No brainer: USC must slow Oregon for the upset
It's not exactly a secret: The key to beating the fourth-ranked Oregon Ducks is slowing them down.
Therein lies the challenge for Saturday's opponent, No. 18 USC.
''For the most part since the opener nobody's really slowed them down for an entire game,'' Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said this week. ''They do it at times, so the good thing is that you can see it done for quarters or even halves.
''Now we need to find a way to put it together - rotate a bunch of guys in there, keep our gaps and not let the ball get out in space.''
No easy task.
The Ducks (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12) are averaging nearly 292 yards rushing per game and about 498 yards total offense. They're scoring an average of 46.7 points per game, third best among FBS teams.
Speed is the hallmark of coach Chip Kelly's spread-option, and it is personified in running back LaMichael James, who leads the nation with nearly 152 yards rushing per game.
In Oregon's 53-30 victory over then-No. 3 Stanford last weekend, James ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns, including a 58-yard scoring dash in the second quarter. And when James isn't carrying the ball, the Ducks have capable backup Kenyon Barner and talented true freshman De'Anthony Thomas.
Last season James ran for 239 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon's 53-32 victory over Southern California. It was the Ducks' first win at the Coliseum since 2000.
The team that has been most effective in holding back Oregon's rush this season is top-ranked LSU, which kept the Ducks to 95 yards rushing in a 40-27 victory in the season opener. In last year's BCS title game, Auburn allowed Oregon only 75 yards on the ground.
''You've got to hold your gaps, execute and tackle on every play,'' USC defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron said. ''That's how you have a chance. When you watch Auburn and LSU against that offense, the first guy makes the tackle almost every single time, and that's how you stay with them.''
The Trojans' rush defense is ranked eighth in the nation, allowing an average 100.4 yards per game. Last week in a 40-17 victory over Washington, USC held the Huskies to just 46 net yards rushing. It was the fifth time this season that the Trojans have held an opponent to less than 100 rushing yards.
Southern California (8-2, 5-2) also had seven sacks in the victory over Washington.
The focus this weekend for Oregon's defense will be USC's Matt Barkley. The junior quarterback has 29 touchdown passes this season - tied for third-best in the country with Stanford's Andrew Luck.
''They're similar. It's (like) `Who's the best supermodel?''' Oregon coach Chip Kelly joked about Luck and Barkley. ''They're both outstanding quarterbacks. Unfortunately for us, we have to face them two weeks in a row. I'd love to coach both those guys.''
Luck threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns against the Ducks last Saturday, but he was intercepted twice. A fourth-quarter interception was returned for a touchdown by Oregon's Boseko Lokombo.
The uncertainty for the Trojans going into the game is the status of WR Robert Woods, who has sat out of practices this week because of ankle and shoulder injuries.
With 92 catches for 1,126 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, Woods is on pace to break the Pac-12 single season receptions record. He's averaging 9.2 yards per catch. But Woods caught just two passes for five yards, season lows, in last weekend's defeat of the Huskies.
While there was talk that Kiffin may have been coy this week about his star receiver as a strategic move, Woods told reporters on Thursday that he planned to play.
''I feel like I can still do it out there. Injuries are part of this game, and I feel good enough to keep playing,'' he said. ''Oregon's offense is a great unit, and so is their defense. I feel like we have to have all our guys out there to match them. Oregon is a great team, and the big teams are the ones we always circle on the calendar.''
With a win Oregon can clinch the North Division for a berth in the first Pac-12 Championship game, new this year with league expansion.
The Ducks own a 21-game winning streak at Autzen Stadium, longest in the nation after Boise State fell at home to TCU last week. Oregon has also won 19 straight conference games.
The Trojans cannot play in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions. The league's southern representative is still up for grabs between Arizona State, Utah and UCLA.
The Ducks speculate that without a postseason, USC is will be fired up for the chance to knock them out of the BCS title picture. The Ducks are ranked fourth in the BCS standings, behind LSU, Oklahoma State and Alabama.
''I don't know what I think about that, I guess this could be their Super Bowl,'' Oregon defensive end Terrell Turner said. ''But we got one game this week and it's USC. We're going to go out and play our game.''
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.