While Oregon has it's own set of questions to worry about, USC definitely has issues. Over at Conquest Chronicles, the always great Paragon SC has been questioning his team as well, in regards to just how good the team is, and the poor play calling and running back by committee approach.
And while these questions are important, I think that they lead to a deep issue: the USC passing game. Really, how good is it?
Let's take a look at USC's losses the past few seasons and their rushing stats from those games:
OSU 2006: 27 rushes, 86 yards, 3.2 ypc
UCLA 2006: 29 rushes, 55 yards, 1.9 ypc
Stanford 2007: 38 rushes, 95 yards, 2.5 ypc
Oregon 2007: 33 rushes, 101 yards, 3.1 ypc
OSU 2008: 22 rushes, 86 yards, 3.9 ypc
Over that same time period, here are a list of their below average rushing totals in their victories.
WSU 2006: 32 rushes, 135 yards, 4.2 ypc
Cal 2006: 31 rushes, 120 yards, 3.9 ypc
Notre Dame 2006: 32 rushes, 139 yards, 4.3 ypc
Michigan 2006: 23 rushes, 48 yards, 2.1 ypc
Arizona 2007: 43 rushes, 146 yards, 3.4 ypc
OSU 2007: 36 rushes, 100 yards, 2.8 ypc
ASU 2007: 37 rushes, 133 yards, 3.6 ypc
So, not surprisingly, the running game of USC was quite poor to below average in all of their losses. While they had some below average rushing performances in their victories, the only one that really stands out are the Michigan and OSU victories, in which they averaged below 3 ypc and still won, through the strength of the defense and a passing game that did quite well. And let's not forget that in 2006, John David Booty had Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith to throw too, and they each surpassed 1000 yards on the season. In 2007, the go-to recevier was Fred Davis, a tight end, and no wide receiver surpassed 600 yards on the year. As USC is only 3 games into the 2008 season, it's hard to tell if this trend has changed. Damian Williams (transfer from Arkansas) has stepped up, but USC still seems to lack the big play receiver that they had in years past.
But on top of this, we haven't seen Sanchez win a game with his arm yet. He didn't have to do much against Ohio State or Virginia, or in the 2007 victories in which he played, but he has come up short when he has had to pull out a victory. Against OSU and Oregon, he showed the ability to score points in bunches when coming from behind, but he has thrown interceptions when the pressure is truly on him. Now, I'm not a big believer in "clutch," but despite Sanchez's solid numbers in these games, he's come up short.
So, does all this information really tell us that much? Not really. The running game and winning the line battle has always been one of the most important aspects of the game, and is a strong indicator for success in a game, but the more I look at it, USC is not a complete team on the offensive side of the ball. Sure, they can score in bunches, but for a formerly #1 team, they have a very large weakness
Unfortunately, the gameplan to limit USCs offense was exploited last week. During that game, the USC coaches did not make the right adjustments to move the ball down the field with the running game.
When the USC offense takes the field, it will really come down to coaching and adjustments. Will USC make an effort to run the ball and will Oregon be able to stop that? Will the Oregon linebackers and secondary be able to handle the play-action fake and improve from 2 poor performances against the pass? While we'll find out these answers on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Oregon, stopping the run is no guarantee for slowing the offense, with the recent collapse of the secondary, but Oregon must make Mark Sanchez and the underachieving USC receiving corp win the game. The USC offense is susceptible to being one-dimensional, and if Oregon allows both the running and passing games to develop, they will be in for a world of hurt.