Oregon vs USC: Side-by Side preview

The Oregon Ducks travel south to Los Angeles for a Homecoming night match-up with the USC Trojans. Click below to read a side-by-side preview of the game from the Oregon and USC site publishers:

LAST WEEK: A trip to Stanford Stadium to face the ailing Cardinal was just what the doctor ordered for the Trojans after USC had suffered a rare regular season loss the previous week to Oregon State. The Trojans were able to put together a 42-0 shutout of Stanford with solid performances on offense from John David Booty (177 passing yards in the first half alone) and Dwayne Jarrett (five catches for over 100 yards and a touchdown) as well as defensively from Terrell Thomas (one pick, one sack, one fumble returned for a touchdown). All in all it was a game which allowed the Trojans to reclaim a bit of swagger as they prepare for a tough four game stretch to end the 2006 regular season although some USC fans are quick to point out the 3rd quarter struggles against Stanford as a sign that this team still has a ways to go in terms of being a consistent football team. One thing everyone can agree on is the fact that a game against Stanford does not offer a realistic measurement of where you are at because Stanford is struggling through one of the worst seasons any Pac-10 team has ever seen. LAST WEEK: This year one thing has been true -- when all else fails, give the ball to Jonathan Stewart and last week at Autzen Stadium that is exactly what the Ducks did. Oregon upended Washington 34-14 behind Stewart's 159 yards of rushing and two touchdowns. Actually, the weather forecast for Eugene was rain so Oregon concentrated more on the running attack during the week and oddly enough, not a drop of rain fell during the game. Dennis Dixon had one of his lowest outputs of the year throwing for only 109 yards on a 14-for-25 effort including two interceptions. The two turnovers gave Washington its only real opportunity to score, which they did, but defensively the Ducks may have played their best game of the year. Washington managed 138 total offense compared to Oregon's 454. Significantly, the Ducks gave up 13 yards of rushing while gaining 316 yards on the ground. The Ducks also racked up three sacks with the defense being led by A.J. Tuitele's eight tackles (five solo) and Blair Phillips' five tackles (including a sack), a pass break up and a quarterback hurry. Place kicker Paul Martinez was 2-for-3 in kicking with one good at 43 yards and the other at 35.
KEY INJURIES: RB Hershel Dennis (knee, out), RB Michael Coleman (hip, out), FB Brandon Hancock (knee, out), FB Ryan Powdrell (ankle, out), FB Stanley Havili (leg, out), WR Chris McFoy (shoulder, doubtful), WR Jamere Holland (shoulder, out), OL Jeff Byers (back, out), DL Travis Tofi (foot, doubtful), DB Josh Pinkard (knee, out), DB Kevin Thomas (foot, out), DB Will Harris (knee, out) KEY INJURIES: Defensive lineman Cole Linehan (broken foot) - out Linebacker Brent Haberly (broken arm) - doubtful Fullback Jason Turner (torn ACL) - out Running back Chris Vincent (torn ankle ligament) - out Defensive end Victor Filipe (elbow) - out Running Back Andiel Brown (broken finger) - out Wide Receiver Derrick Jones (right ankle tendon) – out
WHEN USC IS ON OFFENSE: This will be a game for the Trojan running attack to shine as the Oregon defense is smaller than normal and vulnerable against the run so a back like Chauncey Washington can do a lot of damage behind an inspired Trojan offensive line. Chauncey has looked good in recent weeks as the lingering effects of an early season hamstring injury seem to be a thing of the past and a nice 100 yard game from him on Saturday would go a long way toward insuring a Trojan victory. The good news is that the run game will be complemented by a passing attack that is as healthy as we've seen all year with John David Booty throwing the ball well right now and both Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith are feeling good. We also saw Fred Davis get into the end zone against Stanford so hopefully the ball will find its way to the tight end even more this week as Fred has the opportunity to create a physical mismatch every time he's on the field. WHEN OREGON IS ON OFFENSE: Dixon is the ideal quarterback for Oregon's spread offense when he is not turning the ball over. In the early part of the season, he was making good decisions and showed great confidence. However after tough outings against California and Washington State, Dixon's confidence was clearly shaken up. Last week against Washington he threw two interceptions however there was at least some mitigating circumstances for one of the picks -- the receiving did not finish the timing route and the only one at the spot was the defender. Dixon was still a very potent part of the offense though with his running ability. Oregon runs the spread offense by putting as many as five receivers into patterns. When things work well for the Ducks the combination of Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson wreak havoc on opposing defenses. Cal and WSU were able to slow down the Oregon running attack, but that may have primarily due to Oregon being behind early and needed to pass in order to get back into the game. All of Oregon's scholarship receivers are 6-1 or taller. In seven games this season one of those tall, fast receivers has had over 100 yards receiving. Williams is having a tremendous year with five games over 100 yards but Jordan Kent and Brian Paysinger also had big days too. Cameron Colvin has been hampered by nagging injuries was back last week and the rustiness showed as he fumbled after one reception. Colvin did come back later in the game with a key reception to keep a drive alive.
