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O/NSO: Oregon edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

The Obvious: With just three Pac-12 Conference games remaining, the USC Trojans (5-3, 4-2 Pac-12 South) find the once powerful Oregon Ducks (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12 North) first up, and Saturday’s “Homecoming Game” battle in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (4 p.m. PT) will go a long way in deciding Troy’s chances of winning the Pac-12 South Division.  

The Not So Obvious: The clearest road is for the Trojans to win the Pac-12 South is to sweep their final three conference games, which also includes a little road trip to the Great Northwest and the No. 5 Washington Huskies (CFP -8-0/5-1 Pac-12 North) and visit to the Rose Bowl and evaporating UCLA (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12 South) and hope for at least one more loss for the Utah Utes (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12 South) and Colorado Buffaloes (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12 South). Is that asking too much? But first the Oregon Ducks, a team that took it to the Trojans, 48-28, in Eugene last season. This season, the Ducks have fallen on hard times, but if you think the team of many uniforms is going to roll over for the Trojans, forget about that. Offensively, they are still extremely dangerous and very talented, averaging 40.5 points per game. Their defense has been Swiss cheese (42.2 pts.), but as far as scoring, the mallards still have it, and do so with a true freshman quarterback prodigy.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 14-point favorite over Oregon.

The Not So Obvious: And when was the last time you saw a Trojans team favored over an Oregon team by 14 points and it has since expanded to 17 points? Well, think about this: This is the first time in 10 consecutive meetings that neither team is ranked.  It’s also the first time since 1982 that a Trojans team will face an Oregon club that has a losing record. This series has been tilted to the Ducks since the mid-1990s, and how many of you could have guessed that the Trojans haven’t beaten Oregon in the Coliseum since 2008? In fact, the Trojans have lost 4 of the past 5 meetings, 5 of the last 7, and 10 of the past 15 meetings (not including the 2005 vacated win; original record: 10 of the last 16). Since this is USC’s Homecoming Game, it should be noted the Trojans are 61-26-4 in its Homecoming games. BTW, the Trojans hold a 37-20-2 record in its series with Oregon, dating to 1915.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans/Oregon game will be nationally televised live on the ESPN (4 p.m. PT).

The Not So Obvious: The ESPN broadcasters for Saturday night’s kickoff will be Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge(analysis), and Holly Rowe (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans radio broadcast of the USC/ Oregon game will air live on ESPNLA 710 AM at 4 p.m. (PT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans ESPNLA 710 pregame (noon PT) and two-hour post-game show on Saturday will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Travis Rodgers, WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz, and WeAreSC contributor Jeremy Hogue.

The Not So Obvious: The Oregon broadcast can be heard on flagship station KUGN 590 AM with Jerry Allen (play-by-play) and Mike Jorgensen (analyst) and Joey McMurry (sidelines).

Saturday’s game can also be heard on ESPN Radio with Mark Kestecher (play-by-play) and Tom Ramsey (analyst). The Pac-12 game can also be heard on Sirius XM satellite radio (channels 137/197 and online channel 959) and on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: The Los Angeles weather on Saturday calls for sunny with a high of 79, 48 percent humidity, and a low of 48 degrees.

The Not So Obvious: We’ll see whether the Trojans can play disciplined football against a team that while not impressive record wise, is still exceedingly dangerous with the ball. It wouldn’t be too much of a reach to say that Ducks coach Mark Helrich’s job could be on shaky ground, and while winning big over ASU last week (54-35), Helfrich’s team can continue to take considerable pressure off their coach with a big win over the Trojans. Conversely, we’ll see whether a win over the Ducks continues to build credibility in the Clay Helton program, or will a loss reheat the furnace upon Helton’s executive chair inside the plush John McKay Center?

