Oregon Ducks preview

The USC Trojans will march into Autzen Stadium this Saturday to take on the Oregon Ducks, ranked 24th in the nation, and in the words of Staind, "It's been a while." The last time the Trojans make the trip to Oregon, they used a Heisman winning quarterback, a record setting wide receiver and a veteran offensive line to drub the Ducks 44-33. This weekend looks like it could be déjà vu all over again for Oregon, though the Ducks have other plans.

Oregon sports a 3-0 record, a vastly improved passing game, a stellar defensive line and a home field that can make a Motorhead concert sound like preschool nap time. The Trojans' offensive firepower will be on display yet again against a suspect defense, but the question will be if the Trojans' depleted defense can withstand the pressure.

Ducks on Offense

Quarterback – #11 Kellen Clemens

After beginning the 2005 season with a rough first half in new Offensive Coordinator Gary Crowton's spread offense, Kellen Clemens has improved dramatically in his past two and a half games. The new offense is designed to allow Clemens to utilize his running ability in addition to his superior passing efficiency. Clemens' 61% career completion percentage is the best in Duck history as was his 178 consecutive passes without an interception last season (Clemens is currently riding a string of 129 pick-free passes). Thus far in 2005, Clemens has relied far more on his arm than on his legs. Through three games, he is averaging just under 320 yards through the air and sports a perfect 8-0 touchdown to interception ratio. Clemens is at his best when he's utilizing multiple receivers, as has been the case this season, with fifteen different players on the receiving end of his passes. Although it hasn't been necessary up to this point in the season, Clemens also has the ability to hurt you with his legs. He ranks second on the team with 30 carries for 137 yards, including a team best 43-yard run. It's not so much that he can take a game over with his legs, but he has that annoying (to opposing fans) quality of so many good quarterbacks to consistently break the pocket and scramble for those medium range first downs. A lot of people are looking to the USC linebackers to keep Clemens under control, but it's going to be a different set of Trojans that will have the biggest impact on the Duck quarterback's day. If defensive ends Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson can force their way up the field and neutralize Clemens on option runs and sweeps, it could go a long way in slowing this offense down.

Running backs – #24 Terrence Whitehead, #28 Jonathan Stewart

Even with the arrival of super prep Jonathan Stewart, Terrence Whitehead has retained a firm grasp on the number one tailback spot. After watching athletes like Reggie Bush and LenDale White for the past few years, Whitehead may not appear to be on their level, but he is indeed a special talent. He is dangerous as both a runner and a receiver, leading the team in rushing with 163 yards on 46 carries, and fourth on the team with nine catches for 96 yards. Whitehead also has two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. As evidenced by his numbers, however, the Oregon running game has yet to get on track this season. Whitehead will need to improve drastically on his 3.5 yards per carry in order to have an impact against the Trojans. Jonathan Stewart is another talented tailback behind Whitehead, but after missing the last game with an ankle sprain, there are questions about his availability against the Trojans. After taking the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown against Montana, the Trojan special teams will be breathing a sign of relief if Stewart isn't suited up on Saturday.

Wide Receivers – #6 Demetrius Williams, #80 Cameron Colvin, #18 James Finley

Oregon's wide receivers have performed brilliantly through the first three games. Demetrius Williams is the best of the bunch. He is a complete wide receiver in a 6'2" frame. He leads the team with 22 catches for 321 yards and four touchdowns, and his catching ability and speed will test a depleted Trojan secondary. On the opposite side, Cameron Colvin is stepping up his production as a true sophomore. He's hauled in eight passes for 114 yards and with his two touchdown grabs, he's already matched his total from last season. James Finley is often overlooked, but just as dangerous as his fellow receivers. Through three games, he has 16 grabs for 156 yards. Colvin and Finley, like Williams, measure 6'2" and won't allow the Trojan defense any easy match ups. But even though they are talented, the Ducks won't offer anything that the Trojans haven't seen before.

