Darron Thomas will face the biggest test as Oregon's QB. Will he exploit the USC defense?
The Oregon offense has been just about unstoppable this year. It's leading the country in points and yards, but a good amount of those points have come at home.
From a production standpoint, Oregon's offense has been significantly worse on the road. They average almost 200 total yards less per game when away from Autzen (462 ypg vs. 649 ypg), and have not been scoring at the rate they do at home. In 3 road games, the Oregon offense has scored 34, 28, and 36. That's nothing to scoff at, but far off their yearly averages. And while Oregon has been comfortably ahead in each road game, USC's defense, as depleted and inexperienced as they may be, still presents a considerable challenge.
I'm still feeling good about our chances of offensive success, but we're going to have to see each unit step up for the Ducks to stay on their offensive roll.
First, the success of the offense will rest on the offensive line. In two of the road games this year, the Oregon offensive line struggled, and struggled badly. Oregon's 3 road games have been the 3 worst rushing performances for the Ducks this year, and Arizona State held the Ducks to a mere 3.47 yards per rush. In road games, the Oregon offensive line simply did not open up the holes necessary for the Ducks to have sustained offensive success.
I honestly don't know why this is. There are many excuses we could make for why these performances have happened, but the simple fact is that the line hasn't gotten it done against average competition on the road. Now, we don't have a lot of reasons to think that this performance will continue. The line has progressed greatly in their home environment, dominating against both Stanford and UCLA.
But an ASU-like performance by the line will give the Oregon offense fits. If Oregon's offensive line gets a push and can run the ball on USC's front 7, then USC will be reeling all game long, just as they were last year. That will force them to bring in safety help to the box, and cause the cornerbacks think not just about covering their man, but making tackles when Oregon running backs break into the secondary.
If the line cannot open those holes, then we'll see a lot of what we saw against ASU: runs for little to no gain, and a defense forcing Darron Thomas to throw.
Luckily in this game, I feel our passing offense will be unleashed. Darron Thomas has shown the ability to stretch the field both horizontally and vertically with his arm, and the USC defense will still have considerable trouble containing the Oregon passing game.
If USC follows the ASU blueprint (which I anticipate), then they'll focus on stopping the run, and stopping the quick outside passes, and largely leave the middle of the field open, with their safeties vulnerable to big plays. If they drop back and try to cover the middle of the field (which is how Monte Kiffin schemed against Florida last year), then Oregon will bubble screen USC to death, like they did Cal last year.
I'm confident that Thomas will be up to this challenge if the game is put on his shoulders. He has been great under pressure, and you know that USC will try and bring the heat. Even without an unstoppable Oregon running game, Thomas has shown the ability to get the ball to the hands of his many playmakers, and USC doesn't have the ability to cover every single playmaker on the Oregon offense. Chip Kelly and Thomas will isolate and expose and weakness. But I am just not excited about the possibility of USC forcing Thomas into that situation.
If Oregon runs the ball like they have at home, then I'm confident that Oregon will win the game by a comfortable margin. If the offensive line has a repeat performance of its other road performances, then strap in, because it's gonna go down to the wire.