ONE DEAD DUCK
In Jaws, when Roy Scheider saw the size of the killer shark they were hunting, the first thing uttered from his mouth was...
"We need a bigger boat."
Mike Bellotti, after being shellacked by first year QB for over 500 yards, then thought about facing SC's fifth year sensation Carson Palmer offered this...
"We need to shore up our secondary, now..."
That's right Mikey, USC is coming to town. And unlike previous Hunter S. Thompson-like "Fear and Loathing" journeys into the surreal outback of Autzen, with its lime-green, slick like ice field and foaming at the mouth Dead-head fans, this time the Trojans aren't chasing the rabbit. This time, the hunter, with its billboards, field-tilting tactics and a coach who is the great pretender, becomes the hunted.
The fact that Oregon is allowing 291.6 passing yards per game, most in the Pac-Ten and 114th in the nation for pass defense out of 117 teams is the principal reason why the Ducks need a bigger boat. They spent so much money on ad campaigns and "investing" in running backs, they forgot about their secondary. Oregon is fielding two too many freshman in their defensive backfield. And as much as Mikey wants to talk about how proud he is to field such a young team, across the board, it is their youth which will hurt them in big games this year. Playing against SC is a big as it gets for the Ducks. Here's how Mike really feels about his team's defensive foibles...
"Yardage has never bothered me. Points bother me a lot and points are hard to make up for... points are our problem."
As Jim Morrison once sang... "Keep your eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel...," This is the Trojan game plan. USC must keep things simple, remain in control of the skill-sets they have been taught by an outstanding staff, play their game and the aura of Autzen will become what it always has been, despite the spending of the only owner in college football... the gum on the bottom of my shoe. For Mike, the nightmare started last week when they played their first true opponent of the season in the Sundevils and won't be finished until USC pummels them into submission...
You know Bellotti is on the phone with former Offensive Coordinator (Wizard behind the Curtain) Jeff Tedford. "Jeff, please tell me what to do. Just one more game, Jeff. That's all I ask. I can't go out like this. Look what I've done for this pee-dunk town. You can't leave me here. Jeff! Jeff! Hello...?" "Alright Mike, one last game. But it won't do you much good. They beat me, like they're gonna beat you. They're back, man and there's not really much you or I can do about it..." Bellotti's head falls into his hands. Tears stain the blank page that was supposed to be this weeks play book. He looks up and around his room, it begins to spin, colors blurring from green and yellow to Cardinal and Gold. He's losing it, about to puke when... he bolts upright, in his sweat-stained bed, beads of perspiration are more like the heavy northwest rains that make living in his town so unbearable. "What day is it?" Onterrio Smith rolls over and whispers, it's only Wednesday." Mike's horrified. What's his running back doing in his bed!?! Where's Jason!?! That's when he bolts awake again. It was all a dream. There's his wife. He gathers himself in the pitch darkness. Presses the light on his Nike sports watch and sees it's Monday, 3am. He whispers to himself "Thank God. It's only Monday. This is going to be a helluva week." He sets his watch on the bedside table and is about to try and go back to sleep, when he senses something move. The walls seem to be closing in, the room growing smaller. "What's happening? Who's doing this? Go away!" But the room continues it's stranglehold, and as the walls get closer and closer, Mike begins to make out what they are made of - it's the USC football team, moving in for the kill - all of them. They've surrounded the bed - hunger in their eyes. A moment of calm, perfect stillness... He slowly raises his hands up, to protect himself from the beating he knows is coming. That's when they pounce!
A moment later, Mike's alarm clock buzzes. It was all just a dream. He looks at his watch - it's only Monday. He swings his legs off the bed, sitting up and digging his toes into the lime-green shag carpet - he loves that feeling against his skin. But something, other than his slippers has brushed against his big toe - something wet. Mike bends down and picks up a USC mouth piece, dripping with long, gelatinous Alien-like saliva. Now he senses something behind him and slowly turns his head and sees the beasts attack. He screams and is awake again. He feels for his wife who tells him to get f@#^k away. Now he knows he's really awake.
Mike heads downstairs for some cookies and milk. He's gotta review the game plan. Maybe Jeff will take his call? He's spooked. The party's over. The jig is up. It's the end of the line.
Their defense is 23rd in the nation for takeaways - one of the major reasons their team has managed to score points. They have playmakers at linebacker as well as the defensive line. That's the best thing you can say about the Duck's Daffy Defense. It's what happens to them, once an opponent makes it past that front seven - devastating.
