, 2009

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(4) U-S-C (6-1) at (10) Oregon (6-1)


Saturday, October 31st, 8:00 p.m. (et)

GAME NOTES: A key pac-10 title takes place in Eugene this weekend, as the fourth-ranked USC Trojans invade Autzen Stadium to take on the 10th-ranked Oregon Ducks.

Pete Carroll’s Trojans avenged their only loss from 2008 with last weekend’s 42-36 shootout win over Oregon State. With the team’s fourth straight win, the seven-time Pac-10 champions moved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in league play.

Carroll realizes that there is no room for error in the conference.

“This is a huge matchup for us and I think the team that wins the conference is going to have to win out. You know, I think you’re going to have to do that. It’s going to be amazingly challenging throughout the schedule.”

The only team ahead of USC in the conference standings is Oregon. Since dropping the season-opener to Boise State, Chip Kelly’s Ducks have really turned things around, winning six in a row, including a 43-19 rout of Washington in Seattle last weekend to move to 4-0 in-conference.

USC holds a 37-16-2 advantage in the all-time series. These two teams have split the last 12 meetings, but the Trojans have won four of the last five, including a lopsided 44-10 decision last year.

Tailback Allen Bradford erupted for 147 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Trojans to the win over the Beavers last time out. The success of the ground game is nothing new for USC, which is averaging almost 200 yards per game rushing the football (198.3 ypg). With players like Bradford (7.4 ypc) and Joe McKnight (6.4 ypc) in the backfield, USC will continue to effectively run the ball.

The ground game makes things a lot easier on freshman QB Matt Barkley, who has played well despite his age. The youngster has completed just over 60 percent of his passes this year, for 1,540 yards and seven TDs. Barkley’s top target downfield is standout WR Damian Williams (34 receptions, for 525 yards, three TDs).

Despite the turnover on the defensive side of the football heading into 2009, the Trojans have actually thrived, holding opponents to just 15.1 ppg, thanks in large part to a stout run defense (79.9 ypg).

Forcing turnovers has not been easy (just nine in the first seven games), but a feverish pass rush (29 sacks) cannot be overlooked.

Up front, the team gets great pressure on the quarterback from rush ends Everson Griffin (29 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 8.0 sacks) and Nick Perry (17 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 7.0 sacks). The linebacking corps is highlighted by Chris Galippo (48 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, one INT) and Michael Morgan (36 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 4.0 sacks). The play in the secondary is led by two-time All- American Taylor Mays (team-high 49 tackles, one INT).

USC’s rush defense will be put to the ultimate test in Eugene, as Oregon possesses one of the top ground games in the country, averaging 210.7 yards per game (14th nationally), on 4.7 yards per carry.

The team lost a key piece to the ground attack in the season-opener with the suspension of LeGarrette Blount, but that has allowed freshman LaMichael James to emerge. James is averaging nearly seven yards per carry (6.9) and 105.0 yards per game. He is also responsible for six of the team’s 19 rushing scores to date and is a real concern for the Trojans according to Carroll.

“LaMichael is averaging 6.9 per carry so he is obviously had tremendous games, a lot of big, long break out plays where he’s leaving guys in the dust.”

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has completed over 60 percent of his throws thus far, but is a real threat to run as well, netting 4.6 yards per carry and leading the team with seven TDs on the ground.

The passing attack nets just 157.4 yards per game, but opponents still have to concern themselves with standout tight end Ed Dickson (27 receptions, for 362 yards, four TDs).

The Oregon defense is just as responsible for Oregon’s success as the offense, if not more so. The stop unit for the Ducks is allowing just under 300 yards of offense per game (297.1) and it has led to a mere 16.7 ppg for the opposition. Big plays have been the norm, with the team registering 19 takeaways and 22 sacks.

Defensive end Kenny Rowe has been the team’s best pass rusher, coming off the edge to record seven sacks so far. Linebacker Casey Matthews (44 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one INT) has done a great job in the middle of the field. The secondary, which has had to deal with season-ending injuries to players like Willie Glasper (knee) and Walter Thurmond III (knee), still possesses playmakers like safeties Javes Lewis (44 tackles, one sack, two INTs, one fumble recovery) and John Boyett (43 tackles, two INTs) and cover corner Talmadge Jackson III (26 tackles, two INTs).

Coach Kelly has been impressed with the defensive effort of late.

“You know I think they play together, they have a great understanding of the system. The players know exactly how they fit within that system. They play with passion, there’s not one individual star on that side of the ball. We’ve obviously seen some injuries in the secondary, but everyone’s got a chance to step up, a chance to play. They’ve really done a good job, and it’s just really how well we practice and how well they prepare I think is the key to our success right now on defense.”

This one could very well decide the Pac-10 title. The seven-time champs are already a game back in the standings and if they struggle to get off to a good start here, the Ducks have the kind of ground game to preserve a lead and move a huge step toward a conference crown.

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