The No. 2 Oregon Ducks (8-0, 5-0) take to the road this weekend to take on No. 17 USC (6-2, 4-2) in a contest many had circled prior to the season as the "game of the year" for the Pac-12 Conference. That title lost some of its glimmer after USC lost two games in conference play.
Nonetheless, this will still be a match-up of two premier offenses. The Trojans, despite those two losses, have preseason Heisman front runner Matt Barkley and sophomore sensation Marquise Lee along with a host of other extremely talented athletes on the offensive side of the ball. Oregon also has its share of highly touted players with De'Anthony Thomas returning to Los Angeles for his first game at the Coliseum since he picked Oregon over USC.
While Oregon was cruising to a decisive 56-0 halftime lead and eventual 70-14 decision against Colorado last Saturday, USC was fighting a tough battle in Tucson against the Arizona Wildcats. USC lost that battle 39-36 to fall out of the national championship picture. The Trojans still have something to fight for, though, as a win puts them in the drivers seat for the conference championship game. A loss will severely damage their hopes at earning a conference championship.
Today we continue our series looking at the match-ups on each side of the ball with our focus on the offense of both teams.
USC: The Trojans start Matt Barkley (6-2, 230) a senior who was a Heisman favorite prior to the start of this season. Barkley came into the season off of incredible numbers in 2011 highlighted by the Trojans victory over the Ducks at Autzen Stadium. After completing over 69% of his passes for over 3500 yards (294.0 yards per game) with 39 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions, Barkley has played well this year, but has not quite lived up to his expectations.
Coming into this game Barkley has completed 171 of 262 passes (65.3%) for 2266 yards and 25 touchdowns to go with 8 interceptions. Barkley has never been the most mobile quarterback around, but he was able to use footwork and good protection last season to avoid most danger. In fact, during a 12 game season, Barkley was sacked just 8 times. This season through eight games, Barkley has seen a lot more pressure and has already suffered 11 sacks on the season.
Both of Barkley's back-ups are freshman with very little game experience having thrown 8 total passes between the two of them. Max Wittek (6-4, 235) has completed 5 of 6 passes for 55 yards and one touchdown while Cody Kessler (6-1, 215) has gone 2 for 2 for 9 yards.
Oregon: Marcus Mariota earns his ninth start for the Ducks against the Trojans. Mariota has played well most of the time, but has suffered the inconsistencies that come along with being a freshman quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference. After an early fumble against the Sun Devils, Mariota put his running ability on display scoring an 86 yard touchdown run in the second quarter. For the season Mariota has a very good completion percentage 68.6 percent of his pass attempts. Mariota has gone 133 of 194 passes for 1483 yards with 18 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. On the ground, Mariota has carried the ball 57 times for 378 yards on with 3 rushing touchdowns.
Behind Mariota will be Bryan Bennett. Bennett has one start to his credit coming against Colorado last season. This year, playing a back-up to Mariota, Bennett has completed 19 of 34 passes for 193 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Bennett is dangerous with his feet last year accumulating 200 yards rushing in his brief 6 appearances. Through seven appearances this year, Bennett has 34 carries for 166 yards and 6 rushing touchdowns.
Most people will simply assume that Barkley, a pre-season Heisman favorite who has still put up over 280 passing yards per game for the Trojans has the automatic edge. However, Marcus Mariota has played very well this year and the Ducks have better backups. With the Ducks you have to look at total yards to determine just how effective the quarterback position is performing. The Trojans starter has played to the end in just about every game this season whereas Mariota has been pulled at halftime (or earlier) on several occasions. Barkley has accounted for 2210 total yards to Mariota's 1861 total yards. Given the playing time difference, Mariota has outperformed Barkley.
The match-up turns even due to playing on the road for Mariota versus at home for Barkley
USC: On one side of the ball, USC starts Robert Woods (6-1, 190) a junior. Woods caught an incredible 111 passes last season for the Trojans despite suffering through a series of nagging injuries. This season Woods has played well catching 53 passes for 585 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Across from Woods will be sensational sophomore Marquise Lee (6-0, 195) who set a conference record for most receiving yards in a game against Arizona last weekend. His 16 catches for 345 yards took his season totals to 76 receptions for 1129 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Behind the two starters, there is virtually no depth with the only other receiver to make more than one reception being Nelson Agholor (6-1, 180) a true freshman who has 8 catches for 107 yards on the season.
