There are many reasons why this early season game with Oregon is important for the Trojans.
At this point, the Ducks have the momentum in the series with USC as they have won three games in a row and four of the last five, including the past two at Autzen Stadium. USC still holds the all time edge in the series at 33-14-2 but momentum can get moving awfully fast and the Duck program is on this rise with the highest national ranking (#7) they have ever had when facing the Trojans. One of the ways Oregon has achieved that recent success is by coming into Southern California and signing players such as Keenan Howry from Los Alamitos or Kevin Mitchell from Mater Dei, players who were deemed too small or too slow for some coaches but who are just solid "football players" from winning programs who bring a winning attitude. They have a head coach in Mike Bellotti who is the winningest coach in the Pac-10 since taking over for Rich Brooks and this game will have the added drama of Bellotti facing the team whose head job he turned down last year. The details of the negotiations between Bellotti and USC are in the past and both parties have happily moved on but there are Trojans who feel that Bellotti was less than forward in his dealings with USC and his actions were not appreciated. Of course, Bellotti did hire Dan Ferrigno as an assistant coach this year and after the abysmal job Ferrigno did with the Trojan wideouts last year perhaps that is punishment enough.
To say the Ducks are tough to beat at home is an understatement. Oregon has won 22 straight at the noise haven known as Autzen Stadium, including 13 Pac-10 games in a row, but one key factor in their home field advantage will be the presence of a new turf after the old worn out Omni Turf was finally replaced. The type of turf may not make a difference but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This game will also mark the first road game for Pete Carroll as head coach of the Trojans and it couldn't come at a place with more bad memories for his players. The last time the Trojans stepped on this field they were called for a Pac-10 record-tying 22 penalties, missed several key scoring opportunities and were forced to watch their quarterback Carson Palmer leave the field with his arm in a sling, courtesy of a wicked hit from Michael Fletcher. You can be sure that this team will do everything they can to avoid a repeat of that performance.
As far as the on field match ups, the news is fairly good for the Trojans as they compare more favorably with Oregon than they did two weeks ago against Kansas State but the key to the game will be keeping Oregon QB Joey Harrington from making a big play at the key time. Harrington torched the Trojans for 4 touchdowns last season but it was his ability to hit the clutch 3rd and 4th down passes that made the difference in the game. He in not the most talented quarterback around but he is a tremendous leader and right now his team believes in him. The Trojans will need to get pressure on him and this means the defensive line and plenty of blitz calls from Pete Carroll. We have not been able to put consistent pressure on the QB this season but we have the type of talented secondary who can cover well so if we rush Harrington and make him throw before he wants it will be a major factor in the game. The Trojans will also face the tough running of Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith, an ironic twist since both players were seriously considering USC before being denied admission into the school. The primary responsibility for stopping them will once again fall to the defensive line and you have to like our chances with the speed and strength of our dline to physically dominate against the relative inexperience of the Duck oline. The Trojans will also welcome back Frank Strong and Chris Prosser at linebacker and they will be much needed additions to a run defense that struggled against the Wildcats two weeks ago without them. Unfortunately, we are still without several offensive weapons including Malaefou MacKenzie, Marcell Allmond and Chad Pierson. MacKenzie is gone for the funeral of his father in Samoa, the suspension of Allmond will hurt on the field while Pierson will be out for another month with a bad back. The spirit of the team is good as we head into this contest and a win against the Ducks in Eugene could give the Trojans some serious momentum of our own as we head into conference play.