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USC vs No. 7 Oregon game preview

Coming off a comeback win on the road over Colorado, USC now returns home for a critical Pac-12 showdown with No. 7 Oregon

NCAA Football: Oregon at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC managed to escape Boulder with a comeback win over Colorado. After trailing by as many as ten points in the fourth quarter, the Trojans relied on their defense to make key stops and true freshman Kedon Slovis to make key throws to his receivers to help lead USC to a 35-31 victory. With the win USC continues to hold the edge over Utah atop the Pac-12 South. This week brings a very challenging and critical Pac-12 showdown at L.A. Memorial Coliseum as the No. 7 Oregon Ducks comes to town to face the Trojans. This will be the first meeting between the Ducks and Trojans since 2016. Oregon is also coming off a narrow victory at Autzen Stadium over Washington State where they relied on a game winning field goal from freshman kicker Camden Lewis.

USC v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Offense

Coming into Friday night, the game plan was clear for USC. Expose the Buffaloes inability to defend the pass and to an extent it was there. Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis had some freshman moments against Colorado and threw an ill-advised interception early on, but as the game went Slovis showed his poise to whether the storm. The freshman threw for 406 yards and 4 touchdowns in the win over Colorado. Slovis also showed his poise in the fourth quarter by orchestrating two key drives to win the game for the Trojans. The freshman went to senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. during the two scoring drives. One for 44 yards and a 35 yard touchdown pass to give the team the lead.

The senior wide receiver had a huge night against the Buffaloes. Pittman Jr. had 156 yards receiving and two clutch touchdown receptions in the fourth quarter off 7 catches. Pittman Jr. won’t the only receiver who had a great game as the unit managed to contribute. Tyler Vaughns led the team in receptions with 8 for 104 yards and 1 touchdown reception while true freshman receiver Drake London once again made his presence known with an 85 receiving yards performance. One wrinkle to the game plan involved Amon-Ra St. Brown as he was lined up in multiple areas including the backfield. St. Brown motioned into the backfield where he broke off a 37 yard run for a touchdown during the first series of the game.

While the passing game was a on full display, the run game had a pretty quiet but solid night. With three running backs out, true freshman Kenan Christon stepped up. The true freshman running back had 76 yards on 14 carries and averaged 5.4 yards on the ground. He also had a receiving touchdown in the third quarter where Christon showed his versatility.

Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and the USC offense will have their hands full against a stout Oregon defense. The Ducks are No. 20 in the nation in total defense and allow 14.8 points per game. Their run defense could give the Trojans fits as Oregon only allows 3.2 yards per carry and allowed 101.3 yards per game on the ground. The big story will be the

USC passing game against Oregon’s pass defense. It all begins upfront as the USC offensive line will have to step up their game against an Oregon front that has 23 sacks on the year and leads the Pac-12 (USC is a close second with 22.). Kedon Slovis will also have to do a pretty good job taking care of the ball against the Ducks secondary. Oregon leads the nation in interceptions with 14 on the season with two being returned for a touchdown. Safety Jevon Holland (4 interceptions) and cornerback Verone McKinley III (3 interceptions) make up the majority of the Ducks picks. They also allow 207 passing yards per game, however Oregon gave up over 400 yards passing to Washington State last week. This week the Ducks will have a tough task at covering the USC wide receiving group.

USC v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Defense

Currently USC is dealing with a list of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. You could say that showed in their win over Colorado Friday night. However, it was no excuse as the Trojans weakness were exploited once again. Colorado quarterback Steven Montez was able to get lose and extend plays and drives with the lack on containment and pressure on him. USC also showed their continuous issues with tackling as they failed to wrap up and allowed for players to get loose. Even Laviska Shenault Jr. managed to have a big game with 172 yards on 9 receptions. Simply put the defense took a step backwards considering their performance the previous week against Arizona.

Clancy Pendergast had a game plan to contain Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate where the Trojans defense were able to keep him from getting loose. That game plan allowed the defense to have a seven sack night and forced 3 turnovers. Friday the defense didn't get to Montez until the fourth quarter and didn't force a single turnover while allowing 520 total yards. The defense did manage to buckle down and get key stops when it mattered the most. However, this week they won’t be able to get away with a repeat performance.

Oregon is currently No. 3 in the Pac-12 in total offense and average a total of 466 yards per game. The Ducks bring a good balance of the run and pass game. On the ground Oregon have a three man attack of Travis Dye, Cyrus Habibi-Likoi, and C.J. Verdell. All three have the ability to do damage on the ground, however Verdell currently leads the team in carries and yards. The sophomore running back currently has 753 yards on 112 carries and 5 touchdowns. He’s also averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Oregon will look to take advantage of USC’s outside containment problems with a lot of outside and misdirections with Verdell. In-between the tackles, USC has done an outstanding job although the Notre Dame game the Trojans were gashed on the ground for over 300 yards. They also allowed Tony Jones Jr. to run all over them for 170 yards on the ground. Oregon’s offensive line embraces the physical running game under head coach Mario Cristobal.

The Ducks running game isn't the only thing that they have going as their passing game is also one of the conference best. USC defense will see one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Justin Herbert. The senior quarterback is projected to be one of the top quarterbacks in the upcoming NFL Draft and he has certainly played like it too. Herbert has thrown for 2,104 yards and an outstanding 21 touchdowns and 1 interception. The lone interception came against Cal where the Ducks won 17-7. The Ducks also have a number of playmakers at wide receiver and tight end. USC’s young secondary have performed very well and consistently this season, however they will be tested when they’re lined up against Jaylon Reed, Johny Johnson III, Mycah Pittman (younger brother of USC wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.), and tight end Jacob Breeland.

USC could get a boost this weekend as cornerback Chris Steele and defensive end Christian Rector are on track for a return to the field.

Oregon v USC Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Key Notes

  • USC leads the all time series 38-20-2
  • The will be the first meeting between the Ducks and Trojans since 2016. USC defeated Oregon 45-20 inside the L.A. Coliseum.
  • Since 2001 Oregon holds a 5-1 record when ranked in the Top 10. Oregon is currently ranked No. 7 in the Ap Top 25.
  • USC and Oregon currently No. 1 and No. 2 in the Pac-12 in sacks.
  • USC is a 7 point underdog to Oregon. USC is 1-2 this season as an underdog and 4-4 against the spread. This is the Trojans second time as a home underdog this season. The first was against Utah back in September where the Trojans were a 9 point underdog. USC won 30-27.