Tight End – #85 Tim Day

Tim Day is yet another example of how solid the tight end position is throughout the Pac-10. Day is a great athlete and a constant presence for Kellen Clemens over the middle of the field. He has seven receptions on the season for 66 yards. The Trojan linebackers keeping him quiet will help slow down the Duck offense.

Offensive Line – #60 LT Max Unger, #61 LG Josh Tschirgi, #55 C Enoka Lucas, #77 RG Palauni Ma Sun, #75 RT Geoff Schwartz

This Oregon offensive line is absolutely huge. Enoka Lucas, although the smallest of the starters at 6'4" and 296 pounds, anchors the line and is the veteran presence up front. Don't be surprised if the Ducks try running to the right side of the line behind two of the biggest athletes this side of Sumo wrestling. Palauni Ma Sun comes in at 6'6" and 340 pounds and even he is dwarfed by Geoff Schwartz's 6'7", 366 pound frame. The Ducks may have size, but we've seen big offensive lines dominated by the Trojan defense in the past. The Oregon offensive line will need to keep their quarterback from taking any extra hits, and will probably need to improve on their 4.1 yards per carry average. If the Ducks are really going to try and play keep away from the Trojans, this is where it all starts.

Ducks on Defense

Defensive Line – #92 Devan Long, #96 Haloti Ngata, #45 Matt Toeaina, #95 Darius Sanders

This is, without a doubt, the strength of the Duck defense. The line is giving up just over 80 rushing yards per game and has held the opposition under 3 yards per carry. As advertised, Haloti Ngata has been a force. He leads the line with 12 tackles, has forced and recovered a fumble and has accounted for the team's only safety. Ngata also has two of the team's six sacks. The other four sacks have come from the rest of the line, as Matt Toeaina has two, Darius Sanders has one, and back up Victor Filipe has the other. With all the attention paid to Ngata in the middle, the rest of the line is usually free to make plays all over the field. Sanders has stepped up thus far, contributing eight tackles, half of which have come behind the line of scrimmage. The Ducks also look forward to welcoming back Devan Long from a knee injury after sitting out the previous two games. There has been a lot of talk all week about this being the Trojans' first true test, and as far as the USC offensive line goes, that much is true.

Linebackers – #84 Anthony Trucks, #34 A.J. Tuitele, #42 Brent Haberly

Anthony Trucks is the only experience linebacker returning from last season and it's pushing it to even call him a linebacker. They call him their strong safety, he lines up at linebacker and he wears a tight end's number. But if all that is too confusing for you, just know this: he is the key to their defense. A lot of the focus of opposing offenses goes toward stopping Haloti Ngata, but the Ducks design their defense to funnel everything toward Trucks. He is a great athlete and has the freedom to roam all over the field. A.J. Tuitele and Brent Haberly are newcomers to the starting lineup, although both saw limited action during last season. Tuitele's 11 tackles against Fresno State garnered him the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week award and through three games, he and Trucks are tied for the team lead in tackles, with 26. These three linebackers may be athletic, but they've had a hard time keeping teams like Houston and Fresno State out of the endzone. That doesn't bode well for the Ducks, as the Trojans have playmakers like Oregon has never seen. If head coach Mike Belotti found players on his scout team who could accurately portray the likes of Reggie Bush and LenDale White during practice, my question is, what the heck are they doing on the scout team?

Cornerbacks – #31 Justin Phinisee, #5 Aaron Gipson

Justin Phinisee and Aaron Gipson will try to do something that no pair of cornerbacks has done for some time: shut down the Trojan passing game. Oh who am I kidding? Phinisee and Gipson will be responsible for just keeping the Trojan receivers in front of them and staying out of any clips that could end up in Matt Leinart's Heisman reel. These Duck cornerbacks are extremely hit-or-miss in the way they play the game. Gipson and his backup, Rodney Woods have accounted for all five of Oregon's interceptions through three games (three for Gipson, two for Woods), while Phinisee has chipped in with three pass breakups and 16 tackles. They've also, however, given up just under 300 yards passing per game, including 418 against Fresno State. All three cornerbacks stand under six feet tall, and although they can run, Trojan receivers have shown a consistent ability to get behind even the speediest of defenders. Matt Leinart's only distraction when it comes to throwing the ball may be shading his eyes from the vicious glare reflecting off those ridiculous Duck jerseys.

