When head coach Clay Helton addressed the media on Monday morning, USC was all-in on its preparations to face Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday evening. A few hours later, the Trojans did a 180 and shifted their full attention to Oregon, as the Ducks became the new title game opponent.
It was already an interesting week for USC, as the Trojans took on UCLA this past Saturday and the Pac-12 Championship Game is on Friday night, so for the second week in a row the Trojans will lose a day of preparation. That means USC practiced on Sunday, and it looked as though the Trojan coaches spent time focused on Washington that would prove to be useless.
USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said he devoted about 11 or 12 hours to Washington study, but it will be easy to make up for that lost time by sticking around the office for a few extra house this week. Orlando said the lost prep time was “not a big deal.” But he also laughed when recounting a story about switching to Oregon.
“This week itself has been strange, absolutely,” Orlando said. “We were kind of laughing about it yesterday because we got back into the room and started doing the Oregon stuff and we said, if they run this route concept, what do we do? And it’s actually a route concept from Washington that was still stuck in our brains from the morning. So we caught ourselves a couple of times talking about plays that we already had kind of in our head.”
Washington and Oregon do share some similarities in their desire to run the football, so USC will be tested up front. It will also be interesting to watch the battle between Orlando and Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, as the two were the offensive and defensive coordinators at UConn a decade ago. Orlando said there won’t be a lot that either will be able to use from so long ago, but that they do both have a better sense of the other’s philosophy from spending that time together.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been together, but you have certain types of philosophies, you have a certain way of doing stuff,” Orlando said. “He knows mine; I know his. He wants his guys to be physical and be able to establish the run game, take shots and things like that…Anytime you work with somebody, especially from a coordinator to coordinator, you get really close because you work with them every day setting things up for practices and things like that.”
Orlando said Oregon this year has been explosive offensively and praised Moorhead’s creativity.
“They can pace you. They look over to the sidelines. They can change plays,” Orlando said of the Ducks. “They utilize their personnel extremely well.”
Oregon is scoring 34 points per game and rushing for 189.2 yards per game this season, as three players — including quarterback Tyler Shough — have run for at least 250 yards this season. They also spread the ball around in the passing game, as four different receivers have at least 200 receiving yards and five have at least two touchdown catches.
Orlando said the defensive staff has leaned heavily on cornerbacks coach Donte Williams during the early preparation stages, as Williams coached at Oregon last season. Orlando used something similar earlier this season, but he relied on safeties coach Craig Naivar for information about Utah, as Naivar was the interim defensive coordinator for Texas at the end of last season, as the Longhorns beat up on the Utes in their bowl game.
“Having somebody that was in that building last year and really knows all the ins and outs of every kid, how they work, how they process, what kind of athlete they are, absolutely,” Orlando said of relying on Williams for information about Oregon. “That process started yesterday, the second we got the word.”
While Washington would have been a challenging opponent and USC would likely have wanted to avenge last season’s loss that came without quarterback Kedon Slovis on the field, getting Oregon is likely what a lot of these USC players would have wanted this matchup to be in the preseason. Safety Talanoa Hufanga, who came to USC out of Oregon, is especially looking forward to this game.
“I’m ecstatic,” Hufanga said of simply being in the Pac-12 Championship Game. “I think this is going to be super cool. I think it’s a great opportunity and a great experience just to go out there and compete.”
Hufanga said he has yet to play against either Oregon or Oregon State during his USC career.
“We’re playing against a great team and for me, it’s a team from my home state, so I know a bunch of guys on the team and I’m really excited to go against them,” he said. “I’ve been dreaming of his opportunity because I haven’t been able to play an Oregon team since I got to college. So any team I can get my hands on over there, it’s going to be fun.”
Hufanga is coming off a 17-tackle performance against UCLA, highlighted by a forced fumble and interception. He’ll need to be at the top of his game again if the Trojans are going to avenge last year’s lopsided loss to the Ducks.
“We just have to play our game as much as we can,” Hufanga said. “It’s a great team in Oregon, but at the same time we have to compete against ourselves the most. We have to be 1-0 on the week as coach preaches. And if we do those things, the outcome will be great.”