The Not So Obvious – After No.15 Rutgers upset of No. 3 Louisville, even ESPN's college football gurus Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit agreed that with the Trojan remaining schedule of Top 10 teams, the Trojans are again knocking hard on the national championship door. But just who are the 2006 USC Trojans? Being bounced right back in the middle of the national championship picture, perhaps even Pete Carroll's team is unsure of who they are. One thing is for certain, if the Cardinal and Gold can't come to play Saturday night with championship football intensity, purpose, and precision, there will be no excuses. They will reap what they sow. One thing we do know for sure, Oregon will be coming to Duck-up the Trojans renewed national championship hopes and believe they can and will do it.
The Obvious – The Trojans opened as eight-point favorites to defeat the Oregon Ducks
The Not So Obvious – Well, it seems like a football generation ago that the Trojan were favored during the regular season by such few points. Could it be because the Trojans waxed Stanford 42-0 and Oregon dusted the winless Cardinal 48-10? The eight-point opening line for this Saturday underscores the fact that the Trojans have rarely beaten the odds this season and for the most part have appeared to be a team that has not gotten noticeably better after the first three games. Yes, the Stanford game gave everybody a nice feel-good weekend, but the O/NSO doesn't take that win too seriously. To add to the mix, you can bet that Ducks' coach Mike Bellotti will more than make mention to his team that they have been selected for the Trojans' Homecoming game, which translates to the visitors being considered a "gimmie" or "patsy." For good measure, Bellotti has a 21-20 record against opponents ranked among the nation's Top 25 in 12 seasons as the Ducks head coach.
The Obvious – The Ducks have not squared off with the Trojans in Los Angeles since the 2000 season and not one current Oregon player was on the roster that season.
The Not So Obvious – Under 12th-year head coach Mike Bellotti, Oregon has played in the Coliseum just twice (1997, 2000), resulting in a 1-1 record in the Grand Old Lady. Ironically, Belotti's Coliseum loss to the Trojans was a night game in 1997, a 24-22 defeat in John Robinson's final season as a Trojan coach. The Bellotti victory in 2000 was a 28-17 victory over the Paul Hackett Trojans and enough said about that. The Obvious – Saturday night's Homecoming Game is a Coliseum sellout.
The Not So Obvious – When Oregon scored that 2000 victory in the Coliseum, the attendance was 54,031. Do ya think Coach Bellotti will find that the Coliseum has changed somewhat since his last appearance? Trojan corner Terrell Thomas told the O/NSO how important it is for the Cardinal and Gold to return to the Coliseum. Terrell said, "It's a big upside for us. We're at home and haven't lost there. We haven't had many occasions to play there. We've been away for a long time and to get three straight home games at the Coliseum is going to be beautiful."
The Obvious – The Trojans' Homecoming record is 54-24-4.
The Not So Obvious – The Trojans have won their last five Homecoming games.
The Obvious - Both Pete Carroll and Mike Bellotti are successful coaches who rarely deviate from their weekly practice patterns and game day preparations.
The Not So Obvious – However, Bellotti appears to be changing that pattern by his own admission by having his Ducks practice in the Coliseum Friday night, admitting that he normally doesn't take his team to an away game site the night before a game. Perhaps a former Trojan recruit, Geoff Schwartz, a starting junior offensive tackle and alum of local Palisades Charter, said it best. In the Register-Guard, Schwartz said, "It's (Coliseum) big and it's intimidating looking and the fans are rowdy….all the things a big stadium will have?" Rowdy? The friendly confines of the Coliseum?
The Obvious – The weather report for Saturday evening's Homecoming afternoon/game in Los Angeles calls for cloudy a high of 70 and a low of --52.
The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO weather report questions whether the 2006 Trojans defense will be able to limit the co-No.1 offense in the Pac-10, the Oregon Ducks.
The Obvious – Saturday evening's game is being televised on FSN (7:15 p.m. PST) and again the broadcast team will again include the workmanlike Barry Tompkins, the restrained Petros Papadakis, and the smooth Jim Watson.
The Not So Obvious – FSN is starting to look like the Trojans' cable version of NBC's Fighting Irish contract. This will be another national exposure for the Men of Troy, although this one gets started at 7:15 p.m. To be quite frank, it's not the beginning time that's so bad, but it's the probable end time, especially if you are one of the 92,000 that are freeway-bound. One thing for sure, with a late end time and a long drive home, the Trojans' 710 KSPN call-in show with WeAreSC contributors David Newbury and Darrell Rideaux should get some nice ratings if not an earful, especially if the Trojans blow this second national championship opportunity.
