At the start of the CFB season I entered the Athlon Sports college football pick em contest. Every week they give you 20 games or so, and you have to pick the winner. Last week I picked 19 out of 21 and I'm currently 73rd out of 4,076 in the 9 week standings. I expect the toughest pick I will have to make will be the USC - Oregon game on Halloween night at Autzen stadium in Eugene Oregon.
The USC defense, which had allowed only 28 points in its last 8 home wins, gave up 36 points Saturday to the Oregon St Beavers. In the last 6 quarters USC's defense has given up over 700 yards. In the last 5 quarters the Trojans have allowed over 50 points. You have to wonder some, "What's going on?" Maybe some of you can answer that question for me in your replies.
The Oregon Ducks have turned things around since getting smacked around by Boise State and struggling for three quarters at home against Purdue. They have been solid on both sides of the ball and on special teams.
Oregon has won 6 of its last 11 games with USC and the Trojans haven't won in the state of Oregon since 2005. Autzen stadium will be crazy on Saturday. Do the Trojans have a chance? Sure they do!
Let me share some things about USC. I watched the team all through spring practice, summer workouts, and through August. USC put a lot of its starting defense into the NFL after the 2008 season. The Trojans have a very young front seven on defense. That's going to bring some inconsistency at times.
The USC defense wasn't tested a lot in the spring or August because veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez went to the NFL, and USC was struggling with new quarterbacks and with putting a healthy offensive line together. USC's starting secondary through the spring and August is not the secondary playing on the field right now.
Losing starting CB Shareece Wright meant moving starting strong safety Josh Pinkard to cornerback and when Brian Bauchum was hurt in a motorcycle accident it hurt USC's nickel coverage. Pinkard was at strong safety all spring and summer covering the tight end and a lot of USC's strength in man to man was because of Shareece Wright. Wright was USC's top corner in coverage.
Oregon's TE Ed Dickson holds the school record for receptions and can do everything Oregon State's Joe Halahuni did on Saturday, when Riley seemed to push all they right buttons whether USC was in a man to man or zone. Oregon may not throw as many slants and posts as Oregon State did on Saturday.
Oregon will not just come out Saturday and run the ball. Expect the unexpected. They may throw the same slants and posts we saw from the Beavers on Saturday. And they are going to try to get the ball to tight end Ed Dickson. Dickson had great success against the Cal Bears up there at Autzen with 150 receiving yards.
Oregon will try to run the ball because that's what they do. But the Ducks will also test USC's defensive back seven which has folded like a chair over the past 6 quarters. USC needs to come up with some answers in coverage this week.
So far this season, QB Matt Barkley has played better in games than in practice. He's been a remarkable true freshman. But you find yourself wondering when he is going to have that 3 interception game that true freshman have. Maybe he got that out of his system on Saturday. Matt had two picks on Saturday and a third that got called back because of a roughing the passer penalty.
Carroll said yesterday, "Barkley had an easy decision to throw one away. He needs to see what is available to him". Oregon has a strong front four on defense with Kenny Rowe from Long Beach Poly leading the way. LB Casey Matthews has been very effective in blitz packages so Barkley will see some pressure Saturday.
Matt Barkley did make several big time plays Saturday. One was when he avoided the defensive line of Oregon State and hit Ronald Johnson for a first down on a crucial third down play. Tailback Allen Bradford ran 43 yards for a TD on the next play. Look for USC to be throwing BBs, Barkley and Bradford, at the Ducks on Saturday.
Bradford is finally getting his chance to do what he's been doing in practice for four years. He could be the difference maker again this Saturday. He led the way in big plays Saturday and it's encouraging to see the Trojan offense coming together and making so many great plays.
Anthony McCoy, Ronald Johnson, Joe McKnight and Brice Butler all had big plays on Saturday. McCoy doesn't have a high ankle sprain, so it may heal quickly this week. Making plays is what winning is all about and USC's offense is now rolling. It couldn't have come at a better time.
So what's going to happen Saturday?
Oregon has a big time running attack. LaMichael James has at least 152 yards rushing in three games this year. QB Jeremiah Masoli runs at least 10 times every game. But USC should be able to hold down Oregon's running game. Oregon is fast, but not as fast as USC. It's going to be strength against strength and the Trojans should keep the Ducks from running around the edges.
There wasn't a much title talk concerning the Trojans as this season approached as in other years. When QB Mark Sanchez announced he was leaving for the NFL, and with so many great defensive players taken in the NFL draft there was uncertainty, and a lot of questions even after spring and fall practice about the 2009 Trojans.
Saturday a lot of those questions will be answered one way or the other. They will be answered on the playing field of Autzen stadium before one of the most hostile crowds USC will ever come up against.
But tough road games at Ohio State, Washington, Cal and Notre Dame have helped get the USC Trojans ready for this day. Six straight tough quarters for the defense may also be part of preparing the Trojans for the challenge Saturday. "Humility comes before honor." And the Trojans should be eager to learn and prepare. Today is, "Tell the Truth" Monday for the USC football team. And I think the Trojan will be some willing students.
I've got a good feeling about Saturday. These are the kind of days you look forward to as a fan. The Ducks will be quacking on the message board all week. And I look forward to your replies. What could be better than talking football all week and looking forward to a big game between two really good teams on Saturday?
Matt Barkley hasn't played like a freshman for USC. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)