Offensively, we see whether the Trojans can move the ball at will against an Oregon defense that has been a sieve in 2016. In fact, the Ducks defensive has been as awful as the offense has been potent. It figures that Trojans redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold (16 TDs and just 4 interceptions) should have his way against a porous Oregon defense. Considering that Darnold has five fumbles on his resume – all of which have been recovered by the opposition – ball security by the rookie will be a must. We’ll see whether the Trojans passing attack, led by All-Pac-12 receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, continues to be spread around to various receivers and the increasingly visible tight ends as well. Senior starting tailback Justin Davis (high ankle sprain) and sophomore Aca’Cedric Ware (ankle sprain) are “game time decisions,” which means the Trojans will probably rely on the legs and strength of sophomore backs Ronald Jones ll and Dominic Davis, two extreme speedsters.  We’ll see whether the Trojans offensive game plan is to play ball control and use Jones and Ware extensively or let it all hang out. Expect the latter. The Trojans offensive line should be able to dominate the Ducks front, but whether than becomes a reality remains to be seen. The Ducks defense is led by true freshman linebacker Troy Dye (Norco, Ca./Norco HS), who leads Oregon in tackles, and true freshman safety Brenden Schooler (Dana Point, Ca./ Mission Viejo HS). We’ll see whether the Trojans take dead aim at these two former local prep SoCal standouts.

Defensively, we’ll find out whether the Trojans defense can finally contain or limit the amount of offense from the Ducks vaunted running game. Oregon still has outstanding running backs, led by All-Pac-12 junior Royce Freeman (5.7 avg./8 TDs), who has NFL written all over him, and redshirt sophomore Tony Brooks-James (8.1 avg./8 TDs). It will be intriguing to see whether the Trojans can intimate Ducks true freshman quarterback Justin Hebert (63%/199.2 avg./12 TDs/3.3 rush avg.) and Eugene native, who last Saturday torched the ASU defense to the tune of 489 passing yards and four touchdowns. Hebert has explosive targets in All-Pac-12 junior wide receiver Charles Nelson and dangerous senior tight end Pharaoh Brown. We’ll see whether the Trojans defense can not only mount a pass rush on the Ducks freshman quarterback but contain all the Oregon fire power, which is considerable. It will be incumbent that the Trojans front, especially inside linebacker Cameron Smith and Michael Hutchings, control the Ducks running game and get to the young freshman quarterback. The Trojans secondary will have its hands full and will find out whether the likes of Adoree’ Jackson, Iman Marshall, Chris Hawkins/Leon McQuay lll, and Marvell Tell can keep order against the Ducks super swift receivers.

Specials teams could play a significant role in what figures to be a high-scoring affair. The Trojans have major weapons in junior kicker Matt Boermeester and returner Adoree’ Jackson, but Oregon has junior kicker Aidan Scheider, who was an All-Pac-12 first team choice last fall, who has hit 40-of-44 career field goals.

The bottom line to Saturday’s game is whether the Trojans can score enough points, limit the penalties and turnovers, and contain the amount of damage from a high-powered Ducks offense.

The Obvious: The Trojans first-year offensive coordinator is Tee Martin.

The Not So Obvious: Discussing Oregon in general, Martin said, “I look at a team that’s a few points away from being 6-2. It’s a team that’s very talented and seems that got well a little bit against Arizona State. From an offensive standpoint, we know that they can score points. Defensively, they stopped Arizona State enough to give their team a chance to win the game. Last week, Cal showed one thing (defensively) on tape and came in and did something totally different. We expect some different wrinkles (from Oregon’s defense). We’ll see what that is and adjust.”

The Obvious: Against Oregon, the Trojans offense may be pressed into thinking it has to score every time they have the ball in order to keep up with the Ducks point-a-minute scoring offense.

The Not So Obvious: On having to keep up offensively with Oregon, Tee Martin said, “We just have to do our jobs. We can’t focus on that (scoring). One of the best things we’ve been doing the last five weeks or so is just focusing on what can we do better on offense and continuing to get better each week at every position. I am proud of the offensive line and the backs the way they played and the way we threw and caught the ball last week (against Cal). We’re getting better from what we see on tape. It’s a process where we can’t worry about numbers and about stats.”

The Obvious: The head football coach for Oregon is Mark Helfrich, now in his fourth season as Ducks CEO.

