After losing three of the first four games, this is a Trojans team playing much better as of late, winning four straight games heading into the matchup with the Ducks. After getting completely walloped in the opener 52-6 against Alabama, the defense has improved each week. Most recently, they held the California Bears offense that gave the Ducks fits to just 24 points.
Clancy Pendergrast leads the way for the Trojans again after spending a few years away with the San Francisco 49ers. As you will remember, Pendergrast’s name was one that was often thrown around while the Ducks were looking for a replacement for the demoted Don Pellum. He’s spent time previously as a defensive coordinator at the NFL level as well as being the coordinator for the Bears offense from 2010-2012. The Ducks will see a new look this week as the Trojans run a 5-2 defense. It’s very similar to a 3-4 but you’ll see the outside linebackers in a more on-line position. Look for lots of deception out of this look and a plethora of zone blitzes. The young Ducks offensive line could have their hands full in this one.
So far this season, the Trojans are allowing 24 points per game. As far as yardage goes, they’ve been pretty solid giving up an average of 383.8 yards per game. It’s great to talk about the success of Justin Herbert but I look for the running game to be the better factor this week. Opponents of the Trojans are gaining 162 yards per game on the ground while gaining 222 per game through the air.
The Trojans have managed to pick up ten turnovers this year, with five interceptions and five fumble recoveries. Their third down defense has been phenomenal, as they’ve held teams to just a 38% conversion rate. Fourth down’s haven’t faired quite as well as teams are converting 56% of their attempts against the Trojans. Like many Pac-12 teams, their defense hasn’t been the best in the red zone this season. In 25 trips, they’ve allowed touchdowns on 16 and given up field goals on five for an 84% score rate in the end zone. Also worth noting is that team’s have been more of a second half team against the Trojans. In all quarters this year, they’ve allowed just 27 points in the first quarter and 40 in the second quarter. Compare that to the 59 points allowed in the 3rd quarter and 66 points allowed in the fourth quarter.
Last year the Ducks used the aerial attack to beat USC. Vernon Adams Jr. paced the offense throwing for 407 yards on just 25 attempts. He also had six touchdowns in that game to six different receivers. Royce Freeman was solid for Oregon as well with his 147 yards on 20 touches.
Three players to watch:
Adoree’ Jackson, #2, junior defensive back, 5' 11", 185 lbs.
Mr. Do It All for USC is undoubtedly the player to watch in this game. While he’ll occasionally hop over to offense, Jackson is a serious threat in the secondary and return game. So far he is tied for the team lead with his two interceptions as well as leading the team with two fumble recoveries. On the special teams side of things he has 204 punt return yards and one touchdown along with 405 kickoff return yards and one touchdown. Special teams must keep it out of his hands.
Cameron Smith, #35, sophomore inside linebacker, 6' 2", 245 lbs.
Smith has made a phenomenal recovery after tearing his ACL during last season. He was named as the Pac-12 defensive player of the year after leading the Trojans in both tackles and interceptions before his week 10 injury. He picked up where he left off this year, with a team high 55 tackles and 6 tackles for loss.
Porter Gustin #45, sophomore defensive end, 6’ 5”, 260 lbs.
Lot’s of other good players to watch out for, but I’ll keep my eye on the sophomore defensive end. He has a huge frame and has been able to bully offensive lines en route to his team leading (tied) two sacks. He does also share the lead with Cameron Smith with six tackles for loss.