The Obvious – Westwood One will have a live national radio broadcast of Saturday night's game.
The Not So Obvious –Kevin Kugler will call the action and Terry Bowden, the former Auburn coach and son of Bobby, will provide the color commentary.
The Obvious – The Trojans lead the series with the Ducks 35-15-2.
The Not So Obvious – Nobody argues the Ducks are tough to beat in Autzen Stadium, but get them out of their pond and they tend to perform more like that entertaining Aflac duck.
The Obvious – The Ducks are starting to tap the highly touted potential of sophomore tailback Jonathan Stewart (5-11, 234), whom many considered the top running in the country his senior year at Timberline High in Washington.
The Not So Obvious – Stewart's 159 yards rushing last Saturday against Washington marked the fifth time this season the Lacey, Wash., native has broken the 100-yard rushing benchmark. The Ducks are 5-0 when Stewart has cracked 100 yards on the ground. When Stewart (6.0 avg., 7 TDs, 88.7 yds./g) has been held below 100 yards rushing this season, Oregon has a 2-2 record. How good was this kid considered out of high school? The Seattle Times called him one of the five greatest runners in Washington prep history.
The Obvious – When the Trojans lost at Oregon State, there was much discussion on how upcoming Trojan opponents might interpret the loss in Corvallis.
The Not So Obvious – Well, in the Portland Tribune this week, running back Jonathan Stewart seemed to speak for the rest of the conference when a boldly said, "USC is a good team, but Oregon State beat them. The Trojans showed weakness. We have to go down there and hand it to them, like we've handed to every team we've beaten. Be focused and play our game."
The Obvious – Most of the players on the USC roster hail from the Southern California area.
The Not So Obvious – Forty-two of Oregon's 100 players listed on its primary roster hail from high schools in California, including 25 of the 44 players included on the Ducks' two-deep. Among those 42 Californians, no less than 31 of them hail from Southern California.
The Obvious – Not only will Saturday's game be played in front of a lot of recruits, but the national television exposure also increases the exposure from a recruiting standpoint.
The Not So Obvious – Oregon coach Mike Bellotti is well aware of the importance of playing well
The Obvious –In his six years as Trojans' coach, Pete Carroll is 17-0 in November.
The Not So Obvious – With three Coliseum games in a row that includes ranked teams and a longtime rival, Coach November has his work cut out and the challenge will be to keep his team focused for these three weeks and into December at UCLA. Coaching a youthful team that seemed to have lost its focus and intensity at various times, the next four weeks as a whole may be Carroll's biggest challenge to date. Can this Trojan team stay up for four straight weeks?
The Obvious – These final crucial four games will also place the local microscope on the Trojans' coaching staff, especially with three Coliseum home games in which to operate and one in the nearby Rose Bowl.
The Not So Obvious – Perhaps no coach outside of Pete Carroll will be under that microscope more than second-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, whose play-calling, despite above average Pac-10 offensive team stats, has become a lightening rod of conversation in 2006. It would also be fair to say that if the defensive gives up a slew of points to the upcoming nationally ranked offenses, despite currently leading the Pac-10 in team defense, the light may also begin to shine on first-year defensive coordinator Nick Holt. Fair or unfair, coaching expectations are at the highest level under the premier program that Pete Carroll has created. Of course, Kiffin and Holt are handpicked choices of Pete Carroll to lead their respective units, so Carroll's own accountability in these final four regular season games is also on the line. Come through with a 4-0 or 3-1 record and the critics should be silenced, but anything beyond that and please pass the blindfold and the earplugs, Mrs. Murphy.
The Obvious – Oregon is coming off a 34-14 pounding of Washington.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks opened the scoring with a 59-yard punt return by sophomore Patrick Chung, and, yes, we know what you, good readers, are thinking. You might want to start working on your hold-your-breath drills.
The Obvious – The Trojan offense is averaging 31.6 points per game, third in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks' defense, under the much-traveled and sometimes controversial coordinator Nick Aliotti, is allowing 22.8 points per game, seventh in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious – One of the players who will play a prominent role in Saturday evening's affair is Trojan All-America left tackle Sam Baker.
The Not So Obvious – Baker told the O/NSO, "Their front is really good and they have a good linebacker in A.J Tuitele, who is related to Fred (Matua). We played them last year and we know what they like to do."
