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USC vs. Oregon: This Pac-10 football matchup has twists

Trojans' home-field advantage is only one of the key issues in game against the Ducks.

October 29, 2010|By Gary Klein

USC, long the giant of the Pacific 10 Conference, is hoping to play spoiler against an Oregon team that not only is the defending conference champion but has designs on a Bowl Championship Series title. This is the first time since 1988 that the Trojans have hosted a No. 1-ranked opponent. Notre Dame won that game and went on to win the national title. Staff writer Gary Klein looks at the game's key issues and matchups:

Turf differential

Much has been made of Oregon's team speed and the breakneck pace with which the Ducks run Coach Chip Kelly's spread-option offense. But USC, which this week indulged in live tackling drills for the first time since training camp, hopes that Oregon continues a trend of being more slow-footed on the road, especially on grass.

Consider:

•The Ducks have averaged 63 points and 649 yards in four home games, 44 and 463 yards in three outside Autzen Stadium.

•In five games on artificial surfaces, including one at Washington State, the Ducks have averaged 59 points and 630 yards. In two games on grass, at Tennessee and Arizona State, the averages drop to 45 and 416.

•The Ducks have averaged 389 yards rushing at home, 201 on the road. They have averaged 358 yards a game on artificial surfaces, 185 on grass.

And the forecast calls for rain Saturday morning.

In control

USC quarterback Matt Barkley has never played better.

The sophomore, ranked sixth nationally in passing efficiency, has passed for 20 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Twice he passed for five touchdowns, matching a single-game school record. His favorite target of late has been freshman receiver Robert Woods, who had 19 receptions for 340 yards and five touchdowns in the last two games.

Wasn't Oregon supposed to take a step back with the departure of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli? It sure hasn't turned out that way. Sophomore Darron Thomas plays with urgency and, dare we say it, looks even better than Dennis Dixon, who had the Ducks on their way to the BCS title game in 2007 before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Thomas has passed for 17 touchdowns, with five interceptions. He also averages 38 yards rushing a game.

On the run

Oregon's LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing, averaging 162 yards a game. He is third in all-purpose yardage, averaging 182 yards.

Nearly all the members of USC's tailback corps were sidelined during off-week practices. But junior Marc Tyler, senior Allen Bradford and freshman Dillon Baxter should be ready for the Ducks. Senior C.J. Gable, who also returns kickoffs, is trying to come back from a bone bruise in his knee.

Against California, Tyler looked faster and quicker than at any time in his career. The former Westlake Village Oaks Christian star has been especially productive out of the wildcat formation.

In defense

USC's defense, much-maligned earlier, dominated Cal in its best performance of the season. USC should be bolstered further by the return of end Wes Horton and linebacker Malcolm Smith.

But unlike Cal quarterback Kevin Riley, Thomas is no sitting duck. So the Trojans, who rank 112th nationally against the pass and 39th against the run, have their work cut out.

Oregon's defense has given up only 23 points in the second half and seven in the fourth quarter. The Ducks also have caused a nation-leading 25 turnovers.

Linebacker Casey Matthews, brother of former Trojans standout Clay Matthews, has intercepted three passes. Defensive tackle Brandon Bair has 13 tackles for losses, end Kenny Rowe four sacks.

Special teams

Cliff Harris, who leads Oregon with four interceptions, also has returned three punts for touchdowns.

Ducks kicker Rob Beard has made all six of his field-goal attempts. Jackson Rice averages 42.5 yards a punt.

For USC, Joe Houston has made four of eight field-goal attempts and Jake Harfman has averaged 41.3 yards a punt.

gary.klein@latimes.com

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