Trojans Won't Run Away From Ducks

USC sat atop the AP preseason football poll this year. The Trojans returned Heisman frontrunner Matt Barkley, a defense that returned key players at each level and star skill players at wide receiver, running back and tight end.

EUGENE, Ore.,- But something hasn't been quite right for the men of Troy. Rather than compete for a national championship, they now find themselves amidst a tight battle for the Pac-12 South Divisional battle with UCLA and Arizona State.

In the pre-season, the Nov. 4 matchup between USC and Oregon seemed to have great title ramifications. It still might, but two losses to Stanford and last week to Arizona have weakened them greatly.

Chip Kelly wouldn't say he's surprised by the Trojans disappointing start, pointing out that "anything can happen in college football." But don't be surprised if the Trojans don't use the failures as ammunition, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich won't be.

"I'm sure that they're spinning it up that way," Helfrich said of USC turning disappointment into fuel. "I'm sure that their players are thinking of it that way."

Much has been made of the passing game, which features Barkley and All-American wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, but the ground game may play a more integral role in the Trojans success.

"It's important to stop everything," Kelly said. "They're not a team built to do just one thing. They've got a great approach to how they run the ball."

"…Put[ting] all your eggs in one basket" against the Trojans is something Kelly says he won't do, but maybe he should.

The margin of success between run and pass is daunting. The Trojans attempt just three more passing plays than rushes per game, but average nearly twice as many yards through the air as on the ground.

In their two losses, USC was held to 26 yards by Stanford and 125 by Arizona. In their wins they've averaged 181.

Defensive tackle Ricky Heimuli says the line has watched Stanford tape extensively; building confidence at the way Stanford, who runs a similar scheme up front, "manhandled" USC in the trenches.

Heralded Penn State transfer Silas Redd leads the Trojan running attack, rushing for 640 yards and seven touchdowns this year. Curtis McNeal was a 1000-yard rusher a year ago and ran well against the Ducks, but has yet to find the end zone in 2012 and has missed time with injuries.

The Trojans have allowed just one more point than the Ducks this year and only 115 more yards over the course of eight games. For all intents and purposes, thus far USC has statistically matched Oregon.

"This is probably the best defense we've played all year," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "This will be a tell tale of what we are as an offense and how good we are as a team."

Like Heimuli, Mariota believe he's seen areas where USC is susceptible, this time using the way the Wildcats attacked them.

"Arizona did a good job with the pace," he said. "USC with what they have, they've got some depth issues. Arizona did a good job of ‘tempoing' them."

Mariota wouldn't be wrong in saying USC isn't without depth issues, as the 10-scholarship reduction and injuries have hobbled the Trojans defensively. But the 11 starters on defense are as talented as anyone, with stars at each level.

"Guys are recruited to USC for a reason. That's probably going to be true for as long as we all live," Helfrich said.

The captain of the USC defense is senior safety T.J. McDonald, who ranks fifth in the league in tackles and is used in different roles by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. One of those roles is as a run-stopper, in which McDonald moves up to attack the line of scrimmage. Kelly says that has been effective thus far.

Unlike many of the new-look coaching staffs the Ducks have faced this year, what Kiffin provides defensively is more of the same from what they've seen each of the past three years. Helfrich describes it as "plug in and play."

"He's been really consistent. Monte's run the scheme that he's run," Kelly said.

"It's his third year in it and he's been very consistent in everything he's done since he's been there. There's no aberration in terms of what he's doing this year compared to last year, compared to the year before."

The Ducks and Trojans will face off Saturday at 4 p.m. on Fox. Gus Johnson and Charles Davis will call the game in the booth, with Julie Alexandria on the field.

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