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USC vs. Oregon: Key Players to Watch

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USC and Oregon both came out with clutch wins on top. Now, Oregon brings its Pac-12 North hopes into Southern California for a matchup with huge implications in the Pac-12. If USC wins, there will likely be a rematch in the Pac-12 Championship.

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Oregon at USC Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Washington State v Oregon Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Justin Herbert

So much has been made this season of Justin Herbert. The 6’ 6”, 230 pound quarterback could have been a top ten selection in last season’s NFL draft. He has the prototypical size and athleticism that scouts drool over when looking at drafting quarterbacks for the pro’s.

But this is still college football. After an up and down 2018 season completing 59.4 percent of his passes, Herbert has bounced back in a big way. In 2019, he has completed 68.3 percent of his passes, throwing 21 touchdowns to only one interception. This year’s Heisman race has been defined by dominant quarterback performances from Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, and Tua Tagovailoa; but if any of these candidates slip and the Ducks keep rolling, Herbert may be a dark horse Heisman contender.

On Saturday in the Coliseum, Oregon will rely on Herbert’s arm to get past the Trojans. He has the arm strength to make every throw, and he has the vision and ability to quickly made reads and get the ball to the right target. But USC’s cornerback group has been playing at an elite level. The Trojans did give up 172 yards receiving to Colorado superstar Laviska Shenault, but USC was without Chris Steele and Isaac Taylor-Stuart had been dealing with a sickness in the days prior. If USC can get its cornerbacks healthy, Clancy Pendergast should have confidence in limiting Oregon wideouts.

But Herbert can spread the ball to a variety of weapons. His favorite targets have been tight ends, such as Jacob Breeland, who has 405 yards and six touchdowns. If a decimated USC linebacking and safety unit cannot stop the Herbert and the Oregon tight ends, the Trojans will be in for a long day against the Ducks.

One thing going for the Trojans here is Herbert’s preference to stay in the pocket. This season, Herbert only has two games with positive rushing yardage. USC’s inability to contain a mobile quarterback will have to wait another day to rear its ugly head.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Oregon at Washington Photo by Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Troy Dye

If Herbert has been the senior leader of the Oregon offense, Troy Dye has been the leader of the Oregon defense. Dye had a broken thumb during the Washington game and played, through it. He did not play against Washington State last Saturday, but is expected to be ready to face USC this coming week. The senior linebacker is a do-it-all player who leads the Ducks in tackles (38), having also picked up one sack and one interception.

Like Herbert, Dye was an NFL prospect last year who opted to return this year in hopes of boosting his draft stock and creating something special with the Ducks. Unlike Herbert, he was rated the number eight player at his position. Still, that’s nothing to look past. Dye is one of those players who always seems to be around the ball. Though USC seemingly never utilizes the tight end position in the pass game, Dye will still be able to affect the game through stopping Trojan runningbacks and limiting short routes by receivers.

USC v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Amon-Ra St. Brown

Amon-Ra St. Brown came out hot to start the season, but seemed underutilized as he only caught 11 balls combined in games against BYU, Washington, and Utah. At that point, speculation was that Graham Harrell’s scheme and offensive play calling wasn’t doing enough for the young superstar Trojan. Luckily, the bye week seemed to get St. Brown fully healthy; Amon-Ra St. Brown had a breakout game against Notre Dame two weeks ago and was explosive in the beginning of the Colorado game.

With USC down to only one healthy scholarship runningback, Clay Helton and Graham Harrell motioned St. Brown from out wide to the runningback position on some plays. And it paid dividends early. St. Brown looked like a natural, showing off his vision, ability to stay upright through contact, and run away from the defense.

Of course that was against Colorado, who had never seen that wrinkle in the USC offense before. Now that it’s on tape, expect Oregon to be somewhat prepared for a St. Brown carry.

Either way, the versatile receiver looks as though he is no longer hampered by nagging injuries. Back to form, St. Brown’s versatility allowed Graham Harrell to go five wide as much as he did against Colorado. When St. Brown is on the field, Harrell can put five wide receivers on the field without giving up the threat of a rushing attack. Though St. Brown rushes will be few and far between, the sheer threat will affect Oregon’s defensive game plan. Expect St. Brown to play a large role in USC’s game plan, rushing or not.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Arizona at USC Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Drake London

To some, Drake London’s appearance on this list, and his performance this season, will be a surprise. In a recruiting class chalk full of four and five star receiving talent, London has somehow separated himself to be Graham Harrell's fourth option at receiver. And he rarely cedes rotation snaps to promising receivers Velus Jones Jr. and John Jackson III.

Notably, Harrell also trusted London on a fourth and goal opportunity in Seattle against Washington. This is all just to say that Drake London has earned the trust of the Trojan coaches. And last week he showed why. Against Colorado, London hauled in seven receptions for 85 yards, including two key first down plays. London got these opportunities because Graham Harrell opted to go five wide for much of the game against Colorado, spreading out the defense by putting five wide receivers on the field.

With so much space on the field, that scheme makes it easier for a players like Drake London to find a seam in the defense to pick up yardage. With three runningbacks hurt, going five wide helps USC put the most talent on the field as possible. And with that talent on the field, the coaching staff has shown trust in Drake London to make plays. Expect that trend to continue when Oregon rolls into town.