WHEN OREGON HAS THE BALL: The Trojans have had difficulty in the past with the so-called "running" quarterbacks (Vince Young from Texas and Ell Roberson from Kansas State come to mind). It wasn't so much the running abilities of those quarterbacks that made the difference in those games but it was the unexpected success they saw passing the ball which resulted in USC losses. Dennis Dixon is another talented player, the Trojans recruited him hard out of San Leandro HS, and Pete Carroll worked his defense hard this week in practice on being disciplined and playing assignment football, which is usually easier said than done against a QB who knows how to make the spread offense work. The real concern for the Trojans lies with the running game of Jonathan Stewart as one of few recipes for success against USC in the Carroll era has been for a quality back to get over 100 yards. It doesn't automatically result in a victory but it sure helps if you want to succeed against the Trojans. Stewart, another former Trojan recruit, is certainly capable of reaching that mark with a hard running style. The critical players for USC in this game will be the linebackers, including Brian Cushing in the Elephant defense. This is not a look that Oregon has seen a lot of and the Trojans will rotate between the Elephant and the normal 4-3 in an effort to mix things up and keep Oregon off balance. Look for the Trojans to also pressure Dixon in the hopes of creating turnovers. WHEN USC HAS THE BALL: The Duck "bend-don't-break" defense has played well enough this season but was overwhelmed at Cal and had to work too much in the short field against WSU. The defensive line that labored short-handed due to injuries is much healthier. Matt Toeaina and David Faaeteete start and Jeremy Gibbs is rotating in as is Ra'Shon Harris. Harris returned after what was thought to be a season ending injury to a triceps but had a sack last week. Darius Sanders, Nick Reed and Dexter Manley are the ends and can disrupt an opponent's passing game when given to the green light to go after the quarterback. Blair Phillips has been very impressive all year long and is the Pac-10's leading tackler (9.5 per game). Kwame Agyeman will be listed as a strong safety in the program but he really is an outside linebacker in the Oregon scheme. A.J. Tuitele is the weakside linebacker, and a tenacious tackler. J.D. Nelson and Patrick Chung are big hitters out of the safety positions. The Ducks hope that the cornerback position will be healthier this week. Walter Thurmond starts at one corner and Jairus Byrd has been a solid at the other side. The Ducks have remained the best pass defense in the Pac-10 at 142.1 yards per game and last week's performance helped out in rush defense (145.7 yards, 8th in the Pac-10). Too often this season the Ducks have been run over not only by the likes of Adrian Peterson (211 yards), Dwayne Wright (154) and Justin Forsett (167), but also by Ryan Torain (114), Dwight Tardy (145) and even Portland State's Mu'Ammar Ali (139).
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Trojans worked a lot on special teams coverage drills this week with the knowledge that Oregon is a team capable of returning a kick to change the momentum of the game. One nice bit of news from practice this week was the fact that Troy Van Blarcom seems to have returned to his deep kickoffs after an "off-week" against the Cardinal. Troy said it was more mental than physical and he feels fine right now. Greg Woidneck was punting the ball extremely well this week. We will also see a new punt returner, either Travon Patterson or Terrell Thomas, as Desmond Reed will miss the game due to a family funeral. SPECIAL TEAMS: Place kicker Paul Martinez is 13-for-17 this season with a long of 48 and has one attempt blocked. Aaron Knowles was punting last week but the job is open for competition this week. He is averaging 41.3 yards, but Matt Dragich, who was the starting punter, could be back in action if his 36.6-yard average improves this week in practice. Jeremiah Johnson or Patrick Chung could be the punt return specialist. Last week Chung returned his first career punt reception back for a touchdown -- but then fumbled the second punt.
USC CAN WIN IF: USC can win if they continue the momentum established last week against Stanford. In that game we saw a crisp and efficient football team in the first half that was able to jump out to a 28-0 lead with all facets of the game working well. What we can't have is a lull like we saw in the third quarter against the Cardinal because Oregon is the type of team that has plenty of weapons to take advantage of that kind of situation. This Homecoming game for the Trojans will come down to energy and execution, the first will be helped by the large Coliseum crowd but as for the second part, we'll just have to wait and see. OREGON CAN WIN IF: Oregon can win if they don't turn the ball over and give USC field position and if the Ducks can cover USC's tall receivers. The Ducks will need to somehow come up with a defensive scheme that can disguise the coverage and confuse John David Booty. The Ducks have many weapons coming out of the dangerous spread offense, but they must play fast. Dixon has to make good decisions and if the Ducks can get the running game going it could be a good day for the Ducks.
USC WILL LOSE IF: USC can lose if they fail to establish a rhythm on offense early in the game. It will be important to show the running game and control the clock to keep the Oregon offense on the sidelines as much as possible and not let them jump out to an early lead. It will also be critical for the USC defense to fly to the football and create havoc, they must bring the fight to the Ducks to help create confusion with their offensive game plan. If USC sits back and let's Oregon dink and dunk down the field it could be a long night. OREGON WILL LOSE IF: When Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti talked about this upcoming match up the first thing he mentioned was turnovers. Bellotti pointed out the big reason why USC lost at Oregon State was simple -- turnovers. "In our losses this year, we turned the ball over," observed Bellotti." In their loss, they turned the ball over, a very common thread throughout college football. He was concerned about Oregon defending against Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, but from Bellotti's perspective the game will be about which team make the fewest mistakes and can hold onto the ball.
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Garry Paskwietz is the Publisher of WeAreSC.com and WeAreSC magazine and has been covering Trojan football since 1996. Steve Summers is the publisher for eDuck.com and Editor-in-Chief of eDuck Magazine.

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