Bumped JK - Thanks to Alicia for her weekly optimism's take
Earlier this season many Trojan fans (myself included) had this game pegged as an Oregon blowout. Now with the game less than one week away, here's five reasons the Trojans will pull off the upset and exact revenge for last year's Halloween massacre.
1) The Big Uglies will control the line of scrimmage. Size matters and when it comes to comparing the USC and Oregon lines the contest is not even close. The offensive lines are similarly sized, averaging 294 and 295 pounds respectively. But the defensive lines each will be facing present very different match ups. The Duck's defensive line weighs in at an average of just 258 pounds. On the other hand, the Trojan d-line is built like an offensive line, averaging 291 pounds. The size advantage USC enjoys will be important, especially when it comes to protecting the QB and establishing a running game which will be essential to keeping the Oregon offense off the field. On the defensive line, the size match up will be helpful in getting consistent penetration and disrupting the backfield. It also helps that the Trojan lines have been two of the best performing squads on the team this season.
2) Matt Barkley, Ronald Johnson and Robert Woods will overwhelm the defense. USC's offense is ranked seventh in the nation. Matt Barkley is sixth in passing efficiency and third in TD passes. Ronald Johnson is second in the conference in receiving touchdowns, Robert Woods is third. Woods also ranks second in all-purpose yards in the Pac-10. And they are all just really starting to click. There are few trios in the country as explosive as this one and with Lane Kiffin's creative play calling guiding them, they will have no trouble finding the end zone. Beyond that, Oregon's greatest defensive asset is the ability to force turnovers (the only reason they avoided defeat at Arizona State were seven Sun Devil turnovers). Barkley's newfound ability to protect the football (he has just four interceptions on the season) will neutralize that defensive strength and force them out of their comfort zone.
3) The defense has found it's groove. The Trojan defense will not stop the Ducks completely. But they don't need to. The job of the defense will be to give Barkley and the offense a chance to outscore them. And they will do just that. Against Cal the defensive line proved that they could be the dominant force they were projected to be (and the size advantage on the line was half of what it will be against Oregon). The linebackers had their best game of the season and the secondary seems to have adapted to Monte Kiffin's simplified scheme. To put the performance against Cal in perspective, the USC D held the Bears to their second lowest point total of the season. Cal running back Shane Vareen, who averages 103 yards per game, was held to just 53 yards. And QB Kevin Riley was harassed relentlessly. In short the defense is peaking at the right time.
4) Home field advantage will energize the Trojans and slow the Ducks. Fans are organizing a "Red Out" for the game and the Coliseum will be filled and rocking. It is without a doubt the biggest game of the season. The fans know it and will be ready to provide all the support they can from the stands. On the field, the Trojans have an advantage playing in the Coliseum as well - grass. The speedy Ducks lose some of their edge on the natural field. Anything that evens the playing field helps USC and the combination of all those little things will help put the Trojans over the top.
5) The ESPN College Gameday Curse will prevail. ESPN's College Gameday is coming town and they are bringing with them the "Curse of the #1 Team on the Road" ... The name needs work but the fact remains: Three straight weeks the Gameday crew has covered a top ranked team on the road and three straight weeks that top team has fallen. More importantly, like those other fallen number ones, this is Oregon's first true road test. They struggled early against Tennessee in Knoxville. The final score reads as a blow out, but that game was tied 13-13 at the half before the worn out Volunteers gave up five second half touchdowns. Their next road game was a close one with outmatched ASU in Tempe. The Sun Devils stuck with the Ducks throughout the game, but were unable to overcome seven turnovers. Even hapless Washington State put up 23 points on the Oregon defense in Pullman and stayed surprisingly close to a team that outclasses them in every way. The Duck's vulnerability on the road will finally catch up with them on Saturday.