Some would say that being snubbed from the top national seed by the BCS has the #2 ranked Oregon Ducks irritated. Those people do not know the Oregon Ducks, or college football in general for that matter. There is no difference between being ranked #1 and being ranked #2, other than the glaring fact that no team ranked #1 can seem to stay that way for more than 6 days. People seem to forget that the #1 team will face the #2 team in the national championship game January 10, 2011 in Glendale no matter what order they are in. If the Ducks can fly under the radar (if you can really call a team that has the top offense in the nation “under the radar”) and not succumb to the curse of top teams this past month, that’s fine with them as long as they end up in that national title game. However, as the Ducks fly south to Los Angeles to escape the dreary Oregon weather, they will face a very dangerous team in the USC Trojans. USC is accustomed to being the top team in the Pac-10 in many different categories, such as championships, NFL prospects, recruiting violations, pretty-boy quarterbacks, NCAA sanctions and you know the rest. The most important item on that list was championships (by way of NFL prospects that were lured to USC through recruiting violations….you get my point.) All kidding aside, since USC is barred from postseason play (if you don’t know why by now, there is no hope for you) and as a result facing Oregon at home in the Coliseum is their version of a bowl game. After falling to Oregon last Halloween at Autzen Stadium, USC passed the Pac-10 dominance to the men from Eugene. USC has lost 2 games thus far, but by a combined 3 points on final-minute field goals by Washington and Stanford. If just a few plays go differently, USC is in the top-10 and this game would have serious national championship implications. Make no mistake, USC is loaded with talent and they will come to play. They will be motivated, they will be angry, and they will be ready for the Ducks come Saturday night.
When people think of the Trojan offense over the past few years they think of the immense talent that they are able to “recruit”. This year’s USC team is no different, led by quarterback Matt Barkley. Barkley, who fits in perfectly with the Godly looks and confidence of a typical Trojan quarterback, has played his way to recognition among the top players in the nation. In just his sophomore season Barkley has already thrown for 20 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, making him a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award which is presented to the nation’s top quarterback. Though this unit may not stand up to those of the past Trojan teams, they do have a ton of talent. Barkley’s main targets this season are wide receivers Ronald Johnson and Robert Woods, who have caught 13 of Barkley’s 20 TD’s this season. Woods shows electric capabilities as a receiver as well as a kick returner and is a main concern for Oregon. USC has always been famous for their running backs, but this season the show clearly belongs to Barkley. The running game is led by Allen Bradford who is averaging 80 yds./game.
With USC having a pass-happy offense, the pressure will be on the Duck defense to stop the Trojans if they want to come away victorious. The Duck defense has proven to be one of the more aggressive units in the nation. This aspect of their combination of speed and athleticism puts pressure on the quarterback, confuses offenses, and results in a turnover margin that leads the nation at +1.71 per game. The downside to this? The Ducks have been left susceptible to big plays this season, which USC is more than capable to taking advantage of if Oregon is not careful. The important thing for the Ducks to do is control USC’s running game from the start with the defensive line, led by defensive tackles Brandon Bair and Zac Clark. This will allow the defensive backs to focus strictly on stopping the Trojan air attack. If the linebackers and defensive backs have to cheat up to stop the run, Barkley can use play-action passes to torch the Ducks for big plays. The Trojans may not have any one player that will dominate the running game, but they do have 4 capable running back that Oregon will have to account for. Stopping the run and continuing to force turnovers are key for the Ducks, because if the pressure is put on a fast, athletic yet undersized defensive backfield, this game could go down to the wire. If it does, the Ducks better hope Barkley doesn’t have the ball.
The explosive Duck offense has considerably less to worry about. With the leading offense in the nation at just over 55 points a game, people around the country will tune in to watch this Duck team that has the ability to score at will. The USC defense is not up to the caliber that it normally is, which works to the Ducks advantage. However, the Ducks will most likely be without sophomore running back Kenjon Barner, who is still recovering from a concussion he suffered against Washington State. Barner is practicing with the team in a non-contact format, but medically and physically is estimated to still be a week or two away at the least. Barner served as an electric supplement to Heisman hopeful running back LaMichael James. James needs just 29 yards to eclipse 1,000 for the season (he has only played in 6 games so far). If James can break some big runs and lead the Ducks to victory, he may run past Auburn quarterback Cam Newton to the top of the Heisman watch list. If he runs for more than 100 yards, James will also pass Jonathan Stewart for most consecutive games of 100+ yards rushing in Oregon history by giving him 15. With the Trojan attention on James, the pressure as well as the eyes of a national television audience will once again be on Duck quarterback Darron Thomas. Thomas has exceeded expectations so far this season, throwing for over 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns and running for 2 more scores. The most impressive and important stat for Thomas is in the turnover department, where he has thrown only 5 interceptions, placing him as a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award alongside Barkley. This week protecting the ball will be extremely important, giving Barkley extra opportunities with the ball in good field position is a recipe for disaster for the Ducks. If they can control the game on offense, the scoreboard will take care of itself.
On the night before Halloween, there are several things about USC that can scare the Oregon Ducks. But as long as Oregon stays focused, hungry and doesn’t look into the eyes of USC’s 12 year old Head Coach (Lane Kiffin) the Ducks should be doing most of the frightening. All of the elements will be there: Lightening (LaMichael James), thunder (Casey Mathews), an evil mastermind (Chip Kelly), and a grizzly bear (Brandon Bair). Okay maybe the grizzly bear was a little extra. But Chip Kelly said it best this week: “You don’t feel pressure unless you don’t know what you’re doing. We know what we’re doing.” Sounds confident to me. Ducks win 42-21.
A few other things to think about:
The USC defense has had 2 weeks to prepare for the explosive Ducks offense, which could make a huge difference come Saturday. Off a bye week teams always seem to be more prepared and rested. The Ducks had a few more days than usual to prepare for USC, coming off of a Thursday night game against UCLA on Oct. 21st.
This week is not only important for Oregon in terms of their national championship hopes, but for their future as well. If you look at the Ducks starting line-up as well as their entire roster, there are a lot of players native to southern California the play for Oregon. Granted, USC usually steals the show in the recruiting department (sometimes literally) but this is likely the one opportunity most of these recruits will get to see the Ducks live in action unless they take a visit to Eugene. Not to mention that any time you play on national television recruits are watching to see if the Ducks can win them over.
ESPN’s College Gameday has traveled to the site of an undefeated team 3 weeks in a row. Each time that undefeated team has lost. Granted the Ducks are not ranked #1 like the rest of the fallen teams to cave to the curse, but it is still something to keep an eye on (I’m looking at you Corso).
Jeremiah Masoli is fighting his way back into the hearts of Oregon fans. That’s right people, the Ducks are cheering for Masoli once again. One reason could be he is threatening to beat them up if they don’t. But the real reason is that Masoli and his Ole Miss Rebels are facing Cam Newton and Auburn this week. If Masoli can steal the game (get it…steal… because he steals stuff…never mind) and lead Ole Miss past Auburn there will be nothing stopping Oregon from taking the driver’s seat in the BCS polls. Maybe he can run away with Cam Newton’s helmet, say he didn’t do it, and take Newton out of the Heisman race leaving LaMichael “LaHeisman” James with the edge in that race as well. Hopes aren’t too high however, or at least not as high as Masoli will be.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.