Pac-12 powers collide as Oregon battles USC
Los Angeles, CA – The second-ranked Oregon Ducks continue to press forward towards a Pac-12 regular season title, as they take on the 18th- ranked USC Trojans at the Coliseum this weekend in a matchup of the two top teams in their respective divisions.
Chip Kelly's Ducks put on yet another offensive clinic in routing the Colorado Buffaloes last weekend in Eugene, 70-14. With the win, Oregon moved to 8-0 on the season overall and 5-0 in Pac-12 play, good for first place in the North Division. Despite another lopsided victory, Oregon maintained its fourth-place standing in the most recent BCS rankings.
Any thoughts of a national title were all but lost with USC's 39-36 shootout loss at Arizona. Lane Kiffin's Trojans, 6-2 overall, are still in the driver's seat in the South Division standings at 4-2, so a conference crown and Rose Bowl berth are still within reach.
USC holds a 38-18-2 advantage in the all-time series with Oregon, but the Trojans have claimed victory in just five of the last 12 meetings. USC leads the series 23-7-1 in Los Angeles.
The Ducks piled up 617 yards of total offense, with 425 of that coming on the ground, as they posted a season-high 70 points in the win over Colorado. The team took a 56-0 lead into halftime, and never looked back. The team's offensive stars were at it again, as tailbacks Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas combined for four touchdowns, including an electrifying punt return for a score by Anthony, while quarterback Marcus Mariota threw two TDs of his own. Backup quarterback Bryan Bennett got into the scoring act as well, rushing for three scores in the rout.
On the season, Oregon is as potent as any team in the country, averaging 53.4 ppg (first nationally) on 540.1 yards of total offense (seventh nationally). The Ducks rank third in the nation in rushing at 330.6 yards per game, thanks to Barner and Thomas. Barner has been the workhorse, averaging 121.8 yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry. He leads the team with 974 yards and 14 TDs. Thomas adds another 499 yards and seven scores on the ground, while doubling as the team's top receiving threat (24 receptions, 218 yards, three TDs).
Mariota has not played like the freshman he is, completing just under 70 percent of his passes, for 1,483 yards, with 18 TDs against just five INTs.
Kelly knows his offense is clicking on all cylinders right now.
"They got a good feel. We got a couple special guys back there that can really make this thing go and you combine them with what our line is playing like right now, and then the threat of Marcus (Mariota) keeping it, I think makes it very difficult for a defense."
Oregon's defense has been overshadowed by the offense's production, but has played well for the most part, allowing just 19.4 ppg and 351.6 yards of total offense. The unit has made its share of big plays with 23 sacks and 23 forced turnovers to date.
Linebacker Michael Clay leads the team in tackles (43), followed closely by fellow LB Kiko Alonso (42), who has 8.0 TFLs and two interceptions to his credit. Cornerback Avery Patterson ranks third on the team in stops (35) and first in INTs (3). Defensive end Dion Jordan (33 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks) and defensive tackle Taylor Hart (24 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 5.0 sacks) have made plenty of stops upfield.
USC held a 15-point lead at one point, but allowed Arizona to score 26 straight points to earn the victory, despite record-setting performances by Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee. The sophomore receiver hauled in 16 passes, for a Pac-12 record 345 yards and two TDs. He added another 123 yards on three kickoff returns, giving him 469 all-purpose yards (second-most in NCAA history). Meanwhile, Barkley completed 31-of-49 passes, for 493 yards, with three TDs.
Barkley thinks the loss is a chance for his team to grow.
"From here, we've just got to stick together," Barkley said. "That's the beauty of football; you experience some of the most spurring moments of your life and you learn to cope with the moments like these."
Barkley's numbers aren't exactly Heisman worthy, but he has played well, completing 65.3 percent of his passes, for 2,266 yards and 25 TDs. Lee has been unstoppable, pacing the team with 76 catches, for 1,129 yards and 10 TDs. All-American Robert Woods is another top-notch outlet for Barkley, amassing 53 catches, for 585 yards and nine TDs.
The rushing attack plays second-fiddle to the passing game, but Penn State transfer Silas Redd (640 yards, seven TDs) has given the team great production from the backfield.
The USC defense has struggled at times this season, none more so than last week when the Trojans were gashed by the Wildcats for 588 total yards. The team enters this game yielding a respectable 19.5 ppg, although that number is likely to increase with the Ducks coming to town.
There are still plenty of playmakers on the roster. All-American candidate T.J. McDonald headlines the play in the secondary, leading the team in tackles (66). Sophomore linebackers Dion Bailey (52 tackles, four INTs) and Hayes Pullard (49 tackles, one sack, one INT) handle things in the middle, while junior end Morgan Breslin (34 tackles, 12.0 TFLs, 7.0 sacks) and freshman tackle Leonard Williams (23 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks) bring the most pressure up front.