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Fight Or Flight

Trojans are backed into a Pac-10 corner after loss at Oregon State, making game against Ducks a must-win

October 04, 2008

Coming off an upset loss at Oregon State, ninth-ranked USC gets a chance to win back some national respect against what is, for now, the only ranked team left on its schedule. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the key issues and matchups when USC plays the Ducks in a game that could jump-start the Trojans or leave them looking at an 0-2 start in the Pacific 10 Conference for the first time since 2001:

On the line

USC's offensive and defensive lines are seeking to regain some respect after each was manhandled by Oregon State.

Alex Parsons will start at right guard in place of injured Zack Heberer, joining a group that must protect quarterback Mark Sanchez from an Oregon front that features ends Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu, who lead the Pac-10 with five sacks each.

USC's Clay Matthews will start for the first time at defensive end and nose tackle Christian Tupou makes his first career start for the Trojans, who expect the Ducks to follow the lead of Oregon State and test them right up the middle.

Rush to judgment

After allowing 5-foot-7, 180-pound Jacquizz Rodgers to dart and spin through them for 186 yards rushing last week, USC faces 6-2, 240-pound LeGarrette Blount and 5-10, 200-pound Jeremiah Johnson.

Blount, a junior-college transfer, is the conference's fourth-leading rusher, averaging 96 yards a game. Johnson, who played at Dorsey High, ranks fifth, averaging 88. The duo has combined for 14 touchdowns.

USC junior Stafon Johnson (no relation), also a Dorsey High product, is expected to get more carries than in games past after averaging nearly seven yards a carry against Oregon State. Sophomore C.J. Gable averaged more than six yards a carry against the Beavers. Joe McKnight remains in the game plan and Allen Bradford could be given a larger role.

Maualuga missing

As poorly as USC's defensive line played against Oregon State, the linebackers were not much better, missing numerous tackles. Now, the Trojans face one of college football's most prolific spread offenses without middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who suffered a sprained knee last week.

Brian Cushing moves from the strong side to the middle and will try to wrangle Blount and Johnson despite a broken bone in his right hand. Third-year sophomore Michael Morgan, starting for the first time, fills Cushing's spot. Kaluka Maiava remains on the weak side.

Oregon's linebacker corps includes local products Jerome Boyd from Dorsey and Spencer Paysinger from Beverly Hills. Casey Matthews, formerly of Westlake Village Oaks Christian and the younger brother of USC's Clay Matthews, will rotate in at middle linebacker.

Northern exposure

USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has passed for 10 touchdowns with three interceptions this season, is searching for his first win over an Oregon school. And he wouldn't mind if it took a fourth-quarter drive to get it.

Last year, Sanchez led a Trojans comeback at Eugene, Ore., only to throw a fourth-quarter interception that sealed a 24-17 Ducks victory and knocked the Trojans out of the national title hunt.

Last week at Corvallis, Ore., a fourth-quarter interception of a Sanchez pass set up what proved to be the decisive touchdown in Oregon State's 27-21 victory. Third-stringer Jeremiah Masoli is expected to start at quarterback for the Ducks. Masoli completed nine of 16 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns last week against Washington State.

Better late . . .

Traffic could be a problem because of the USC-Oregon game at the Coliseum, a music event at the Shrine Auditorium, the Dodgers-Cubs playoff game at Dodger Stadium and a Neil Diamond concert at Staples Center. Oh, and UCLA plays Washington State at the Rose Bowl.

Don't worry, it might not get interesting at the Coliseum until the third quarter. Oregon has outscored opponents, 124-36, in the second half. USC has outscored opponents, 63-6.

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By the numbers

*--* USC CATEGORY O 36.0 Scoring 47.4 12.3 Scoring defense 22.2 250.3 Passing offense 223.0 156.0 Rushing offense 308.6 406.3 Total offense 531.6 152.7 Passing defense 230.0 93.0 Rushing defense 100.2 245.7 Total defense 330.2 *--*

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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No. 9 USC (2-1, 0-1) VS.

No. 23 Oregon (4-1, 2-0)

Tonight at the Coliseum, 5, Channel 7

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