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Storylines to watch: USC vs Oregon

  1. Freshmen QB’s: Each team has been re-energized by a freshman quarterback who has come in as a new starter and performed well. Sam Darnold, a redshirt freshman, has led the Trojans on a four-game win streak while throwing 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions in that span. Justin Herbert, a true freshman, has 10 touchdowns in the last two games, and led the Ducks to a win last week to snap a five-game losing streak. The advantage in this game would seem to favor Darnold, who will be facing an Oregon defense that is second-to-the-last in the nation in total defense, while Herbert will go against a USC defense that has been playing well lately.
  1. Getting more touches: The Trojans will likely be without tailbacks Justin Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware in this game as neither player practiced this week due to ankle injuries. With Oregon offering a similar low ranked defense to what USC saw last week against Cal (when the Trojans ran the ball 48 times for 398 yards) it figures the Trojans will look to run the ball plenty in this game as well. Ronald Jones would be the primary candidate to pick up the slack with extra carries, he had 18 last week and Helton talked about his ability to be an every down back. I don’t think it would be a major surprise if he approaches 25 carries. And Sam Darnold will likely get more carries too, his high number this year was 9 and he should bypass that against the Ducks. The third option is Dominic Davis and I think he can be a real wild card with his speed. Helton also mentioned the possibility of former walk-on James Toland getting some reps.
  1. Filling the slot: One player that Helton definitely ruled out for the game is slot corner Jonathan Lockett, who suffered a hip injury last week. Lockett had been playing well lately and his loss is a blow to the depth in the secondary when going against an offense that offers as many skill players as Oregon. We will see Leon McQuay (photo above) drop down from his safety spot with Chris Hawkins stepping up to the starting safety role alongside Marvell Tell. There really isn’t any drop off in experience with this line-up as these players have been on field together a lot this year, and Helton pointed out that McQuay lined up in the slot earlier in the season. Leon has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year with his play and he will be a key factor in this one.
  1. Kick return gems: For fans of the kickoff return this game will be fun to watch. First of all, there should be plenty of points put on the board, which means a lot of kickoffs, but the real excitement comes with the main return men for both teams, Adoree’ Jackson for USC and Charles Nelson for Oregon. Both are the career kickoff return leaders for their respective schools, and they both bring an explosive element when they have the ball in their hands.
  1. Weighted part of the test for Helton: The Trojans are on a four game win streak but when it comes to judging what that really means there are many fans asking if that success is a result of improved play or a string of lesser opponents. There has no doubt been progress in many areas as the season has gone along – and Clay Helton has to be given credit for that – but how his team plays in the upcoming four game stretch will end up being the most important factor in how his first full year as a head coach is judged.

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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