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Oregon Ducks at USC Trojans: Players and matchups to watch

Here are the matchups and players most likely to decide the outcome of the Oregon at USC game.

Colorado v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

With the USC Trojans entering homecoming week on a four game winning streak, there will be plenty of key matchups to watch for against the visiting Oregon Ducks on Saturday. Given the history between these two teams, this is setup to be a high scoring game.

Oregon run game vs USC Linebackers

The Ducks come into this game with one of the most prolific running backs in the nation with Junior Royce Freeman. Entering this game Freeman only has 606 rushing yards with eight touchdowns. He has 19 career 100 yard games and is currently the second all-time leading rusher in school history. Last year Freeman ran for 148 yards on 20 carries in their 48-28 victory over the Trojans. Freeman’s production, however, seems to be dropping steadily in the last three games. Oregon switched quarterbacks and started Justin Herbert over Dakota Prukop 3 games ago. In those three games Freeman’s average yards per carry has steadily declined. From 7.5 yards per carry to 4.5 then down to 0.7 and back up to 2.2 last week against Arizona State.

The other Ducks RB, sophomore Tony Brooks-James has come on strong as of late. Brooks-James has 572 yards, and 8 touchdowns on 71 carries this year. He also is a receiving threat as of late. In the 3 games since Oregon switched quarterbacks, Brooks-James has 8 receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. In that same time time frame Brooks-James has ran the ball a mere 32 times but has 301 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. That is about 9.4 yards per carry. The Ducks seem to have two very talented running backs on opposite trajectories.

USC’s front seven is led by Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin who have played exceptionally well this year. Keeping the Ducks running backs from reaching the second level will be the key for the Trojans. They are versatile backs who can also dominate defenses in the passing game. Both Smith and Gustin are athletic linebackers who have the ability to contain backs like Freeman.

Sam Darnold vs Oregon Secondary

After his five touchdown performance last Thursday, Sam Darnold has the offense rolling as the Trojans plan to keep up with Oregon’s high scoring offense. The Ducks defense is giving up almost 300 yards through the air so the Trojans will try to take advantage of that with one of the best offenses in the nation. Darnold is seventh in the nation in passing efficiency (173.1) in which he has thrown 16 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in the past four games. With his supreme confidence and plethora of great receivers, Darnold is poised to have another solid game. Last week, Oregon’s secondary picked of Arizona State three times in their 54-35 win. Despite that solid performance, Darnold and company should provide the Ducks defense more of a challenge.

Justin Herbert vs USC Secondary

True Freshman Justin Herbert broke delivered a record breaking performance last week. In the Ducks win over Arizona State, Herbert accounted for 512 yards of total offense which broke a school record. His 489 yards passing tied the school record as well. USC will definitely be looking to not let Herbert put up huge numbers especially in the passing game. The Trojans boast two of the best cornerbacks in the Pac-12 in Adoree Jackson and Iman Marshall. Both were tested heavily last week against Cal’s passing attack. With Jackson usually covering the team’s best receiver, Marshall has been getting tested a lot this year and has held his own. Look for Herbert to target his tight ends more as he threw a couple of long touchdowns to them during his record breaking performance.