Safeties – #15 Patrick Chung, #28 J.D. Nelson

Patrick Chung plays more of a Rover position than a true safety and is the team's fastest player. He has 15 tackles on the season, but as just a redshirt freshman, is he ready to go up against the kind of talent the Trojans are bringing to Autzen? Even though he's clocked as the second fastest Duck, translating that into production against USC remains to be seen. If I'm the Oregon defensive coordinator, I'm telling Chung to follow Reggie Bush everywhere he goes, whether he's on the field or not. But if he's lined up against Bush or not, look for the Trojans to attack him with anyone and everyone, tight ends, wideouts, fullbacks and running backs, in order to confuse the youngster. However, this probably has more to do with the caliber of player lining up next to Chung. J.D. Nelson doesn't get a lot of fanfare, but he is a very solid player. Nelson ranks third on the team, with 20 tackles and is often the last line of defense for his defense. He's another player in the Duck backfield who stands under six feet tall and if he's not playing the game of his life, could spend a lot of time trying to chase down Trojans from behind.

Ducks on Special Teams

Kicker – #36 Paul Martinez

Paul Martinez has been an absolute machine for the Ducks during their first three games. Due to the Ducks' ability to consistently cut their drives off on the cusp of the red zone, Martinez has always attempted 14 field goals on the season. Although he's missed two, he's shown a powerful leg, hitting from 51 yards out and missing just one from inside 40 yards. If the Trojans can keep making Martinez kick field goals, they should be in great shape for this game.

Punter – #14 Matt Dragich

Matt Dragich has been called on 10 times this season, posting an average of 33.4 yards per punt. It's a given that he'll see the field and the Trojan punt return team has been eerily dormant through two games. The Ducks need solid coverage on punts and realistically need one or two turnovers on special teams to stay in the game.

Kick Returner – #41 Sharrod Davis, #15 Patrick Chung

With Jonathan Stewart's injury, chances are he won't be returning kicks for the Ducks on Saturday. If he is back there, it will be a huge lift to their special teams, but in his absence, Sharrod Davis and Patrick Chung will share the load. Neither of them are averaging over 20 yards per return and if the Trojans can force Oregon to travel 80 plus yards on each drive, this game could be over quickly.

Punt Returner – #31 Justin Phinisee

Justin Phinisee has seven punt returns on the year, totaling 75 yards. Against the Trojans, he just hopes that he sees the field on special teams. The Trojans have punted once in each game they've played, and if that continues through Saturday, the Trojans may be showing mercy by just scoring 70 points.


Much has been made all week of how the Ducks should try to keep the potent Trojan offense off the field by controlling the ball and the clock, and I keep wondering, isn't that the exact objective of the Trojan defense? For Pete Carroll's entire tenure at USC, the Trojan defense has always stressed not allowing the big play. If they keep the ball in front of them, they'll force the opposing offense to put together 10-20 successful plays in a row in order to put points on the board. It's pretty much unheard of for a college team to do that more times than not throughout the course of a game. The Trojans have been one of the best teams in terms of turnover ratio simply because they force the opposition to string so many plays together. If the Ducks try to do move the ball three to five yards on every play and keep the clock moving, sooner or later they're going to make a mistake.

There has also been a lot of talk about the Trojan players getting a big head and letting their guard down. Seriously? Do these people not think that there's as much desire in the Trojan locker room to defend the streak as there is in the other one to break it? It's been said that it's easier to get to the top than to stay there, and I think that is something that will keep this Trojan team focused all the way through the season. A lot of people seem to think that this game could stay close into the second half, but I think it will end up looking a lot like Arkansas. It's starting to sound like a broken record, but it's time to show everyone, once again, that this team is for real.

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