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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON PAC-10 FOOTBALL

USC-Oregon is the game to watch in conference -- for some

Pac-10 coaches are impressed with the Ducks' defense. But some have their own games to worry about.

October 28, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Pacific 10 Conference coaches can't wait for Saturday's marquee matchup, USC at Oregon, the game of the week in college football.

Well, some of them can't wait.

"I got enough to worry about," California Coach Jeff Tedford said Tuesday during the league's weekly coaches' conference call. "Before you said that, I didn't really know who was playing to tell you the truth."

Forgive Tedford for having amnesia about USC and Oregon. His Golden Bears lost to the Ducks and Trojans, on consecutive weekends, by a combined 72-3.

Washington is the only other Pac-10 team to have faced both, shocking USC, 16-13, last month in Seattle before losing last weekend to Oregon, 43-19.

Coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies have an open date Saturday, plans to take his kids trick-or-treating and then pick up USC-Oregon sometime before halftime.

"I'm a big college football fan, that's why I'm in this profession," Sarkisian said. "It's why we coach and why kids want to play."

Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh will be watching for a different reason. After an open date this week, his team faces Oregon and USC on consecutive weekends.

"I'll be dissecting and enjoying," Harbaugh said. " . . . We'll be watching live, and we'll be watching the tape."

What intrigues many coaches about Oregon this season is not its spread offense, but the shockingly stellar play of the Ducks' defense.

Oregon lost six starters, including four NFL draft picks -- Nick Reed, Ra'shon Harris, Jarius Byrd and Patrick Chung -- off a unit that last season finished with a national rank of No. 83.

This season, despite injuries in the secondary that included the loss of cornerback Walter Thurmond III for the year, the unit has been consistent and resilient, ranking No. 19 nationally in total and scoring defense.

The story some seasons is whether Oregon's offense can score enough points to off-set the defense, but thus far this has been the finest hour for longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

"They're pressuring a little more than they have in the past," Sarkisian said. "They're making teams drive down the field and not giving up yards in chunks."

It has been a group effort. Casey Matthews, who leads Oregon with 44 tackles, ranks only 16th among Pac-10 leaders. Oregon leads the conference in pass defense and ranks second behind USC in scoring defense, giving up 16.1 points agame.

"Nick Aliotti has done a great job moving around the front," said UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, whose offense was held without a touchdown in a 24-10 loss to Oregon.

"They're not just playing standing defense. They're moving a lot."

Tedford's team has rebounded to win two straight games since the lopsided losses to Oregon and USC.

Reminded of the big game, Tedford says he thinks Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli gives the Ducks an added dimension and that Oregon's defense is "probably a little underrated."

Of note

* Better get USC now . . . or in December. History suggests USC has only two possible losses left on its schedule: Saturday at Oregon (Oct. 31) and Dec. 5 against Arizona. Why? Pete Carroll USC teams are 27-0 in November.

* The Pac-10 and Southeastern conferences are battling for the title of nation's top conference. The SEC is No. 1 in four of the six Bowl Championship Series computers: Billingsley, Colley, Massey and Wolfe, and No. 2 in Sagarin and Anderson/Hester. The Pac-10 is No. 1 in Sagarin and Anderson/Hester and No. 2 in the other four.

* When told that, from afar, it was hard to tell which Arizona State team was going to show each week, Sun Devils Coach Dennis Erickson cracked, "Just think about if you're watching close."

* Oregon Coach Chip Kelly on USC's latest "thunder and lightning" backfield of Allen Bradford and Joe McKnight: "They've got thunder, lightning, hurricane, typhoon. You name a storm, they've got it; they've got so many running backs at that place."

* Washington State Coach Paul Wulff is guessing most fans attending this weekend's neutral-site game against Notre Dame in San Antonio will be rooting for the Irish: "I'm assuming that's what it's going to be and that's what we're expecting."

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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