Oregon: Starting at the wide receiver position for Oregon on one side will be Will Murphy (6-2, 193) a senior walk-on who had a little breakout performance against Washington State with 2 catches for 38 yards including a career long 29 yard reception. For the year, Murphy has 9 catches for 89 yards. Behind Murphy, the Ducks have Keanon Lowe (5-9, 181), a sophomore from Jesuit High School in the Portland area. Lowe has played well for the Ducks early in 2012 and has 13 catches for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Starting opposite Lowe will be Josh Huff (5-11, 205). Huff played well despite battling injuries for most of 2011. After a scare against Fresno State, Huff returned against the Cougars and knocked off some rust. Huff has managed 9 catches for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. Though he has not been able to see much action this season,Huff seemed to be back at full speed against Colorado making 4 catches for 49 yards through one and a half quarters. Behind Huff is Eric Dungy (6-1, 183) who started two games while Huff was injured. Through nine games Dungy has notched 5 receptions for 41 yards.
Daryle Hawkins (6-4, 202) gets the start at the third wideout position. Hawkins, an all-purpose athlete the prior two seasons for the Ducks has nestled into his starting role well with 16 catches for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns. Behind Hawkins is Bralon Addison (5-10, 189) a freshman from Texas. Despite coming off the bench, Addison is the second leading receiver on the team with 19 catches for 226 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In addition, the Ducks also have Dwayne Stanford (6-5, 195) another freshman who has contributed with 11 catches for 106 yards.
Not to be forgotten is De'Anthony Thomas (5-9, 176). Though he is listed as a running back on the depth chart, he is frequently spotted lining up as a receiver for Oregon. He is the leading receiver for the Ducks with 24 catches for 218 yards and 3 receiving touchdowns.
This does not even take guesswork. USC has the top receiving duo in the nation. Both Woods and Lee will be playing on Sundays. In fact, if Lee were eligible for the NFL draft, he might be considered the top receiver in the draft. He is that good. Though they have virtually no depth, these two players get the edge on every single team in the nation.
USC: USC brought Silas Redd (5-10, 200) from penalty laden Penn State this off season and he has not disappointed. Through eight games Redd has carried the ball 117 times for 640 yards (5.5 yards per carry) scoring 7 rushing touchdowns.
Behind Redd will be Curtis McNeal (5-7, 190) a senior who missed the Arizona game with illness and concussion like symptoms. McNeal has 47 carries for 299 yards in seven appearances this season. If McNeal is unable to play this week, the Trojans have also seen some action from D.J. Morgan (5-10, 190) a sophomore who has 35 carries for 186 yards and 1 touchdown this season.
The Trojans employ a traditional pro-style offense and also start a fullback. Soma Vainuku (6-0, 250) gets the start this week. Vainuku has not been a huge factor in the game plan for USC but does have 5 carries for 16 yards as well as 7 catches for 40 yards.
Oregon: Depth was an early concern for Oregon as only Kenjon Barner (5-11, 192) and Thomas were returners from last season. Barner, who has a chance to end up as the second all-time leading rusher for the Ducks this season, has played well early this season. He has even started to creep into the Heisman talk through the halfway point. Barner has shown that he could be a lead back when he carried the ball 34 times for 201 yards against Fresno State. He almost notched the second 200 yard performance of his career against Washington State. After another good game against Colorado Barner is the second leading rusher in the Pac-12 conference. So far this season Barner has 141 carries for 974 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. He has good hands out of the backfield with 13 catches for 158 yards and 1 touchdown.
Behind Barner will be De'Anthony Thomas. Despite a limited number of carries, Thomas still manages to excite the crowd just about every time he touches the ball. So far through eight games, Thomas has 58 carries for 499 yards. Despite teams keying specifically on him during conference play, Thomas is still averaging an incredible 8.6 yards per carry. He has scored 7 rushing touchdowns this season.
Providing a little more security is true freshman Byron Marshall. After a solid debut against Arkansas State, Marshall showed great improvements in his running over the past several games. So far this season, in six appearances, Marshall has 69 carries for 369 yards and 3 more rushing touchdowns.
Oregon created even more depth with the addition of tight end Colt Lyerla dropping back into the backfield and carrying the ball. Lyerla has 13 carries for 77 yards and one touchdown over the last four games for Oregon.
