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USC FOOTBALL

USC must beware when Ducks wing it

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's option running keys Oregon's high-scoring spread offense -- just one more thing for Trojans' beleaguered defense to worry about in their biggest game this season.

October 31, 2009|Gary Klein

USC, fifth in the Bowl Championship Series standings, looks to end a three-game losing streak in the state of Oregon. Oregon, 10th in the BCS, has won six straight games since losing its opener at Boise State. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the key issues and matchups:

Different styles

USC quarterback Matt Barkley's success at Ohio State, Notre Dame and California should prepare him well for the Pacific 10 Conference's noisiest stadium.

After a self-described "mediocre" performance against Oregon State, Barkley worked this week to improve his footwork and to throw the ball consistently strong.

Not that he is struggling.

Barkley, the Pac-10's top-rated passer, has completed 60% of his passes, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions in six starts.

Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli also has completed 60% of his attempts, with five touchdowns and two interceptions in six games. But the junior is more of a runner than a passer. He is the Ducks' second-leading rusher and has run for seven touchdowns.

"He's fearless," USC middle linebacker Chris Galippo said. "He's got enough speed to beat you; he'll take a hit and he's tough."

Ground control

Tailback Joe McKnight nursed a sore hamstring throughout the week, but he is expected to start for the Trojans.

The junior appears recovered from a hand injury that forced him to sit out much of the Oregon State game, a situation that allowed Allen Bradford to flourish.

Bradford, also a junior, rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

Bradford has averaged 7.4 yards a carry, McKnight 6.4.

Oregon remains without running back LeGarrette Blount, who was suspended after the Boise State game. But the Ducks' spread attack has thrived with LaMichael James.

The redshirt freshman has rushed for at least 152 yards three times and has scored six touchdowns.

Masoli averages 45.3 yards rushing a game.

Tight squeeze

Tight end Anthony McCoy, USC's second-leading receiver, will not play because of an ankle sprain suffered against Oregon State.

Third-year sophomore Rhett Ellison will start in his place and sophomore Blake Ayles also will play.

Oregon tight end Ed Dickson no doubt had wide eyes watching tape of Oregon State tight end Joe Halahuni running free in the Trojans secondary for nine receptions and 127 yards.

The 6-foot-5, 243-pound Dickson leads the Ducks with 27 receptions and has scored four of their six passing touchdowns.

Dickson reminds USC safety Taylor Mays of former Trojan Fred Davis, the 2007 Mackey Award winner as college football's top tight end.

"You see him in the open field and he looks like a receiver," Mays said of Dickson. "I know they're going to try and go to the tight end against us. We've got to fix that."

Defense-minded

USC is looking to reverse its recent trend of surrendering large chunks of second-half yardage and points.

The Ducks' run-oriented offense plays to the Trojans' strength, especially with tackle Christian Tupou set to rejoin the lineup.

USC averages nine tackles for losses, including a nation-leading 4.14 sacks.

Everson Griffen leads the conference with eight sacks and fellow end Nick Perry has seven.

Oregon end Kenny Rowe, who played at Long Beach Poly High, has seven sacks for a much-improved Ducks defense that has been thinned by injuries in the secondary.

Linebacker Casey Matthews, brother of former USC standout Clay Matthews, is the leading tackler.

Special notice

USC's Damian Williams has returned two punts for touchdowns, but the junior receiver is nursing a sore gluteus muscle that forced him to sit out parts of practice this week. Ronald Johnson will return kickoffs for the first time since returning from a broken collarbone.

Oregon is without Walter Thurmond III, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against California on Sept. 26. Kenjon Barner returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against UCLA. USC kicker Jordan Congdon has made eight of 10 field-goal attempts, none longer than 42 yards. Punter Jake Harfman averages 41.8 yards per kick.

Oregon's Morgan Flint has made six of eight field-goal attempts. His longest also is 42 yards. Punter Jackson Rice averages 40.2 yards a kick.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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