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.
Though this will still be a match-up of two premier offenses, the defense will have a lot to say about the outcome of this game. USC always has a lot of talent along the defense and this season is no different with an All-America candidate in T.J. McDonald aling with three incredibly talented linebackers who have the kind of speed to keep up with just about anyone in the country. Oregon's defense has been underrated this season mainly due to fourth quarter points scored in blowouts. When the game has been tight, though, the Ducks defense has played spectacularly all season long.
While Oregon was cruising to a decisive 56-0 halftime lead holding Colorado to just 91 total passing yards for the game, 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 after giving up 588 to the Wildcats. The Trojans still have something to fight for, though, as a win puts them in the drivers seat for the South division championship in the Pac-12 race. A loss will severely damage their hopes at earning a conference championship.
Today Duck Sports Authority continues our weekly look at the in-depth match ups on both sides of the ball turning our attention now to the defense.
USC: The Trojans a true 4-3 defense with a nose tackle and defensive tackles inside. Getting the nod against the Ducks at nose tackle will be George Uko (6-3, 275) a redshirt sophomore from nearby Chino, California. Uko appeared in all 12 games for the Trojans last season with two starts. This season Uko has started all eight games for the Trojans. Playing with great active feet, Uko has notched 16 tackles but made them count with 5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks on the season. Behind Uko will be Antwaun Woods (6-1, 305) a freshman who started the first four games of the season at defensive tackle. Woods has also been very active with 15 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks.
Leonard Williams (6-5, 270) gets the start at the defensive tackle position. A true freshman, Williams has quietly had a very good start to his career recording 23 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Uko is the backup at this position.
Oregon: Oregon brings a wealth of experience at defensive tackle. Wade Keliikipi (6-3, 295) will get the start at one defensive tackle position. Keliikipi has been a stalwart of the Oregon defensive line who will be starting his 20th consecutive game for the Ducks. After starting slowly this season, Keliikipi has raised his season total to 16 tackles with 3 tackles for loss of his own and 2 sacks. Behind Keliikipi will be Ricky Heimuli (6-4, 305) showing promise with 9 tackles and one sack in 2012.
The return of Isaac Remington (6-4, 301), to the starting lineup is good news for the Duck defensive line depth. Remington has notched 13 total tackles and 4 tackles for loss and one sack.
Behind Remington true freshman Arik Armstead (6-8, 280) has made his mark early in 2012. He made the most of his early arrival and has earned rave reviews early on from coaches and team mates alike. Armstead has 19 total tackles, one tackle for loss and 0.5 sacks through eight games.
EDGE: Oregon (slight)
This is a tough match-up to call. While many keep talking about how small the Oregon linemen are, they have a definite size advantage on the inside. The Trojans three defensive tackles average 6-3, 283 compared to 6-5, 295 for Oregon. The Ducks four players have more tackles, but fewer tackles for loss and fewer sacks. Part of that is simply that the Duck defensive philosophy does not call for the defensive tackles to be playmakers. The Trojans are holding teams to 3.5 yards per carry compared with 3.7 for Oregon. In the end, a slight edge goes to Oregon for their depth and because much of the rushing numbers have been made against back-ups to the back-ups with games out of hand.
USC: At one defensive end position the Trojans will start Wes Horton (6-5, 255) a senior who had 15 career starts entering 2012. Horton has five more starts and seven appearances this season has played well on the strong side this season recording 19 tackles with 3 sacks. Behind Horton is Greg Townsend (6-3, 260) a redshirt freshman with six appearances this season. Townsend has played well off the bench recording 11 total tackles with 1.5 sacks.
On the weakside will be Morgan Breslin (6-2, 245). The junior college transfer has been the surprise of the year for the Trojans. He has recorded 34 total tackles and leads the team by a wide margin with 12 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. Behind Breslin will be J.R. Tavai (6-2, 265) a sophomore for the Trojans. In his five appearances this season, Tavai has recorded 14 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Oregon: Oregon has a first team All Pac-12 defensive end hybrid in Dion Jordan (6-7, 243) who terrorized Pac-12 quarterbacks and coaches last season. Jordan has looked explosive in early action this season recording 33 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. Backing up Jordan will be Tony Washington (6-3, 244) a sophomore who has played both defensive tackle and defensive end as needed. After recording 18 tackles last season Washington has 9 total tackles and one tackle for loss this season.