The Not So Obvious: On playing the Trojans, Helfrich says, “They’re talented. Obviously from a schematic point, they are very well coached in all three phases. They’re exceptionally talented at every level whether it’s (defensively) stopping the run, (offensively) the play-action element, the quarterback run element that he (Sam Darnold) presents and it’s a little underrated. Special teams, it’s Adoree’ Jackson. Getting him out of the game is a huge huge key to success there. Defensively, they’re very very good in their base package and each personnel group they present. And they have a little wrinkle and package for everybody each week, and that’s difficult to predict what that will be. I am sure they will have a little something for a new (Oregon) quarterback and new offensive line and those kinds of things.”

The Obvious: The Trojans have a lot of momentum going in against Oregon.

The Not So Obvious: Trojans senior inside linebacker captain Michael Hutchings said, “It’s just another game honestly. We need to keep on rolling and staying consistent. I think we’re staying in our routine each week and still finding what’s working. We’re starting to hit our stride a little bit. Guys are focusing in and really knowing our opponent and translating what we do in practice to the field. We’ve picked up not giving up explosive plays like we did early in the season. This will be the challenge against Oregon and the conference in general. There are so many explosive offenses that you have to be on your Ps and Qs. These guys have weapons. Cal, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, they all have spread offenses. Now we come into Oregon that is the inventor of this style of offense.”

The Obvious: The 2016 Trojans offense is averaging 30.4 points per game while the Oregon defense is allowing 42.2 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The 2016 Oregon offense is averaging 40.5 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 24.0 points per game.

The Obvious: The Trojans quarterback is redshirt freshman Sam Darnold, who has been the talk of the Pac-12 with his standout performances.

The Not So Obvious: Asked how he would keep the pressure of having to score a lot of points to offset Oregon offense, Darnold said, “I think we have to take the same mindset we had when we played Cal. Cal was a team that could score a lot of points and Oregon the same way. We’re going to take the same approach. We’re taking the same mindset against every opponent and score as many points as possible and that’s always the goal.”

The Obvious: The last time Oregon visited the Coliseum was 2012.

The Not So Obvious: Current Trojans starting offensive tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler and coaches Clay Helton, Tee Martin, and John Baxter were all part of the Trojans back in 2012.

The Obvious: Get a good look at Oregon because you won’t be seeing them for a while during future Pac-12 Conference play.

The Not So Obvious: Due to Pac-12 scheduling rotation, Oregon and Washington will be missing from future Trojans schedules until 2019. The Ducks and the Huskies will be replaced by Washington State and Oregon State.

The Obvious: The Trojans rarely play opponents outside of the United States.

The Not So Obvious: The only football game that the Trojans have played outside the U.S. occurred in 1985 against Oregon in the regular season finale “Mirage Bowl” in Tokyo, Japan. The Trojans defeated the Ducks, 20-6, as current USC inside linebacker Grant Moore’s father, Rex Moore, played in the game and recorded seven tackles. FYI, current Trojans radio analyst John Jackson was also a Trojans wide receiver on that team.

The Obvious: The month of November is considered “winning time” in the Trojans football program.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans overall record in November is 252-13-20 (.749).

The Obvious: The Trojans have no players from the state of Oregon.

The Not So Obvious: Oregon lists 35 players on its roster from California.

The Obvious: Oregon backup quarterback is Dakota Prukop started the 2016 season.

The Not So Obvious: Prukop’s father, Tim, was a Trojans graduate assistant coach in 1994 and 1995 after serving as Troy’s video coordinator in 1993, while his grandfather, Al Prukop, was a USC quarterback and defensive back from 1958 to 1960.

The Obvious: And finally, Saturday will be Homecoming on the Trojans campus.

The Not So Obvious: Homecoming means the campus will be alive. With a 4 p.m. kickoff, there will be plenty of time to enjoy a near full day on campus. And don’t forget when hearing cannon blasts and fireworks originating from the Coliseum, it signals both a 60-minute and 30-minute reminder of the kickoff countdown. Also, don’t also forget about the new clear “bag policy” entering the Coliseum security checkpoints. Give yourself enough time to go through all the “security hoops” and enjoy the game.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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