Seven opponents have thrown for 16 touchdowns and 10 of them came in Pac Ten games, with six covering at least 46 yards per play. Does anyone forget the struggles Oregon had against Fresno St., Mississippi St and then, of course Arizona St?
In contrast, Oregon is not a one dimensional team on offense. They have a solid pair of juniors in Fife and Smith, as well as excellent receivers. Of course statistically, SC's three pass catchers are far superior to Oregon's over publicized trio. If you notice the billboard in downtown Los Angeles (the Trojans would put one in Autzen, but their isn't a building tall enough) shows Howry, Parker and I forget the other guy... dropping passes, not catching them. That's been Howry's m.o. this season - being almost unforgettable. Oh, what they could do with three kids like Colbert, Kelly and Williams - the Empire State building could just handle the campaign Duck's owner and Nike Pres... (oops, better halt that thought).
Seriously, Oregon does have a very good offense. The Ducks are third nationally in passing efficiency (159.9, first in the Pac Ten) and 10th in scoring offense (38.1, first in Pac Ten). Junior running back Onterrio Smith (182 tcb, 936 yds, 5.1 avg, 12 TD all in 2002 plus 11 receptions at 7 ypc) has rushed for over 100 yards in every game this season and is the number 6 rusher in the nation. Great numbers until you realize that SC is the number one defense in the Pac and just as deadly on offense. SC is balanced...
"You can't double team any of their skill players. They are all dangerous..." Mike Bellotti
Junior QB Jason Fife (109 of 172, 60.9%, 1614 yds, 15 TD, 2 int in 2002) is deadly but he's no Captain Comeback, as he proved last week against the Sundevils. No, Jason, despite Oregon's declaration (Heisman campaign to begin January 2003, regardless of their record or his final numbers) is a mere mortal. He threw a brilliant pick to seal his teams' fate last week and had not faced a decent secondary all year, until then. So it will be interesting when SC does to him, what they did to Cody Pickett - now, hold on, you're thinking, Pickett threw for 350 yds. Yes, he did, but he got nearly 100 in the fourth, dumping balls underneath to his running back and then got another chunk of 50 with one completion to Reggie Williams. Williams is a playmaker and game breaker. The fact that he didn't score more often and the fact that Pickett, normally nonplussed by the toughest of rushes, were out of sync most the game, speaks volumes about how good SC's defense really is. The other tale of the tape is the -5 yards SC's front seven gave up to UW while not over playing the run. It is that level of play that will carry SC to victory against the Ducks. If SC can hold Onterrio to under 100 yds and keep Fife scrambling for his life, there will be little to predict in declaring an SC win.
Look for the Trojans to put up a similar offensive scheme as they ran against Colorado. We'll see more of the tight ends, a lot more of MacKenzie, as well as Fargas. SC will go deep early once, but then hit the ground running, coupled with Palmer's precision passes underneath through the first half. Then when Oregon has no choice but bring their safeties up, Carroll and Company will air it out. SC's receivers are the best, by far, that Oregon has ever seen. Marques Binns, like Nate Robinson the week before, will be wondering what it was, besides grades that convinced him to go anywhere but SC. And at the end of the year Bellotti will be telling the nation's sportswriters that Ucla offered him Toledo's job but he just couldn't leave his lovely Pacific Northwest home - yet...Junior QB Jason Fife (109-of-172, 60.9%, 1,614 yds, 15 TD, 2 int in 2002) is second in
the nation in passing efficiency (162.1, first in Pac-10). But without a defense to compliment them, they are just not good enough to go the distance. Not this year. If Smith, who's had an outstanding season, despite playing on bad ankles and a hammie problem, doesn't declare at the end of his junior year, then next year they'll be something to worry about. This year, they are a team SC has to get by on it's way to a major bowl bid. Don't be surprised, either if that bowl is the Rosebowl. If Washington State were to win out, their invitation might take them away from Southern California, opening the door for SC. If they don't, and SC does what it is clearly capable of doing, we might take it straight up anyway.
Let's see... three Pac Ten games, three torch jobs by opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers. If Arizona, Ucla and Arizona State can average 412 passing against the Ducks, imagine what Carson Palmer and the boys of Troy can do..."
Uh-oh., "Carson Palmer's capable of throwing the ball in the same manner as Walter of Arizona St." says Bellotti.
No Mike, Walter could maybe hold Carson's clipboard - in time he might be great, but right now there is nobody in the Pac that puts together the total package, with play-option and pin-point accuracy. No Mike, you'd better go watch Jaws because to survive this encounter, you're going to need a bigger boat. And no, your kicker won't save your green a$$ this time. This time you're one dead duck.
SC 45 Oregon 28