Quarterback – #10 Dennis Dixon
Dennis Dixon is one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. You'll have to forgive Trojan fans if they start having flashbacks of Vince Young terrorizing the USC defense in last year's Rose Bowl. The good news for Trojan supporters, however, is that as talented as Dixon is, he's still no Young.
This season, Dixon started off red-hot during the Ducks' opening four games. But after throwing three interceptions and looking lost for much of the game against Cal, Dixon hasn't been the same.
Through the first four games, Dixon didn't complete fewer than 63% of his passes in any game and never threw for fewer than 215 yards. During the past four (UCLA, at Washington State, Portland State and Washington), Dixon completed 60% of his passes just once and had a high of 150 passing yards against Portland State.
Part of that decrease in productivity is because the Ducks have become more reliant on their running game, in which Dixon has a large role. He is a lock to carry the ball several times on Saturday and has developed a better sense of when to give up on a pass play and take off for extra yards. Last week against Washington, the passing game wasn't there for him, but he was still able to keep the offense moving with seven rushes for 53 yards.
The Trojan defense will need a strong effort from all 11 players to contain Dixon on Saturday. He has looked out of synch and a lot of his responsibility has been removed since the Cal game. If the defense allows him time to scan the field and complete easy pass after easy pass, the Trojans could be in trouble once the running game starts showing up as well. Dixon is a threat on the ground, but he won't keep the ball on option runs as often as Young did. Where he could hurt the Trojans, however, is picking up third and medium distances by buying time, rolling out and then taking off for the marker.
Running Backs – #28 Jonathan Stewart, #24 Jeremiah Johnson
Jonathan Stewart has proven that he is capable of becoming one of the best tailbacks in the conference, as long as he's healthy. On the season, he's rushed for 798 yards and seven touchdowns on 134 carries. A rib cage injury held him to just eight yards on two carries against Portland State, but Stewart was obviously feeling fine last weekend against Washington, rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
Stewart is a thick, strong runner, capable of shaking tackles or just running past defenders. He is a guy who will get between 20 and 30 carries on Saturday and if the Trojans allow him to maintain his 6-yards-per-carry average, the Oregon offense will be clicking for the entire game. Against Cal, Stewart was held to 25 yards on 18 carries and as a result, the Duck offense could never develop serious momentum. The running game was stuffed, forcing Dixon to move the ball solely through the air, which he was unable to do.
The Washington State Cougars were able to take a similar defensive approach during their victory over Oregon, holding Stewart to 28 yards on 11 carries. Dixon again was asked to carry the load and was unable to do so.
But Stewart has also developed a fumbling problem this season. If it rears its head against the Trojans, the defense must capitalize.
Jeremiah Johnson is Stewart's backup and will see plenty of time against the Trojans. It would be easy to think pass when Stewart leaves the game, but Johnson is a very capable runner. He's averaging 6.1 yards on 79 carries and leads the team with nine touchdowns.
Wide Receivers – #4 Jaison Williams, #19 Brian Paysinger, #2 Jordan Kent
Jaison Williams is the second leading receiver in the Pac-10, with 858 yards and six touchdowns on 56 receptions. He is a big, strong receiver and is adept at picking up yardage after the catch. Oregon will do everything they can to get the ball in his hands, whether it's down the field or at the line of scrimmage. He has five 100-yard games this season and should be motivated going against the Trojans, coming off a game against Washington where he caught just three passes for 37 yards. It will be critical for Trojan defensive backs to wrap Williams up after he catches passes, especially when it comes to wide receiver screens – something that Oregon absolutely loves to run.
Brian Paysinger has been a welcome surprise for the Ducks this season, catching 25 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns this season. Paysinger had a big day against UCLA, with 105 yards and a touchdown on four grabs. He then followed that with a nine catch, 88-yard performance against Washington State. Last week, Paysinger was active again catching just one forward pass for one yard, but he was on the receiving end of three backward passes, which went for 43 yards. He's another guy who will have the ball in his hands around the line of scrimmage.
Jordan Kent is another tall receiver who has the talent to give the Trojan defensive backs fits. On the year, he has 25 catches for 290 yards and three touchdowns. His big game came against Cal, where he caught six passes for 113 yards.
Of the three, Williams is the most dangerous and explosive, but the defensive secondary must stay alert as Oregon is able to keep the ball moving by hitting screens and short passes over and over before faking one and going up top for a deep play.