The Obvious – The Trojans are averaging 402.6 yards in total offense, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks are allowing an average of 287.8 yards in total defense, second in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious – A number of insiders believe for the Trojan defense to make a stand the next three crucial games, senior linebacker Oscar Lua, who led the Trojans in tackles against Stanford, must increase his playing time on the field
The Not So Obvious – Ducks' senior linebacker Blair Phillips (6-2, 246), a native of Alexandria, La., is the Oscar Lua of the Ducks. Phillips currently ranks second in Pac-10 (9.3 avg.) tackles behind Stanford's Michael Okwo (10.3) after leading the Pac-10 most of the season. The Mississippi Gulf Coast JC transfer, a political science major, played his prep ball at Bolton High, where he was all-state and district MVP his senior year.
The Obvious – The Trojans rank eighth in the Pac-10 in sacks with 17.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks rank fifth in the Pac-10 in sacks with 23.
The Obvious – One of the stunning stats for this season in the sack department is that junior All-Pac-10 defensive end Lawrence Jackson has yet to acquire his first sack of 2006.
The Not So Obvious – Jackson, a real class act, is affectionately known as "Lo-Lack", but a practice observer commented this week if No. 96 doesn't get a sack soon, they'll have to change his nickname to "No-Sack-Jack." We look for Lawrence to break the sack drought soon. It will be tough against the quick-moving Dennis Dixon, but Cal's stationary Nathan Longshore is as good a target as you'll find this season in the pocket.
The Obvious –Trojan team captains this year are quarterback John David Booty, center Ryan Kalil, and linebackers Dallas Sartz and Oscar Lua.
The Not So Obvious –The Duck captains this season are strong safety Patrick Chung, running back Jeremiah Johnson, linebacker A.J. Tuitele, and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz.
The Obvious –Trojan junior quarterback John David Booty (62.5%, 9 TDs, 245.8 avg./g, 5 int.) is the Pac-10 leader in passing and total offense.
The Not So Obvious – So how much confidence do you think John David got when he learned this week that he received a letter from the Heisman folks and had been named one of 18 semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, presented annually by the Davey O'Brien Foundation to the nation's best college QB? One thing for sure, with all the television exposure J.D. will be receiving and with our friends of Trojan quarterbacks, Notre Dame, arriving soon, Booty is in a prime position for a good stretch run.
The Obvious – Oregon junior quarterback Dennis Dixon (61.5%, 11 TDs, 9 int., 200.3 avg./g) may not remind you of Matt Leinart, but he is a threat a major running threat (4.9 avg., 2 TDs, 37.0 avg./g).
The Obvious – The Trojans' defense is allowing 15.4 points per game, first in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks' offense, under the guidance of coordinator Gary Crowton, who has become a yearly Trojan adversary if you include his BYU head coaching days, is averaging 36.3 points per game, tied with Cal for first in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious – The Ducks will put a lot of pressure on the Trojan defense, especially the USC secondary with their diverse attack.
The Not So Obvious – Trojan defender Terrell Thomas sees the Ducks' offense as a real challenge, especially as a corner. Terrell told the O/NSO this week, "They lure you to sleep with a lot of screens and digs routes, but they also run a lot of deep routes and you've got to stay within your techniques and zone into the game or they'll go up top on you."
The Obvious – The biggest challenge for the Trojan secondary will be when Oregon QB Dennis Dixon has the ball and fakes or gives it to Jonathon Stewart, or puts the ball up in the air.
The Not So Obvious – That's a lot of "or" in the mix. Added Terrell Thomas to the O/NSO, "It makes it hard for a DB, so we have to cover fast, and on breakdowns we have to come up and tackle well. That's hard duty to do to come off a block and make a tackle."
The Obvious – More than a few Trojans were impressed with the Stanford fourth quarter performance of Trojan backup quarterback Mark Sanchez, who showcased a powerful arm with two laser shots to freshman receiver Travon Patterson, and then took matters into his own hands and rushed for the game's final touchdown.
The Not So Obvious – It figures that barring injury, Saturday night's affair figures to make Sanchez a uniformed spectator as the game figures to be close. However, that won't stop his family and many of his admirers from wishing him a happy 20th birthday.
The Obvious – The Trojans' defense is allowing 281.6 yards per game in total defense, first in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks are averaging 456.8 yards in total offense, first in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious – The Ducks offense and the Trojans defense is that classic meeting of the irresistible force and the immoveable object.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks have a very large offensive line when it comes to mass, but it's doubtful that they will have much success running straight ahead against a much quicker defense. It figures that if the Ducks are going to torment this Trojan defense on the ground, it will be with the "take-option," which Texas had success against the Trojans. Watch for a slew of misdirection by the Ducks to take advantage of the sometimes overzealous Trojan pursuit.
