3 Keys to Victory Revisited

SCPlaybook's Lyle Everett recaps the 3 Keys to a Trojan Victory over the Oregon Ducks last Saturday night at the Coliseum. After a slow first quarter, USC opened the floodgates and cruised to a 44-10 conference win.

1) USC must re-assert themselves as the Pac-10's best – Oregon came into the Coliseum averaging over 40 points and 300 rushing yards per game, while tallying 63 points the week before against Washington State. The Ducks looked strong in the first quarter, taking a 10-3 lead and leaving many in the stands to wonder if this Trojan squad had perhaps been overrated since the preseason. But suddenly, USC's offense came alive. On a fourth-and-two early in the second quarter, Mark Sanchez found a wide open Damian Williams for a 34-yard touchdown strike that shocked the Ducks' defense. A short time later, Ronald Johnson used his tremendous vertical speed to get open for a 63-yard score that hit Oregon hard. However, the real game changer occurred just seconds before halftime, when Ducks coaches Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly chose to pass from their own side of the field instead of running out the clock going into halftime down 10 points. Consequently, wide receiver Jaison Williams committed a huge turnover, fumbling the ball while attempting to run after a short catch. Suddenly, USC had the ball deep in Oregon territory, where Sanchez found Patrick Turner for an 11-yard TD strike that put USC ahead by 17 points and effectively took the wind out of Oregon's sails. Going into halftime down 17 points instead of 10 is a major difference when playing on the road against a team as talented as USC.

Sanchez finished the game with 322 yards passing and three touchdowns in just three quarters, and may have gotten himself back into the Heisman mix with his performance. More importantly to him however, he may have catapulted USC back into the national championship picture. Oregon was ranked #20 in the Coaches Poll heading into the game and the Trojans have only two more opponents that are likely to be ranked at the time they square off (Cal and Notre Dame. Where'd you go, Arizona State?). A blowout win against Oregon is exactly what USC needed and they rode Sanchez to make it happen.

2) Bring a sense of normalcy back to the running game – USC made the ground game a focal point early on, showing Oregon a steady dose of C.J. Gable (10 carries for 51 yards) and Stafon Johnson (7 carries for 43 yards) before unveiling Joe McKnight. The running game is so critical to the success of this offense, something that cannot ever be overstated when associated with the Trojans. Without a strong rushing attack, USC's offense will look just like it did against Oregon State. The bootlegs and roll-outs Steve Sarkisian is so fond of depend heavily on your ability to run the ball. Mark Sanchez's time in the pocket is reflective of a solid run game. If you see Sanchez constantly pressured, there is a good chance that USC is having a difficult time running the ball, giving defenders the opportunity to pin their ears back and concentrate on pressuring him. In short yardage situations, receivers like Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson get open off play-action fakes because the threat of an effective running game is apparent.

Watching Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable showcase their talents give Trojan faithful a good feeling. Their north and south styles open it up for McKnight's east and west. Sarkisian may have found his blueprint for the RB rotation for the rest of the season on Saturday night. McKnight may in fact be at his best in a complimentary role to Gable and Johnson, instead of the other way around.

3) Play with an all-out intensity – Intensity was lacking early in the game, but by the second quarter SC showed that fire they compete with when they are at their best. It would be nice to see USC put it all together for 60 minutes one of these days, but so long as they win games by 34 points we can't really complain. Brian Cushing plays all-out, all the time. He always gets after it, his tank is never empty, and would have had at least two interceptions if not for the cast protecting his hand. Trojan fans will just have to "settle" for his six tackles and one sack performance at MLB, in place of injured Rey Maualuga. Mike Morgan played very well in his starting debut, recording eight tackles. Even Everson Griffin played with the intensity he so badly lacked in Corvallis, sacking Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli for a 12-yard loss in the fourth quarter.

Collectively, the USC defenders did their part in making everyone forget about the loss to Oregon State last week while avenging the devastating loss to the Ducks last year in Eugene. Despite none of the teams ranked ahead of them losing this week, USC did what they had to do in a 44-10 domination of a nationally respected conference opponent. They must build on this game and beat the lesser-quality teams they are about to face in upcoming weeks. The alleged difficult part of their schedule is behind them. The current knock on SC is that while they play great in big games, they do not demonstrate the intensity and focus it takes to consistently beat lesser competition, creating humbling losses against the Stanfords and Oregon States of the college football world. We will see if USC can shed this image in the next few weeks in route towards the BCS Championship.

Next Week: Arizona State comes to the Coliseum next Saturday afternoon for a 12:30 PM PST kickoff. Look to SC Playbook for providing insider coverage all week leading up to the big game against the Sun Devils.

C.J. Gable helped get the running game back on track with 51 rushing yards against Oregon.

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