With Thomas and Barner, Oregon will have the edge on just about every opponent they face this season. This week is no different. The emergence of Marshall as a third back provides the Ducks with more security and depth. In addition, the powerful presence of Lyerla will make this position even more imposing as the season wears on. USC will have the best running attack the Ducks have seen so far this season, but the Trojans average less than half of what Oregon does on the ground.
USC: The USC offensive line has very good front line players. Starting at left tackle is Max Tuerk (6-6, 285) a true freshman that started against Arizona last weekend. Tuerk is raw and needed a lot of help last weekend against Arizona with the Trojans frequently employing double teams to help Tuerk. The Trojans could go with back-up Aundrey Walker (6-6, 300) a sophomore who has played quite a bit this season.
At the other tackle position, Kevin Graf (6-6, 295) will get the start. Graf, started every game as a sophomore for the Trojans and has played well this season holding down the starting position. Behind Graf will be Nathan Guertler (6-5, 270) another sophomore with limited experience.
Marcus Martin (6-3, 325), a sophomore, gets the start at left guard. Martin started 10 games as a true freshman in 2011 and has been the starter for all eight of this seasons games. Behind Martin will be Abe Markowitz (6-1, 310) a senior. Markowitz missed all of 2011 with foot surgery.
At the other guard position the starter will be John Martinez (6-2, 300) a junior. This will be Martinez' 21st consecutive start at the right guard position. Behind Martinez will be Jeremy Galten (6-5, 295) a senior. After transferring in from San Mateo junior college last season, Galten started one game before moving to the bench for the Trojans.
The center position will be manned by Khaled Holmes (6-4, 305), a senior who has now started 32 games for the Trojans. Markowitz is listed as the backup center.
Oregon: Jake Fisher (6-6, 294), a sophomore who appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman last season holds down the right tackle position. Behind him is Everett Benyard (6-7, 305) a junior with 14 appearances last season including at least 20 snaps in four of those appearances.
On the other side is redshirt Freshman Tyler Johnston (6-6, 292) making his ninth start for the Ducks. Behind Johnstone will be Kyle Long (6-7, 311) a senior transfer who engaged in a spirited battle with Johnstone for the starting position during fall camp.
Inside at guard, Oregon starts Nick Cody (6-5, 310) a senior who started all 13 games last season. Behind Cody will be Hamani Stevens (6-3, 298) a redshirt sophomore who played in 8 games last season.
At the other guard will be Ryan Clanton (6-5, 305) a senior who appeared in 11 games last season for Oregon. Behind him is freshman James Euscher (6-7, 291) making his first appearance on the two deep roster this season. He replaces the injured Mana Greig.
Center will be manned by Hroniss Grasu (6-3, 294) a sophomore from Crespi High School. Grasu has started every game of his Duck career (21) and is the anchor of the line. Behind Grasu on the depth chart is Karrington Armstrong (6-3, 290) a junior who appeared in 8 games last season for the Ducks.
USC has a lot of highly rated players on their offensive line, but not a lot of depth. While the Trojans have put up plenty of passing yards this season, the rushing attack has not quite lived up to expectations. Nonetheless, the Trojans still have the second best yards per carry mark in the conference at 5.1 yards per carry as a team. The Trojans offensive line has also allowed more pressure to get to Barkley this season. Already they have surrendered 11 sacks this season.
Though Oregon's starters do not have all of the ratings of USC starters, they have still more depth and have shown more athleticism this season. Clearly the Oregon offensive line is getting better production than USC as the Ducks are averaging a conference best 330.6 yards per game (more than 100 yards better than second best UCLA) and 6.2 yards per carry which dwarfs the second best of 5.1 yards per carry the Trojans average as a team.
In pass protection, Oregon is the second best team in the conference having given up just 10 sacks all season even with so many players rotating in to the offensive line.
USC : The Trojans have what is possibly the best one-two punch at tight end in the nation. The start could go to either of the two on the depth chart. Xavier Grimble (6-5, 260) has been the most productive of the two with 15 catches for 230 yards and 4 touchdowns. Right behind him is Randall Telfer (6-4, 255) with 8 receptions for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Both have good size and block well.
