The USC offense has scored 76 points of its last two games, and the Trojans will need to keep that up this weekend, as they welcome an Oregon Ducks team that ranks 24th in the nation in scoring, at 36 points per game.
And the Trojans will need to put those points up against a Ducks defense that ranks ninth overall in points allowed and 20th in total defense.
USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has been unwavering this season in his believe that any game comes down to the Trojans simply doing their job on that side of the ball, no matter the defense they’re facing. He was true to form following Tuesday’s practice.
“They do a good job, they fly around,” Harrell said of Oregon’s defense. “But we got to go do our job and that’s what it’s going to come down to.”
Harrell said it will be about taking care of the football for the Trojans. USC ranks 118th in the country in turnover margin, at -.75 per game, while Oregon is tied for third, led by a nation’s-best 14 interceptions.
“I’m sure our guys will be up for it and be excited because it is a pretty big game,” Harrell said. “But at the same time, if they just relax and play, we have a ton of confidence in our guys. So that’s been our message to them: ‘Just go be you,’ because that’s been enough every week.”
One of the bright spots for the offense last Friday was true freshman wide receiver Drake London. The Trojans field easily the best three-man wide receiver group in the conference, in Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. And while all three scored touchdowns against Colorado, London provided some of the game’s most pivotal plays, picking up first downs with tough yards after the catch, and making a difficult grab on a 2nd-and-20 play that resulted in a 19-yard gain with the game on the line.
“To be his size and have the kind of body control and ball skills that he has, they just don’t make people like that,” Harrell said of London. “But where he’s improved the most is just understanding the offense and understanding how to get open, and that just comes with reps.”
The throw from Slovis to London on that play late in the Colorado game is actually the third time that duo has seen that look in recent weeks. Harrell said they had that play against Notre Dame, but Slovis chose not to throw it. Harrell said he told Slovis to give that receiver, especially London in that situation, an opportunity to make a play against a linebacker trying to carry him up the seem with no vision on the ball. Slovis delivered on the play on USC’s final scoring drive against Arizona, but the one against Colorado came in a pressure-packed situation.
“I think that’s going to give them both a ton of confidence,” Harrell said.
After starting his USC career as an outside receiver, London was moved inside and quickly established himself. Harrell said he was a natural fit there, and that every day in this offense makes him one day more comfortable and confident.
“You can see his confidence. We’ve always seen the playmaking ability out here,” head coach Clay Helton said, adding that the few catches he made against Arizona set the tone for his performance against Colorado. “You could see a confidence click on.”
USC welcomed cornerback Chris Steele and defensive end Christian Rector back to practice on Tuesday. Both players sat out Friday’s game at Colorado. Helton said they would see if there were any setbacks with either player following practice. At this point, it would appear both would be on track to play against Oregon.
The rest of the injury list was tinged with some slight positivity, though nothing as solid as with Steele and Rector.
Safety Talanoa Hufanga wore a jersey and did not have a sling protecting his shoulder. Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote and defensive end Drake Jackson were not wearing their walking boots for their sprained ankles. Stephen Carr was not in pads. Munir McClain was in pads when he hit the field, but then joined the rest of this group in going through rehab/conditioning drills to the side of practice.
“We’re going to have to see, to be honest with you,” Helton said of any players who could return this weekend. “It was good to see them on the grass moving a little bit. That doesn’t mean they’re ready to go play a game, but it was good to see them out here.”
Linebacker Jordan Iosefa is still sidelined and not cleared. Cornerback Jayden Williams, linebacker Tuasivi Nomura, defensive end Jacob Lichtenstein and offensive lineman Clayton Bradley all sat out practice as well.
Helton said the plan at this point is to try to get Iosefa back for four games and then use his redshirt year and try to have him back next season. There appears to be no set plan on Nomura, who has played in four games thus far and would be unable to redshirt if he participates in another. Helton said that the fact that he isn’t cleared to practice makes that a conversation that hasn’t happened yet.
Helton said Lichtenstein will undergo surgery on both calves. He said the defensive linemen pulled both calves and the surgery will relieve pressure.
He also announced that wide receiver Munir McClain underwent successful surgery on his torn ACL.
Wide receiver Bru McCoy will not play this year, but there did seem to be some good news regarding him.
“He’s doing a great job academically, great job strength and conditioning,” Helton said. “He’ll be ready for spring.”
Fellow true freshman wide receiver Kyle Ford is no longer a part of these injury updates. Ford participated on special teams against Colorado and Helton said the plan is to get him involved in four games this season.
“We want to be able to get him those four games,” Helton said. “We’ll see where we’re at, but the plan is right now, as we have these bodies that are out. He’s an exceptional special teams body as well as a receiver — big, physical kid.”
Oregon is once again a thorn in the side of USC when it comes to recruiting, and the Ducks have won more than their share of battles against the Trojans on the trail in the 2019 and 2020 classes. Helton was asked after Tuesday’s practice about the importance of this game against Oregon from a recruiting perspective.
“I think every game is important when you play a Pac-12 team,” Helton said, pointing out the fertile recruiting ground that is Southern California.
Helton said that early in his tenure as USC coach, he looked at numbers that showed 123 Pac-12 players were signed from areas from Fresno to San Diego. Helton said USC can only sign 25 out of a group that constantly feeds the conference.
“Anytime you play a Pac-12 team, I think it’s important,” he said. “When you win Rose Bowls and you win Pac-12 titles, those are when you sign great players. If you look at all these great freshmen and sophomores that are playing right now, it’s not coincidence that they got signed right after that Rose Bowl year, right after that Pac-12 title. So yeah, obviously, each and every game is important.”