Across from Jordan will be Taylor Hart (6-6, 292) another multi-dimensional defensive lineman for the Ducks. Hart, despite moving around on the line has still tallied 24 total tackles with 6 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. Behind Hart will be Deforrest Buckner (6-7, 265) a true freshman from Hawaii. Buckner has seen his role increased as his play has been very good early in his career. After recording 9 tackles over the last two games, Buckner has raised his season total to 18 tackles with 2 tackles for loss and one sack.
EDGE: Oregon (very slight)
Morgan Breslin is having an all conference caliber season and Dion Jordan has been just as good while in the game this season as last; maybe better. Taylor Hart has had a strong season on the strong side and is outplaying Horton so far in 2012. The depth for both teams is just about equal, but the Trojan defensive ends have been able to get after people in the backfield just a little bit better overall. Nonetheless, this could go either way. As a group, though, the edge goes, again very slightly, to Oregon. The Duck defensive ends have a total of 84 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks compared to 78, 18 and 11.5 for the Trojans.
Hayes Pullard (6-1, 235) gets the start at the "will" linebacker position. Pullard, who started all 12 games last season, is the third leading tackler for the Trojans this season recording 49 total tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, one sacks and one interception. Behind Pullard is Anthony Sarao (6-0, 215) a redshirt freshman. Sarao has appeared in all eight games and recorded 22 total tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack.
Starting at the "sam" linebacker position is Dion Bailey (6-0, 210). A true sophomore who started 11 games last season, Bailey has stepped it up a notch this season and has 52 total tackles with 5 tackles for loss. Bailey leads the team with 4 interceptions. Behind Bailey will be Tony Burnett (6-1, 205) a redshirt senior and former walk-on cornerback. Burnett has appeared in all eight games this season and has recorded 13 total tackles with one tackle for loss.
The "mike" linebacker position will be manned by Lamar Dawson (6-2, 235) another true sophomore. Dawson moved into the starting lineup with four games left in 2011 and has picked up where he left off at the end of 2011 record 36 tackles and one tackle for loss. Behind Dawson is Will Andrew (6-2, 235) a fourth year junior. Andrew, another former walk-on who played sparingly last season has 7 total tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss in eight appearances this season. Andrew is mostly a special teams contributor for the Trojans.
Oregon: Michael Clay (5-11, 225), the rock solid starter at the "Will" linebacker position, missed the second half of the Washington State game due to an undisclosed injury. Though he was in full gear and practiced the next week, he was held out of the Husky game for precautionary reasons. He returned against Sun Devils and has played well since. Clay once again leads the team with 43 total tackles along with 6.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Behind Clay is Derrick Malone (6-2, 219) who has started twice this season and responded well with 6 total tackles in his first start against Washington. For the season, Malone now has 34 total tackles and one tackle for loss and one interception.
Alongside Clay will be Boseko Lokombo (6-3, 233). After several solid performances, Lokombo now has 14 tackles with 2 tackles for loss and one sack. Despite playing as the backing to Lokombo, Tyson Coleman (6-1, 222) has notched 28 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks this season.
Returning from an apparent wrist injury at the "Mike" linebacker position is Kiko Alonso (6-4, 242) one of the most physically gifted linebackers to play for Oregon. Alonso has been a monster in the middle so far this season and is second on the team with 42 tackles with a team leading 8 tackles for loss and one sack in seven appearances. Alonso has 2 interceptions this season. The reserve middle linebacker will be Rahim Cassell. Cassell (6-0, 215) has appeared in all eight games for the Ducks this season and has 13 total tackles.
The Trojans changed their approach to linebackers last season and went with smaller, faster linebackers to better combat the speed of Oregon. It worked for most of the game. When it began to fail is when the lack of depth and inside running game of the Ducks began to pound away. The Trojans have shown better depth this season than last.
Oregon has better depth at the position but not quite as good as last season's depth. With their overall depth, the two deep players for the Ducks have 174 total tackles (starters 99) with 20 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. The Trojan starters have accounted for 76.5% of the production from this group as the unit has recorded 179 (starters 137) total tackles with 10 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
With the depth and overall better production, the edge here goes to Oregon.
USC: The Trojans start Nickell Robey (5-8, 165) at one cornerback position. The junior started 12 games last season has 31 tackles and leads the team with 4 passes defended while also recording one interception this season. Behind Robey is Kevon Seymour (6-0, 170) a true freshman who has missed the last two games after appearing in the first six for the Trojans. Seymour has 5 tackles this season.
At the other cornerback position will be Torin Harris (6-0, 190) a fourth year junior who has started five games in his seven appearances this season. Harris has recorded 25 total tackles with 6 passes defended. If Harris is unable to go, the start will go to Josh Shaw (6-1, 190) a redshirt sophomore. Shaw has appeared in all 8 games for the Trojans getting the start for the last two games. Shaw has notched 15 total tackles and 4 passes defended and 2 interceptions this season.
