Thanks to the guys from Conquest Chronicles for giving us the inside scoop on the Trojans. Below are our questions, and their answers.
1. The Trojans have obviously underperformed their expectations. Is that due to an unforeseen flaw, or were the expectations too high?
Paragon: I think expectations were too high. "experienced" depth is an issue along with what many perceive as Lane Kiffin getting a little tight in how he manages the team.
DC Trojan: A bit of both. Plainly expectations were high, not least because on paper this looks like a pretty good team. But their tendency to take a mental walkabout especially during the third quarter, wasn't an obvious tendency pre-season, and the increases in penalties and turnovers was unexpected also.
Paragon: Hard not to like the addition of Silas Redd. He has given this USC offense a bit of a spark. Curtis McNeil has been pretty effective as well, save his health. I think the spotty play of the O-line has made it difficult for the rushing game to really explode.
DC Trojan: The running game isn't bad when the blocking is working - and that's not just the o-line but also partly the tight ends and the fullback. Silas Redd has proven effective, McNeil has picked back up from last year, and Morgan has been a mid-season surprise... the problem though is that they're all taking a beating, so not only are they missing occasional games while recovering, but they can't always make it through a single game. I don't think it's their fault they're getting hammered, but it doesn't help.
3. The offensive line has looked really poor at times, especially against Stanford and Utah. What have been the major issues here?
Paragon: Depth is the primary issue here. Holmes is the anchor but because of Pete Carroll's lack of O-Line recruiting, the depth that USC has is a bit inexperienced.
DC Trojan: The offensive line has been perplexing. The Stanford debacle had a simple explanation: Holmes was injured, and Barkley was left to call both the line and running / receiving adjustments. It didn't work, which meant that the o-line was just getting battered. Utah was, as far as I can tell, a couple of brain farts from Holmes before he settled down; Utah was more or less kept in check for the rest of the game.
4. Defensively, the defensive line is almost all new this season, and a major point of optimism for Duck fans in this matchup has been doubt that this defensive line can match the performance that we saw last year in Eugene. What are your thoughts on this unit?
Paragon: This has to be the biggest surprised this season. With Kennard lost for the season and Horton late to the party because of injury this was a big question mark. This D-line has been extremely effective and has given opposing offenses fits.
This D-Line can give you fits...they know how to sniff out the ball and make plays. They aren't perfect but they have been more than effective.
DC Trojan: I don't think the issue with the D-line is newness so much as consistency and not trying to hard to stop plays before they start in the Oregon backfield. Morgan Breslin might be new, but he's been a revelation, and Leonard Williams has been doing well. If Oregon stops the defensive line in their tracks, it's going to be a long(er) day.
5. Many are starting to question head coach Lane Kiffin. What is the consenous Trojan opinion on Kiffin at this time?
Paragon: It is clear Kiffin has some talent. His game plan against UO last year was pretty spot on.You have to give him credit. The Ducks came back in that game because of turnovers and a defense that was gased, but Kiffin called a great game.
The biggest question to me is simple...is Kiffin maturing as a head coach?
His game game management is a head scratcher at times. I think he spends too much time with his face in the play card and he misses the little things, like not spiking the ball on the final drive like we saw against UA. Kiffin has real promise but until he flips the switch in is game management he will continue to frustrate the USC fanbase.
DC Trojan: I don't think there is a consensus on Kiffin, except perhaps that it's time he hired an offensive coordinator in something other than name. He's done well with recruiting and with managing the sanctions, but he needs some help in calling. I do think he's sometimes overdoing the curmudgeon routine with the players, especially since it doesn't seem to be translating into more focus or on-field discipline. That said, the murmurs of discontent will get louder if the next 4 games go badly. People are expecting bad things against Oregon and I think recognize that Notre Dame might actually be decent (as opposed to talked up), but if ASU and UCLA run amok on SC, I think people will be more vocal about wanting to see improvements. I also think there won't be a coaching change even if SC goes from 6 - 2 to 6 - 6.
6. Your prediction for the game? How confident are you that SC can pull off another upset?
Paragon: I have gone back and forth. USC can beat the Ducks but the spotty play that we have seen gives me pause. I see it one of two ways...either the Ducks boatrace USC or USC pulls out the squeaker. I do not see USC running it up on UO.
DC Trojan: Prediction? I think SC is quite capable of scoring 5 TDs and still losing by 3. The team has the talent to play Oregon close and possibly even get the win, but the season so far hasn't shown the discipline on the basics and the verve on the play selection and execution that would be required to do it. This isn't the team that's going to dethrone Oregon, I'm afraid.