1. Temper The Trojan Trio
USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley has enjoyed his best season in Los Angeles due in large part to the stellar sophomore campaign of wide receiver Robert Woods and the emergence of Woods' counterpart on the perimeter, true freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee. Between Woods and Lee, the two have combined for 144 receptions for 1,858 yards and 19 touchdowns; accounting for 58 percent of Barkley's completions, 67 percent of his passing yards and 62 percent of his passing touchdowns. In other words, the triumvirate of Barkley, Woods and Lee represents the life blood of the Trojan offense. For Oregon, the primary goal will be to mitigate their impact as much as possible. Weather could play a significant role in slowing the Trojan passing attack as it's expected to be cold and wet for Saturday evening's game. However, outside of Mother Nature's antics, the Oregon secondary will once again have its hands full defending against a potent aerial attack. For the season, the Ducks rank sixth in the Pac-12 Conference in passing defense, surrendering 238.2 yards per game. Yet, the past two weeks, Oregon has played arguably their best defense of the season against two of the conference's best quarterbacks from a statistical standpoint, holding Washington's Keith Price and Stanford's Andrew Luck to a rather pedestrian average of 199.5 yards passing, 2.5 touchdowns and two interceptions. Of course, the Ducks have been aided by a potent pass rush which has registered 32 sacks, tying them for third nationally, though tight coverage and success rushing the passer often go hand in hand. If Duck defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti can cook up another successful game plan for combating a lethal offense for a third week in a row, it could portend a decisive Oregon win.
2. Stress The Unwary
For three key components of the USC defense, it will be their first time facing Oregon's hell on wheels approach to offense. Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard are expected to start Saturday for the Trojans at linebacker as they take on Oregon. The three also just so happen to be freshmen. Admittedly, the trio has played rather well this season as USC's defense under second year defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has rapidly improved over a course of a year, currently ranking fourth in the conference in total defense. Nevertheless, the starting combination of Bailey, Dawson and Pullard has never been charged with the tall task for stopping players such as Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and the like. Oregon's ability to reach the second level of USC's defense depends on the offensive line's performance in moving a stout Trojan front line which has only given up 100.4 yards rushing per game this season, good enough for second in the conference. Apart from the season opener versus LSU, the Ducks have had their way with opponents on the ground, and in order to win Saturday versus USC, success on the ground will be a key element. Keeping USC's greenhorns at linebacker on their heels for a full 60 minutes is a necessary first step in accomplishing that end.
3. No Matter The Weather
It never rains in Autzen Stadium, but that "streak" appears to be in jeopardy this weekend as temperatures are expected to drop in to the low 30's with the possibility of a wintry mix for Saturday's 5:00 p.m. Pacific kickoff. In what will likely be the most adverse weather either team has experienced until this point, how well both teams handle the conditions could play a significant role in the outcome. In the case of USC, the weather could be particularly detrimental due to the crux of their offense being based on Barkley making plays with his arm. It should also be noted that Woods is playing at about "70 percent" according to USC head coach Lane Kiffin, as Woods nurses shoulder and ankle injuries which could be augmented by the potentially frigid temperatures if he in fact plays. Oregon's offense is far more run based, though at times is predicated on pitches and deft ball handling by the quarterback to execute a particular play. Managing the weather and each team's ability to successfully nullify its affect on their respective games will be essential to victory.
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney
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