Four Downs: Oregon

Putting the game on the arm of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas is among the four keys to a USC upset victory.

Make Oregon earn it
USC came into its showdown against Stanford with one goal: make it a game in the fourth quarter.

The plan was to see how the Cardinal, who had not been dragged kicking and screaming in a down to the wire contest, would fare under that pressure.

It almost worked, with cornerback Nickell Robey intercepting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and returning it for a touchdown with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter. But Luck was able to rally and Stanford ended up prevailing in triple overtime.

It's time for a reboot, same game plan only with a different ending.

Oregon hasn't played any close games. Even in the loss to LSU it 30-13 before the two teams traded scores late. They haven't had to face the pressure of a late-game situation, especially at Autzen, in a Pac-12 game in a long time.

Would the Ducks, still with a chance to play for the BCS title, press and make mistakes? Would the home-field advantage turn against the home team, creating a nervousness that filters down from the stands? Would quarterback Darron Thomas, who has looked spotty at times this year, make a critical mistake?

There's only one way to find out. USC can play loose, attacking, aggressive football and draw Oregon into a game.

And if USC can take a lead going into the second half, all the better. Oregon is 26-0 in three seasons under Chip Kelly when leading or tied at the break, but 5-5 when trailing.

Make Darron Thomas win it
It's no coincidence that Oregon's worst scoring output – 27 points against LSU – came in a game where the redshirt junior attempted 54 passes. In the Ducks' nine wins, that number comes down to an average of 16.7.

This isn't the Dennis Dixon team of 2007 or even last year's Oregon, equally adept at passing and throwing. No, the loss of receivers Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis to graduation is being sorely felt.

Instead, it is freshman running back De'Anthony Thomas that leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns.

USC needs to challenge that lack of playmakers on the outside by playing man-to-man coverage with corners Nickell Robey and Isiah Wiley. Use the other nine defenders to attack the powerful ground game and Oregon's trio of running backs.

Dare Thomas to throw. Rely on incomplete passes to take Oregon off schedule and create third downs.

Make Matt Barkley a national topic of conversation Monday
The list of quarterback to beat Oregon under Kelly is small but elite: Kellen Moore, Andrew Luck, Terrelle Pryor and Cam Newton.

(The other, Jarrett Lee of LSU, had the advantage of a ridiculously brilliant defense to create field position and generally fluster the Ducks.)

For USC to upset Oregon and Barkley to join that group, he will have to play perhaps the best game of his career. Even with a hobbled Robert Woods, Barkley should be able to challenge the young Ducks corners and strike down the field.

But just as importantly as making plays, it will also be on the junior to avoid turnovers and help his defense.

Make Andre Heidari irrelevant
If you're kicking field goals against Oregon, you're going to lose. It's just that simple. They are going to score and score touchdowns.

Lane Kiffin would be better served treating every drive that crosses midfield as four-down territory.


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