At the free safety position will be Jawanza Starling (6-1, 200) another senior. Starling has been the best defensive back for the Trojans with 19 total tackles, one tackle for loss, 7 passes defended and 3 interceptions. Behind Starling will be Demetrius Wright (6-1, 195) a junior. Wright has appeared in 8 games and recorded 9 total tackles.
At the strong safety position, T.J. McDonald (6-3, 205) the elder statesman of the defense. The nig hitting senior leads the team with 66 total tackles and has pitched in with 4.5 tackles for loss and one interception. Behind McDonald will be Drew McAlister (61-, 205), a fifth year senior who has played sparingly during his career. For the season McAlister has 13 tackles with 3 passes defended and one interception.
Oregon: Oregon returns Terrance Mitchell (6-0, 189) a 12 game starter as a freshman last year. Mitchell, who has not seen many opportunities this season finally got tested a little against Washington State and played well. Through eight games Mitchell has has 14 tackles and 5 passes defended. Behind Mitchell is sophomore Dior Mathis (5-9, 182) one of the fastest players on the team. Mathis has 14 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions in a reserve role through eight games.
At the other corner will be Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5-10, 190) who appeared in all 14 games and started 2 as a true freshman in 2011. Ekpre-Olomu had played well early in 2012, but had a breakout performance against Arizona recording 2 interceptions one of which he returned for a touchdown. He has followed that up with continued stellar performances. For the season, Ekpre-Olomu has now recorded 31 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 12 passes defended and 4 forced fumbles. His 12 passes defended rank second in the Pac-12 conference. Behind Ekpre-Olomu will be Troy Hill (5-11, 180) a sophomore who played extensively last season including 6 starts as a freshman. Hill also recorded a "pick six" earlier this season returning an interception 29 yards for a touchdown. Through six appearances this season, Hill has notched 20 tackles with one tackle for loss, 2 passes defended and the interception.
At safety, Oregon suffered the loss of John Boyett (5-10, 205) earlier this season. Replacing Boyett has been Avery Patterson (5-10, 185) a junior who saw extensive action last season recording 55 total tackles. Patterson had a breakout performance against the Cougars returning an interception for a score in Seattle and then followed that up with another "pick six" against the Huskies. For the year Patterson is up to 35 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss with 5 passes broken up and 3 interceptions.
Next to Patterson will be Brian Jackson (5-10, 205), a junior who was a special teams standout last season. Jackson has played well early in 2012 having recorded 32 total tackles as well as 5 passes defended and one sack. The primary reserve for both safety positions will be Erick Dargan (5-11, 205) a sophomore who is a big hitter. Though he is a reserve, Dargan currently is eighth on the team with 28 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended, one interception and one fumble recovery through the first eight games of the season.
Oregon has two all-conference caliber cornerbacks with Ekpre-Olomu and Mitchell. While the loss of Boyett hurt the Ducks depth, Patterson has played exceptional in his spot and the Duck safeties are very active in both pass defense and run support. USC has some good defensive backs, but the best passing team they have faced was able to throw all over the field on the Trojans.
The production and depth of the Ducks defensive backfield give them the edge. Ekpre-Olomu alone almost has nearly double the passes defended of the leader if USC.
USC: The Trojans have played well this season, but have not been dominant for much of the season. Other than an early win against Hawaii, the Trojans have allowed inferior offenses to score against them. For the season, they are holding opponents to about 76 percent of their regular scoring average.
The Trojans have thrived on creating pressure and getting turnovers. USC has 27 sacks through their first 8 games and has gained 23 total turnovers. The defense is the second best in the Pac-12 in the red-zone allowing a 73.3 percent conversion rate. These are all statistics that will keep a team winning games. The Trojans allow 123. yards per game on the ground and 3.5 yards per carry. Against the Wildcats last weekend, though,m USC gave up over 200 yards rushing on the ground.
The pass defense has been better for the Trojans this season as they are holding teams to 20 yards less per game than last season and are middle of the conference this season allowing a 57.9 percent completion rate and 242 yards per game through the air.
On third downs, the Trojans allow opponents to convert 34.7 percent of their opportunities into first downs. USC really struggles on fourth down allowing 53.8 percent (7-13) to be converted.
Oregon: Oregon, meanwhile, has been playing exceptional defense this season. You may not be able to tell by looking at final scores, but it has to be understood that a lot of the yards and points that finish the totals occur against players far down the depth chart.
