Here's my basic thoughts on USC-Oregon. USC probably has a personnel advantage. They have three to four, first-round draft picks on offense before you get to the offensive line. However, they have not performed this year. If USC plays mistake free football by eliminating turnovers, limiting penalties, and remembering how to play football for a full four quarters, they have a great shot at winning this game. However, they have not shown they can do any of those things against good teams so far this year. They can't put teams away and they constantly make mistakes. It is a little ridiculous to think that they can figure it out against the second-best team in the country. However, there's always the chance, I'd estimate around 35%, that USC figures it out and wins Saturday.
USC Will Win If:
Win the Turnover Battle
USC is one of the most turnover prone teams in the PAC-12. The Trojan's have committed 10 fumbles and Matt Barkley already has 8 interceptions. Barkley has probably regressed from last year but the turnovers cannot happen against a team like Oregon where things can get real ugly real quick. Oregon has been known to gift opponents with turnovers to keep games close, but there hasn't been a game this year where turnovers were a significant issue. The coaches at Oregon have put a greater emphasis on ball security this week.
If there's one team that loves penalties, it is USC. They are one of the conference leaders in penalty yards per game. They have 86 penalties for 677 yards this year and at times it has made converting a third-down near impossible, essentially killing drives. I'd like to think that if Oregon is on defense and USC is looking at 2nd and 18, USC won't convert.
Get a Lead Early
USC's top 22 are some of the best in the country on a player-by-player basis. As a team they haven't functioned to the sum of their parts. The Trojans fade in the second half due to depth issues and also because they seem to wear down mentally as the games go on.
USC probably needs a two score lead going in to the second half. If USC starts down to start the second half, I see Oregon pulling away quickly as USC will have to start pressing in order to catch up. If USC is up though they can hand the ball of to Silas Redd (something they seem allergic to doing even though Redd is awesome), kill the clock, and maybe catch a few breaks to seal the win, making Oregon fight up hill.
The Trojans also have seemed unable to perform in the two scenarios this season where they had to perform. Against Stanford they looked lost on offense on their final drive. Against Arizona they had plenty of time to march down the field to kick a field goal but got stuck at midfield.
Protect Matt Barkley
It is a fact that Barkley doesn't do well with people in his face. A rushed and uncomfortable Matt Barkley is significantly less efficient than the calm version of himself.
Against Utah the Trojans dug themselves a hole when Utah's Lotulelei continually pressured USC center Holmes, resulting in bad snaps. One of USC's biggest issues so far has been protecting Matt Barkley. Against Oregon, a team that has gotten to the quarterback and pressured often, this is a strength against weakness matchup.
Oregon Will Win If:
Get to Matt Barkley
Last year Barkley was able to sit in the pocket and let routes develop. USC loves hitting quick slants and screens out to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. It is almost impossible to cover either receiver on a quick slant without devoting two defenders to them. Unfortunately, if USC does get on a roll they can start throwing in double moves and sluggo routes, which Matt Barkley loves to throw.
If Oregon can get to Barkley consistently, at least get pressure, on the three-step drops the Ducks will be able to make it easier on the defensive backs. Give Lee or Woods enough time and they'll get open. I have faith that Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu can cover each receiver for just under three seconds without aid, but anything further than that and safeties will be needed or a pass rush.
Score non-offensive touchdowns
There's a point every game when Oregon blows it wide open. It has always been marked with a defensive or special teams touchdown. That's the moment where someone yells, "Okay! You can go home and be assured the Ducks will win!" Avery Patterson has been pretty amazing so far this year at big swing plays off interceptions and getting in to the end zone. Look for a pick-six or a scoop-and-score in the early third quarter.
Establish the Run
USC's defensive line was the biggest question mark coming in to the season, and that was really only relative to the other parts of the defense, which were absolutely loaded. The defensive line has actually been a pleasant surprise. They haven't been amazing by any means but they have caused disruption in the backfield.
However, the only defenses that have really slowed Oregon are teams with elite defensive lines and linemen. While USC's line is good, it is not of that caliber. Therefore, Oregon has to establish the run. It has to be done. Kenjon Barner should easily get over 20 carries this game. Ideally, I'd like to see Byron Marshall, the human victory cigar and future star, get four carries.
They Get De'Anthony Thomas the Ball
Thomas has had a weird position and responsibility on offense. Normally, the third part of the triple option is the backup running back, not the most dangerous player on the field. Normally offenses say, "You have to play us honest or our second running back is going to get in space." Oregon says, "You have to play Thomas honest on the backside and maybe divert players away from out point of attack, otherwise Thomas will burn you."
However, teams have willingly taken their chances by over committing to Thomas and seeing what happens. Thomas is the most dynamic player in the coliseum this Saturday and Oregon has to get him the ball somehow. They need to motion him around more on offense and create chaos on USC's defensive keys.