No. 7 Oregon Ducks (2-0) vs. USC Trojans (1-1)
National broadcast, Fox Sports net
Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon
More stringent security will in force for the game. Fans will be allowed to queue their vehicles to enter the parking lot only one hour prior to the parking lot opening which occurs four hours in advance of the game or 2:15 p.m. People attempting to form vehicle lines prior to this time will be asked to move along by the police. Furthermore, gate entrances into Autzen Stadium will be divided into two lines: a "fast" line for people not carrying backpacks, purses, fanny packs, etc. into the game and a "search" line for people who will be carrying along these items which must be searched. It is being reported on CNN that all airplanes are being instructed to pass at least two hundred miles away from college and professional sports events. Oregon fans are asked to be respectful of their neighbors regardless of how they look or the clothing they wear. The person sitting next or around you could be the parent of an Oregon player who also happens to be a Muslim or a Sikh.
The player walk through the Moshofsky Center will occur at approximately 5:55 p.m. Typically that event takes place two hours before game time. However, for Saturday's game both teams must enter the stadium a little earlier than normal as their presence will be required during the National Anthem and for a moment of silence in recognition of those who lost their lives during the recent terrorist attacks in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.
USC hasn't won in Autzen Stadium since 1993. The last time the Ducks lost to anyone in Autzen Stadium was against UCLA in 1997. Oregon's 22-game home winning streak is the second longest in the nation behind Florida State's. The Ducks have never lost a game in their current dark green home uniforms. Oregon has beaten USC four out of the last five meetings only losing 22-24 to the Trojans in Los Angeles in 1997. USC leads the all-time series with Oregon, 33-14-2. USC's last bowl game appearance was the Sun Bowl in 1998. Oregon beat Texas 35-30 in the Holiday bowl last year. Saturday's game is the Pac-10 Conference opener for both teams.
Although the Trojans have eight returning starters on offense and six returning starters on defense, the team turned over its coaching staff including hiring Pete Carroll as head coach. The team only achieved a 5-7 record last year, one of the worst performances by a Trojan team in last 25 years. Although the Trojans are loaded with talent as evidenced by their Top-20 recruiting classes the last five years, the team has not yet shown the propensity to jell or win difficult games.
USC quarterback Carson Palmer may physically be a NFL prototype player but he has not thrown a touchdown pass this year and has never played well against nor beaten the Ducks. The last time Carson played in Autzen Stadium he was forced to leave the field early with a shoulder injury following a sports-reel-type tackle by Michael Fletcher, now graduated. The Trojans may be one of the few teams Oregon plays this year that can match their team speed. According to Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti, USC tailback Sultan McCullough may be the fastest football player in the nation. He has run a legitimate 10.17 second 100 meters and appears to be just as adept at running inside as he is running outside. Receiver Kareem Kelly is also a burner who can run a 10.2 second 100 meters. Defensive back Darell Rideaux and others are not far behind. Safety Troy Polamalu from Winston, Oregon leads the team in tackles. Not unlike Oregon's, USC's defensive front seven is very young and inexperienced. Senior scout team defensive end Bobby DeMars will get the first start of his career against Oregon. He is replacing freshman Kenechi Udeze. True freshman Shaun Cody will be starting at defensive tackle. Trojan linebackers Matt Grootegoed and Frank Strong are both less the 100 percent due to injuries. Although the USC defense has not given up more than 10 points in game this year, they did allow Kansas State to rush for 340 yards in their last game.
Although Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington appears to be as solid as ever and perhaps on his way to a first team all-conference selection, the Oregon offensive line has done little so far this year to prevent the Ducks from being one-dimensional. Despite two gifted running backs in Maurice Morris, who ran for over 1000 yards last year, and transfer Onterrio Smith, Oregon is averaging less than 125-yards rushing per game, and Morris has only 77 total net yards after two games. Oregon receivers Jason Willis, Justin Peelle and Keenan Howry have provided excellent targets for Harrington and have shown the gutsy ability to catch passes in traffic and across the middle. Interesting, Oregon's offensive line only lost one starter from last year's team, tackle Lee Gundy. Oregon offensive line coach, Neal Zoumboukos has a history of cross training his linemen and moving players around. It would seem that once the Oregon coaches put together the right combination of offensive line players and positions that the running game will come back into place. USC better hope it will not be this weekend.
The Oregon defense including its young front seven have played very well at times. Perhaps their biggest flaw has been their inability to muster a pass rush in critical situations. Only three sacks have been credited to Oregon this year, all during the Wisconsin game. The Oregon defense has also been guilty of lapses where the Ducks are unable to wrap-up and makes tackles at the line of scrimmage or on one-on-one situations. Wisconsin was able to burn Oregon for 69-yard touchdown run and two Utah players broke off 27-yard runs. The Oregon secondary has been put on coverage islands and has responded well for the most part. They have given up some key receptions and dropped a number of possible interceptions including at lease three that probably would have gone for touchdowns and completely changed the momentum of game and potentially the final score. For the most part the secondary has bent but not broke. If the Ducks can't mount a better pass rush in future the defensive backfield's record may be hard to maintain.
Oregon special teams with the exception of coverage teams have improved over last year. The Ducks are kicking the ball into the end zone more often than not. And, punter, Jose Arroyo, has developed into a nice surprise replacing what was thought to be the irreplaceable Kurtis Doerr.
Miscues, forced timeouts, and penalties have been a problem thus far for Oregon. During the Utah game Oregon gave the ball back to the Utes twice after stopping them on defense due to penalties called on special teams. Against Pac-10 opponents these kind of mental mistakes might catch of with the Ducks.
Overall, the Ducks have shown the same ability they demonstrated last year to win close games, games in which they must come from behind and games in which the defense must hold onto the lead. This is rapidly becoming an Oregon team trait or Bellotti-coached characteristic. Given that this is not yet a quality demonstrated by USC, look for Oregon to win this Saturday if the game is close.