After a defensive masterpiece shutting out a high flying Arizona offense and holding them to almost half of their average yards per game, the Ducks held Washington State to just 137 yards at the half and 214 total yards through three quarters last weekend. For the season, the Ducks are giving up just 19.4 points per game. Though they are allowing 351.6 total yards per game, many of those yards happen in the fourth quarter as teams sling the ball all over the field trying to overcome big deficits on the scoreboard. The run defense for the Ducks has been solid as the Ducks are giving up just 3.7 yards per carry and 137.9 yards per game, again with much of those numbers coming with the game decided and fourth strong players on the field.
The Ducks, having increased their quarterback pressure as the season moves on now have 23 sacks this season.
The Ducks are also second best in the conference allowing just 28.3 percent of third down conversions while they are also second in the conference in fourth down conversion rate allowing just 31.6 percent to be converted. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 in red zone defense allowing just 56.7 percent for scores and 36.7 percent touchdown rate in the red-zone.
The Ducks are deep on the defensive line and have exceptional depth at cornerback position. The safeties have been active for the Ducks early this season while Clay and Alonso are two of the best linebackers in the conference.
For a match-up article where every position goes to one team, this is about as even as it gets. The real difference is that Oregon has been dominant with their starters in the game while USC has struggled at times against vastly inferior offenses. Arizona's offense is nowhere near as lethal as Oregon's yet the Wildcats exposed the Sun Devils with near;y 600 yards of total offense including over 200 rushing and over 360 through the air.
The Ducks are one of the best in the nation at stopping third and fourth down conversions. They are also one of the best in the nation at red zone defense. USC, though, is middle of the conference in third down and fourth down defense which also plays into the Ducks strength.
Though the Trojans approached this season as one of "unfinished business" they have fallen twice this season. USC brought Silas Redd from Penn State hoping to shore up the missing link to a national championship run. Instead the Trojans are averaging about eight yards less per game rushing this season than last season. Part of that can be attributed to the loss of first round NFL draft pick Matt Kalil.
The Trojans are still a passing team with two exceptionally talented receivers. But those two are it, while they have plenty of talent on their bench, they have virtually zero experience behind Lee and Woods. Even with the exceptional play of the Oregon defensive backfield this year, USC is going to throw the ball; that's what they do on offense. But they will try to set up the passing game with some early running plays to get the defense sneaking up. To make the running game more effective, expect USC to disguise their running plays and use some misdirection to get the Ducks out of position. Once they feel that the Ducks have dedicated more energy from the safeties and linebackers in the run game and used some quick hitter passes to tighten up the secondary, expect USC to take shots down field.
defensive tackle by using their own temp to attempt to control the clock. While they will not "slow it down," they do want to control the clock better with short, quick passes complemented by a solid rushing attack. Though the Sun Devils will want to run the ball early, expect them to use the quick passes to get some early first down gains looking to get into second and short situations.
While the Duck defense used their size advantage to shut down the running game against Arizona, they were able to use their height and the defensive line push to close passing lanes and create problems for Washington State. Against the Huskies, the Ducks were able to use their exceptional defensive coverage to completely stifle the passing attack of Washington. Don't expect the Duck defense to completely dominate the line of scrimmage against the Trojands like they have in all season, they will not have a size advantage but the Trojans have not been as good at protecting the quarterback as last season. Oregon will need to mix in some zone blitzes and different stunts to create pressure on Barkley without giving up coverage in the secondary.
On offense, look for Oregon to use what worked so well in the fourth quarter last season; a power rushing attack. The Trojans defensive line averages just 6-4 and 261 pounds. The old adage is that the best way to neutralize a quick defensive lineman is to run right at him. The Duck offensive line is big, strong and agile and can use traps and pulling guards to create big holes up the middle early. This should bring more men in the "box" at which point the Ducks will be able to use quick out passes and some deeper seam and middle routes to move the ball.
Like last season, the Trojans are not very deep. The Ducks will look to take advantage of this as the game wears on and use their speed and conditioning to get to the edge against the Trojans.
The defenses that have excelled against the Ducks during the Chip Kelly era were those with physically dominant defensive linemen that were able to disrupt the rushing game. While Breslin has been a monster, he is not the type of lineman that has given the Ducks trouble in the past. While the USC defense will be the best Oregon has seen this season, there have not been too many defenses capable of slowing down the Ducks and this should be the same story Saturday afternoon. The game will be tight early, but the Oregon depth and speed will once again carry the Ducks to victory.
Final: 45-24 Oregon
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial