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Know Thy Enemy: USC Trojans

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Who are these Trojans from sunny Los Angeles?

Utah v USC Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

2019 record: 5-3 (4-1)

Key Numbers + Info (2019 season)

OOC Opponents: Fresno State, BYU, Notre Dame

Points per game: 31.25

Points allowed per game: 24.88

Avg. yards per rush: 4.5

Avg. yards per rush allowed: 4.8

Avg. rush yards per game: 146.3

Avg. rush yards per game allowed: 190.1

Rushing TDs: 13 for, 10 against

Avg. pass yards per game: 296.13

Avg. pass yards per game allowed: 239.25

Avg per attempt: 8.4

Avg per attempt allowed: 6.91

Passing TDs: 18 for, 11 against

Collective Pass Completion Rate: 71%

Collective Pass Completion Rate Against: 60%

Leading Rusher (IR): Vavae Malapeai (87 carries for 406 yards and four TDs)

Leading Rusher (healthy): Markese Stepp (48 carries for 307 and three TDs)

Leading Receiver: Michael Pittman, Jr (50 receptions for 755 yards and 7 TDs)

Leading Tackler: John Houston, Jr (70 tackles, six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks)

Analytics

Credit to Zane Murffit of Cougcenter.com for doing the Sports Source Analytics charts weekly. They are an immense help. Here’s a glossary to help you translate the numbers.

Win probability

credit: Florida Cup and /u/rcfbuser

As you can see in the image above, USC has a win probability of 42.3% against Oregon. Also the link, is the explanation behind the formula of the win probability for all teams. Oregon’s win probability chart as seen below for comparison.

Oregon’s odds of running the table undefeated has increased from a 22.5% chance to 33.1% from last week.

USC Offense vs Oregon Defense

USC’s offense is slightly below Wazzu’s but still a formidable force that Oregon will have faced based on success rate. The Trojans rank within the top 25 nationally in terms of pass AND run success rate. They are a clearly expected pass first team based on counting stats and the analytics tell a similar story. They are ranked within the top 25 in yards per pass. Their main “weakness” is the run game ranking just within the Power 5.

Oregon fell from the top ten to 15th in the nation in both yards per play and yards per pass so it’s a really good match-up of strength on strength. USC has converted 43.14% of its third downs but Oregon saw a decrease in conversions to the tune of 32.26% on defense.

USC is somewhat worse than last week’s opponent in generating the explosive play while Oregon slipped to 35th from 30th place over the weekend. Oregon still remains a top three unit in red zone defense but the Trojans have a much worse red zone offense than the Cougars did.

Where the Ducks can stop USC is on havoc rate as the Trojans are slightly above average in FBS. The stuff rate offense and defense is very similar.

Safe to say that the Ducks’ secondary will still have its work cut out for them after facing a daunting task last weekend.

USC has the same ranking as Washington State in terms of explosion plays ranking slightly above average in the FBS in the pass game and better than above average in the run game as the counting stats don’t tell.

Defensively, Oregon continued the spiral downward, going from 30th to 49th in stopping the explosive pass play. The secondary will certainly be put to the test against true freshman Kedon Slovis and the quartet of formidable receivers.

USC will provide a decent test for the Ducks defense inside the 40 as they rank 29th in such opportunities. The Ducks dropped from having the third ranked defense to fourth.

As you can see, first down will be a strength on strength match-up (49% to 31% allowed) as both teams rank among the best in the country on those downs. First down will be a battle between top fifty squads. USC has a third down success rate of 43% while Oregon stops them on 32% of those.

Oregon Offense vs USC Defense

Oregon’s rushing offense should have a even more of a better time of things against a similarly lowly ranked Trojans’ defensive metrics in that category. The run game success rate dropped one place from the week prior against Wazzu. It will be interesting to see how the pass game fares against a a little worse pass defense than the one Washington State presented.

Oregon’s offense is averaging 6.45 yards per play while USC defense is averaging 5.8 yards per play given up. The Trojans’ run defense is an issue as they have allowed nearly 5 yards per carry while the Ducks go for nearly 5.6 per rush.

Where they can try to stop the Ducks is on third down. Oregon is 30th in the country converting almost 44% while USC allows 37.4%, also ranking 52nd.

The Ducks need to focus on the run game as USC is especially vulnerable at giving it up much like Wazzu.

USC will provide a much stiffer test for Justin Herbert in terms of explosive passing plays compared to last week. Significantly so. USC is a top 30 defense in this category.

Again, where they can be had is in the run game as the rushing explosive rate is horrendous.

USC is just as stingy as the Ducks’ defense inside their 40. Allowing only 36% of those drives to end in touchdowns while the Ducks dropped from 15th to 21st from the week prior (63%).

If you look at this chart, the game clearly will be decided on first and second downs on Oregon’s offensive chances where they are dominating over the Trojans’ horrific defensive numbers. Where the defense can attack and attempt to neutralize the Ducks’ attack is on third down but allowing nearly seven yards per passing attempt will get them in not good situations defensively.

Oregon

Pass down success rate: 36%

Standard down success rate: 60%

USC

Pass down success rate: 28%

Standard down success rate: 62%

Oregon

TD inside 40 rate: 63%

Success rate: 47%

USC

TD inside 40 rate: 61%

Success rate: 49%

Key players to watch

1. Michael Pittman, Jr 6’4 215 Senior WR

  • A particular red zone threat given his size and great ball skills. Plus route runner. Excellent catch radius and hands. Athletically, not the most inspiring but inside the 20, it’s hardly needed. He has been the best receiver in the conference but it has been close.

2. Tyler Vaughns 6’2 185 RS Junior WR

  • The “other” upperclassman Trojans receiver is pretty good in his own right. Lateral agility is a major plus along with his awareness. Ball skills are on point as well. Has some issues with press coverage due to a lack of functional strength. Frame could be an issue down the road.

3. Christian Rector 6’4 275 RS Senior EDGE

  • Very good in the run game, holding up at the point of attack using his long arms. Not the most quick twitch athlete off the snap so he uses the long arms to keep the tackle at bay before going upfield. Not the most bendy athlete going around the corner. A run stopper at best. Injuries have hampered him in 2019, missing multiple games because of it.

4. Austin Jackson 6’6 310 OT Junior

  • Jackson is one of the more underrated tackles in the conference right now. He’s rounding into form and is getting a lot more draft hype. He donated bone marrow to his younger sister in the offseason thus he missed some spring and fall for recovery.

Keys to an Oregon Win

  • Offensive line. The Trojans can be had on the ground. Can the OL provide its usual push and let Verdell and co. channel Kenjon Barner vs. USC all those years ago? Jake Hanson continues to have issues with bad snaps as he almost sailed one over Herbert last week after consecutive weeks of actually doing it before. Will a right guard ever step up and stop the merry go round there?
  • Defense. The Trojans offense is like none other than any offense that Ducks have faced to date. It’s a mixed bag between Air Raid and Pro Style. Andy Avalos will need to focus on assignment sound defensive fundamentals. The pass rush was better last weekend but still not enough to trouble most QBs. A true freshman quarterback must be harried into mistakes.
  • Mental Toughness. The 2019 rendition of the Ducks has shown a resiliency like no other Ducks squads before it within the past several years. Can they keep their eye on the prize at the end of the tunnel and win out against a competitive USC team?

Keys to an Oregon Loss

  • Tackling. It’s been not ideal to say the least lately. Washington exposed it for the whole world to see and Wazzu took advantage. Can the Ducks wrap up and bring down the ball carrier at the point of attack? USC has the weapons to exploit this weaknesses repeatedly.
  • Marcus Arroyo. He has continued to call a near perfect game, it’s just that the players didn’t execute at times. Can Arroyo do it again and potentially have to go score for score against the quartet of NFL wide receivers? USC’s defense isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire so there are points to be had. Can he take advantage with a powerful OL and run game that’s coming together.
  • Herbert. Was a bit better last week and made the throws when he absolutely had to but still inconsistent. Can he put it together for a full game for the first time in several weeks against an improving Trojans’ secondary?

What are the odds?

(all odds courtest of vegsainsider.com)

The WestGate Superbook has Oregon as 5 point favorites with the O/U being at an even 62. The money line is Oregon -185 USC +165

DraftKings has Oregon as 4.5 point favorites with the O/U being 62 even. The money line is Oregon -200 USC +163

The Ducks are 4-4 ATS and has failed to reach the O/U FIVE times out of eight tries.