Oregon: While Oregon is very young at the tight end position with the "elder statesman" being sophomore Colt Lyerla, the Ducks youth has proven to be deep and talented as three scholarship tight ends have seen plenty of early action for Oregon. The probable starter is Lyerla (6-5, 246) a sensationally gifted athlete. After missing the Colorado game recovering from a leg injury, Lyerla has played well midway through this season with 12 catches for 189 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Pharoah Brown (6-4, 251) has also played well for the Ducks early with the true freshman making 2 receptions for 42 yards. Converted defensive end Koa Ka'ai (6-4, 251) is the best blocker of the three but has shown good hands in his limited early opportunities with 2 catches for 18 yards.
Though neither team throws the ball to their tight ends much, USC still gets a slight edge here based on better depth. Both of their tight ends are very good blockers and move well. Oregon has not yet shown the propensity to use the tight end as much. Lyerla is coming off an injury and Koa Ka'ai also missed the Colorado game for undisclosed reasons.
USC: Despite having the two best receivers in the nation, the Trojan offense has looked lackluster at times. Stanford was able to completely shut down the passing attack in their defeat of the Trojans earlier this year. Even though the Trojans have looked lackluster at times, they are still right on pace with last year's totals for the season. The Trojans average 35.0 points per game (down from 35.8 last season) and 445.9 yards of total offense (compared to 456.8 last season).
Not bad numbers, but the Trojans have really struggled in the third quarter this year being outscored 56-28 through the first eight games. Another area where the Trojans have really struggled is in third down conversions as they rank second to last in the Pac-12 converting just 32.2 percent of their 3rd down opportunities. The Trojans have also been plagued by penalties this season ranking dead last in the nation averaging 84.6 yards per game. USC has scored just 8 rushing touchdowns in the season relying almost exclusively on the pass to score. Then again with guys like Woods, Lee, Telfer and Grimble, it is an understandable choice.
Oregon: It is difficult to measure just how good the Duck offense is this season. Even in the impressive 49-0 against Arizona, the Oregon offense struggled at times and gave the Wildcats far too many opportunities with turnovers and bad plays inside the 35 yard line. Against Washington State, the offense seemed to sputter during the second quarter, but played well around that quarter. In all, the team still rushed for over 300 yards and scored 51 points. Yet against a better defense in front of a hostile crowd at Arizona State, Oregon scored six consecutive touchdowns in the first half en route to a 43-7 halftime lead that saw the Ducks pile up over 300 rushing yards in the first half alone. Against Colorado, an admittedly inferior team, the Ducks first team rolled up a 56-0 halftime lead.
Coming into the USC game, the Ducks are averaging 540.1 yards of total offense per game with 330.6 yards rushing per game. The offensive line has given up just 10 sacks in the first seven games and is opening holes to the tune of 6.2 yards per carry in the running game. The Duck offense has scored 49 touchdowns in just seven games this season.
Oregon leads the nation in scoring averaging 53.4 points per game.
The USC Trojans will be the best offense that the Ducks have seen in 2012. There will not be a better offense that the Ducks will face. Yet, with all of the advantages the Trojans would seem to have, they have not been nearly as productive. Against common opponents the Ducks have outscored the Trojans by over 20 points per game.
USC will do what they do which is throw the ball all over the field to their two all-world receivers. They will mix in some early runs to Silas Redd hoping to keep the Duck safeties closer to the line of scrimmage so they can go over the top to Lee. This would also enable the Trojans to get Woods and their tight ends open across the middle to take up good chunks of yardage if the linebackers are successfully pulled up closer to help against the run.
The Ducks will still have a slight speed advantage over the Trojans, but it won't be as wide as the gap normally is against the rest of the conference.
Expect some differences in the game plan this week. USC puts a lot of speed on the edge of their defense and used their athleticism to make plays early against Oregon last season. The fourth quarter, though, showed that Oregon could run inside against these Trojans and do so successfully.
Expect Oregon to use inside runs to neutralize the speed of the linebackers and open up some quick out passing lanes. Mariota presents a challenge this season that Darron Thomas did not and the Trojans will have to account for his running ability and speed. That should create the ability to get Barner and Thomas to the edge as the game wears on.
The Ducks will look to pound the ball early to wear out a Trojan defense built for speed to the edge. As Oregon begins to wear down the thin defense with running plays up the middle and quick passing plays to the outside, they will be able to exploit the lack of depth on the Trojan defense and will start to see some gaping holes to the outside for Barner and Thomas to run wild.
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