We're talking 'tough' in Autzen

There is a way to get this done Saturday at Oregon and it's tried and tested and USC football at its best and works whenever it's used. Tough man wins.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oh ye of little faith, how quickly you forget.

Sure, it's been four years now but it was the last time USC played in Eugene . . . and our bet here is the Ducks fans haven't forgotten.

When USC is USC, life gets difficult and much more complicated for anyone else in the Pac-12 not USC. It's really that simple.

And that simplicity could be the key Saturday at Autzen (12:30 p.m., ESPN).

Remember 2011. Even Lane Kiffin, with Matt Kalil and Rhett Ellison leading the way for a pounding, physical Trojans attack that didn't allow the Ducks much opportunity to do their thing, got it that day -- even in that ridiculous all-white ski patrol outfit.

Matt Barkley, with four TD passes and 323 yards passing, and Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, who combined for 15 catches for 240 yards and three TDs, and Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler, who carried the ball 32 times between them for 143 yards and redshirt freshmen Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey who combined for 21 tackles and two sacks against the Ducks, all got it.

They got USC off to a 24-7 lead and managed to survive by 38-35 when they put on the brakes at the end.

And even if you're pretty sure this USC team isn't as good as that 18th-ranked bunch which probably should have been unbeaten and in the hunt for the national title, at least from AP, despite the first year of sanctions, that No. 4 Oregon team, riding high on a 21-game home win streak, a 19-game Pac-10 win streak and a nine-game overall win streak, was way better than this one.

So hang in there Saturday. It's a day game for starters. Weather should be decent.

That night was cold. LeBron James, Chris Paul and a number of Phil Knight's NBA Nike guys were in the house. They came to celebrate the takeover from the Trojans. And then for three quarters, they mostly sat there in silence.

"That's a good football team," Chip Kelly said of the Trojans after losing his first-ever game in Autzen the week after a big Ducks' win over Stanford, much the same as this week's game sets up for Oregon.

"I didn't feel like it was a hangover," Kelly said. "The credit goes to that other team."

Which is where we are now. In a place where the credit can go to the Trojans if they make it happen. And sure, there's all the worry about backups in the middle at linebacker and in the middle of the offensive line.

But that's not always a negative. It has a way of focusing football teams -- players and coaches. And that can be a very good thing. No getting cute. No going grab-bag on offense. No hoping something's going to work.

In games like this, you make it about toughness, mental and physical, not cuteness. About inflicting your will on the other guy, not fooling him. You make it a "tough man contest" -- the way USC always wanted it to be before the troubles.

Get into a "tough man" throwdown and USC wins, you used to think. But then came the sanctions and Lane and Sark and the tough stuff too often went off the rails for the slick tricks.

That 2011 season, at least the second half of it, was the exception. Thanks to Kalil and Ellison, there was never a doubt when they figured things out after a couple of earlier losses that never should have happened, who the tough team was going to be.

Notre Dame found out. As did Oregon. And UCLA, in the last time USC won a game in that series. Those Trojans were way too tough. It was obvious.

Now it has to be obvious again. Forget young. Forget injured. Forget the coaching situation.

Find tough.

JuJu has. Let JuJu be the guide here.

Pound 'em, push 'em, make 'em play the run and then go play action. And do it without mistakes. It's the oldest formula in football. Not trendy at all.

But it's USC football and should never be forgotten. Find it again and you can bet the folks in Eugene will remember it well.

No names on the uniforms. Cardinal and Gold the colors. "Fight On" the fight song that sustains them. Get it all back -- one game at a time.

Much as with that 2011 team, it won't happen without the quarterback in what could be Cody Kessler's signature win -- until next week, that is. The same for JuJu and that next receiver or two who steps up like Marqise and Robert did. And two running backs? Justin and Ronald, step on up. It's your time.

And on defense, Delvon, Antwaun, Adoree' and every other guy who gets on the field. It'll take all 11 -- at a time, that is. Everybody who gets in the game, really.

And it all starts at 12:30, right after high noon. John Wayne would have approved.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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