The Obvious – By the way he is playing, sophomore defensive tackle Fili Moala may yet overtake junior Chris Barrett for the starting spot.
The Not So Obvious – Fili is the cousin of former Oregon defensive tackle standout Haloti Ngata. Also speaking of making a push, let's give some love to redshirt freshman defensive tackle Averell Spicer, who made a good impression against Stanford with two tackles, one for a loss.
The Obvious – The Trojan passing attack is averaging 256.1 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks' pass defense is allowing 142.1 yards per game, first in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious –The Trojans will attack the Ducks' secondary with lead receivers Steve Smith (16.6 avg., 7 TDs, 87.2 avg./g), Dwayne Jarrett (12.6 avg., 5 TDs, 64.7avg./g), and tight end tight end Fred Davis (8.2 avg., 3TDs, 24.5 avg./g).
The Not So Obvious – Keep an eye out for the Ducks' redshirt rover Jairus Byrd (5-11, 208) from Clayton, Mo. Jarius has the bloodlines to make it big as his father is former NFL defensive back standout Gill Byrd. Another defensive back to be aware is sophomore Patrick Chung (5-11, 205), whom the locals remember for his Rancho Cucamonga High days with coach Chris VanDuyk. Mike Bellotti is on record as calling the Trojan duo of Jarrett and Smith the nation's top 1-2 receivers, so you know Mike has passed down the challenge to his secondary.
The Obvious – When the Trojans lost up at Oregon State, the backbreaking score came when OSU's Sammie Stroughter took one back to the house.
The Not So Obvious – Fasten your seatbelts, Trojan fans, Oregon presents the No. 4 punt returner in the conference in Jeremiah Johnson (5-9, 213), the former Los Angeles Dorsey star. Don't relax too much when Johnson is in the game as a running back on offense either (6.1 avg., 9TDs, 53.2 avg./g). Johnson could start on a number of Pac-10 teams.
The Obvious – Homecoming festivities begin on campus at 3 p.m.
The Not So Obvious – If it's fun and free stuff, you should head to campus immediately. There will be free Kodak photos with Tommy Trojan, face painting and arm tattoos, free Fight On buttons and pompoms, free t-shirts, game day buttons, raffles, a Trojan Bookstore concessions tent, live entertainment with dancers and mariachis, a Dixieland band, and, of course, the Spirit of Troy Marching band with a Confetti Cannon ready to fire. With Saturday's game a sellout, who knows what kind of cardinal and gold zoo it's going to be on the old campus?
The Obvious – The Trojan rushing game is averaging 146.6 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks' rush defense is allowing 145.7 yards per game, eighth in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious – The Trojans' tailback position is firmly in the hands of junior Chauncey Washington (4.7 avg., 5 TDs, 69.4 avg./g), who finally got that long awaited big touchdown run of 23 yards for the score against Stanford.
The Not So Obvious – Freshmen Emmanuel Moody (5.9 avg., 2TDs, 57.1 avg./g), and C.J. Gable (4.3avg., 2TDs, 18.1avg./g) have seen their carries declined with the emergence of Chauncey Washington. This figures to remain status quo, especially with the big games and big hitting coming up. However, there is a strong possibility that fullbacks Allen Bradford (2.7, 1TD, 2.3 avg./g) and Thomas Williams might get a surprise carry or two in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
The Not So Obvious – Speaking of gifted linebackers, Trojan verbal, Chris Galippo, made quite an impression last weekend in an overtime loss to rival Mater Dei. How impressive? Respected Mater Dei offensive line coach Ed Begany after the game told The Register, " He's the best linebacker we've ever played against and we played D.J. Williams (Del La Salle, Miami, Denver Broncos)."
The Obvious – Senior linebacker Oscar Lua led the Trojans in tackles last week at Stanford with seven.
The Not So Obvious – On the entertaining and informative Fox Trojan Press Conference show with Pete Carroll, Lua admitted that the coaches and the team pay close attention to the rankings, although they try not to.
The Obvious – The Trojan defense is allowing 90.0 yards rushing per game, first in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks' rushing game is averaging 206.3 yards per game, first in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious – The Ducks will be facing the quickest defense they have seen this season, especially the Trojans speedy linebackers.
The Not So Obvious – The option game is on the mind of Trojan sophomore linebacker Brian Cushing. "Cush" told the O/NSO, "They like to run the "take option." It's where the quarterback reads the defensive end. We've seen it when we played Texas. They also like to screen. We're going to have to bring our "A" game. Running back Jonathon Stewart is real good and I played against him in the U.S. Army All-Americn Game."