Tight End – #44 Dante Rosario
Dante Rosario isn't nearly the threat of the other wide receivers as Oregon's offense doesn't call for a lot of action to the tight end. But, Rosario is very sure-handed and will find open spaces in the middle of the defense. He's fourth on the team in receptions, with 24 for 262 yards. He's caught a pass in each game this season, with his best effort coming against Oklahoma, where he caught six passes for 46 yards.
Offensive Line – LT #60 Max Unger, LG #61 Josh Tschirgi, C #55 Enoka Lucas, RG #77 Palauni Ma Sun, RT #75 Geoff Schwartz
The offensive line has been arguably the biggest strength of this Oregon team. The Ducks are leading the conference in rushing yards per game as the only team gaining over 200 yards on the ground. The line has also allowed Dixon to be sacked just three times this season and have given up just seven total. As a whole, they're big and physical and will look to outmuscle the Trojan defensive front in opening holes for the running backs.
Ducks on Defense
Defensive Line – #95 Darius Sanders, #90 David Faaeteete, #45 Matt Toeaina, #49 Nick Reed
The Duck defensive line has suffered some injuries this season and, as a result, has given up some serious yards on the ground. But with some key reserves getting healthy recently, the line put on a dominating display against the Huskies last week. They gave up just 13 yards on the ground and sacked the Washington quarterback three times.
Matt Toeaina leads the line with 28 tackles, but Darius Sanders is the serious threat. His eight tackles for loss and six sacks lead the team.
Linebackers – #34 A.J. Tuitele, #33 Blair Phillips
As the only linebackers on the field for most of the game, A.J. Tuitele and Blair Phillips are asked to cover a lot of ground. As a result, Phillips is the team's leading tackler, by a large margin, with 84. He also has eight tackles for loss and two sacks. Tuitele has one sack and four tackles for loss among his 45 total stops. He also has an interception.
Tuitele is coming off a great game against Washington where he led the team in tackles. If the Trojans can't run the ball successfully and force the Ducks to walk another guy into the box, USC will have a tough time moving the ball.
Cornerbacks – #32 Jarius Byrd, #6 Walter Thurmond
Because of the susceptibility they've shown against the run as well as the style of defense they play, teams have been hesitant to throw against the Ducks. It has shown in the statistics, as Oregon is ranked sixth in the country in pass defense, allowing just over 142 yards per game.
Jarius Byrd leads the team with four interceptions and has added four pass breakups and 33 tackles. Walter Thurmond leads the team with five pass breakups and has added 38 tackles of his own. Neither corner is talented enough on his own to match up with any of the top three Trojan receivers, and if John David Booty is able to get a read on this complicated Duck secondary, the passing game should put up well over 142 yards.
Safeties – #30 Kwame Agyeman, #28 J.D. Nelson, #15 Patrick Chung
Kwame Agyeman has chipped in with 28 tackles, but J.D. Nelson and Patrick Chung hold the secondary together.
Nelson is second on the team with 62 tackles and has two sacks and two pass breakups.
Chung is just behind Nelson, with 61 tackles, but his biggest asset is his versatility. Chung plays the rover position for Oregon's defense, which allows him to move all over the field both before and after the snap. He has tremendous speed and has intercepted three passes while in coverage, but he has the strength and tackling ability to assist the running game at the line of scrimmage. If John David Booty can keep control of and manipulate Chung for the entire game, the Trojan offense could roll.
Ducks on Special Teams
Kicker – #36 Paul Martinez
Paul Martinez is a serious weapon for he Ducks' special teams. He's tied for the conference lead, with 78 points on the season. He's 33-34 on extra point tries and 13-17 on field goal attempts. His longest kick on the season was a 48-yarder against Portland State.
Punter – #98 Aaron Knowles
Aaron Knowles is averaging just over 41 yards per kick on 11 punts this season. His long is 54 yards and just one has gone into the endzone for a touchback.
Kick Returner – #28 Jonathan Stewart
Jonathan Stewart is a threat as a kick returner. His long this season is 54 yards, but he is more than capable of breaking one for a touchdown. The Trojans did a tremendous job in limiting the Cardinal kick returners last week, but doing the same thing against Oregon will be a challenge.
Punt Returner – #15 Patrick Chung
Patrick Chung replaced Jeremiah Johnson as a punt returner due to Johnson's inability to hold onto the football. Last week, Chung responded with a 59-yard return for a touchdown to give his team a 7-0 lead. Of course, Chung then fumbled twice during the course of the game. It will be interesting to see if Chung is the one out there catching punts against the Trojans. Whoever it is, the Trojans will again be going against a solid athlete who is more than capable of splitting the gunners and getting into the second level.