The Obvious – The Trojan pass defense is allowing 191.6 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks' pass offense is averaging 250.4 yards per game, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious – The Trojans will need a big performance from corners Terrell Thomas and Cary Harris if the hope to slow down Ducks' senior receiver Jaison Williams (6-5, 243), the former All-CIF star from Culver City High.
The Not So Obvious – Believe it or not, the No. 2-ranked receiver in the Pac-10, Jaison Williams (15.3 avg., 6 TDs), was not on the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, which honors the nation's top receiver. However, with five 100-yard receiving games this season, the pre-business administration major was listed as one of 14 finalists. Jaison also squats a reported 455-lb. and has been timed as the second-fastest OU receiver (4.68) in the 40.
The Obvious – The Ducks certainly appear to have the receiving talent to give the Trojans' secondary a real test.
The Not So Obvious – Of the Oregon receiver, corner, corner Terrell Thomas said to the O/NSO, "They're a pretty good group and they have a lot of depth. They have three solid guys at each position. Jaison Williams sticks out because he's one of the leading Pac-10 receivers, (Brian) Paysinger, and Jordon Kent is 6-5. All of them provide a big challenge."
The Obvious – It sure doesn't seem that long ago when former Long Beach Poly receiver Derrick Jones was seen running pass patterns for the Trojans as a freshman.
The Not So Obvious – Of course we all know that Derrick was a coffee stop at Troy and eventually matriculated up to Eugene and is a Duck. For the record, Derrick, a freshman, appeared in three games and had one catch for nine yards before a right ankle tendon put him on the injury shelf.
The Obvious – The Trojans place kicker is junior Mario Danelo, who is 10 of 11 on field goals, fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks feature senior place kicker Paul Martinez, who is 13-of17 on field goals, third in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious – Dexter Manley was one of the most feared defensive linemen during his days in the National Football League.
The Not So Obvious – Keep an eye on his son, Dexter Manley ll, a junior who will line up for Oregon along the defensive line. A former Santa Monica JC star, Dexter (6-2, 266) played only basketball during his playing days at Fayette City High in Fayetteville, Ga. He reportedly runs a 45. in the 40.
The Obvious - Trojan sophomore punter Greg Woidneck is averaging 40.2 yards per kick, seventh in the Pac-10.
The Not So Obvious – Ducks' punter Aaron Knowles, a senior from Springfield, Oregon, is averaging 41.3yards per kick, fifth in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious –All-purpose back and punt returner Desmond Reed will miss Saturday's game to attend the funeral of his grandmother in Alabama.
The Not So Obvious – In place of Reed, sophomore receiver Patrick Turner will field punts against Oregon. At 6-5, Turner has got to be one of the country's tallest punt returners and biggest targets for the Ducks' special teams assassins.
The Obvious –The Trojans, who were not flagged once at Stanford, are averaging 49.6 penalty yards per game, fourth the Pac-10 Conference.
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks are averaging 61.3 penalty yards per game, seventh in the Pac-10 Conference.
The Obvious – The Trojans have two grad assistants as members of the coaching staff in Sam Anno (special teams) and Demetrice Martin (secondary).
The Not So Obvious – The Ducks have a grad assistant with a familiar last name in Luke Butkus, the nephew of Hall of Famer Dick Butkus. Luke, like Uncle Dick, attended Illinois and was a two-time All-Big Ten selection. And, no, we haven't forgotten Matt Butkus, another member of the famous football playing family, who played for the Trojans in 1993.
The Obvious – The Trojans game with the Ducks figures to be heavily watched on television, considering the ramifications of the Pac-10 race.
The Not So Obvious – While Saturday's Trojans/Ducks game is the Pac-10's main event for television, you can warm up with some very important "pre-game" viewing starting with "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" Cal at "We upset Washington State" Arizona (12:30 p.m., ABC) followed by "We're the Pac-10 surprise" Oregon State at "We the Pac-10 disappointment" UCLA (3:15 p.m., FSNPT).
The Obvious – And finally, the moment of truth has arrived for the Trojans renewed national championship aspirations, beginning with the Oregon Ducks.
The Not So Obvious – Who knows what color uniforms the Ducks will bring into the Coliseum on Saturday night. What we do know is that Saturday night's game will be the first of a gauntlet of four that brings to light the core of what this 2006 Trojan team is all about. It's prime time, baby, and a national championship playoff setting. Bring your best vocal cords, Trojan fans, because beginning Saturday night, the rest of the way won't be for sissies.