Stopping Oregon running back LaMichael James will be a top priority for… (Tony Avelar / Associated…)
USC players and coaches have talked for nearly two months about the Trojans' improved defense and tackling.
The ultimate test comes Saturday, when No. 18 USC tries to slow down No. 4 Oregon's high-speed, high-scoring offense.
The Ducks average 46.7 points and 498.3 yards per game. Running back LaMichael James has rushed for a nation-leading 150.8 yards a game.
USC gives up 100.4 yards rushing, which ranks eighth nationally.
"We've shown we can stop the run all year," end Devon Kennard said Wednesday. "So we've got to go out and do what we do."
The Trojans will not be at full strength against the Ducks.
Senior defensive tackles DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou remain limited because of ankle and knee injuries, respectively. Tupou will play; Harris is questionable.
Redshirt freshman George Uko is expected to start in Harris' place for the second consecutive game.
A strong, physical defensive front was a key for Auburn in last season's Bowl Championship Series title-game victory over Oregon, and for top-ranked Louisiana State in its season-opening win over the Ducks in September.
Ed Orgeron, USC's defensive line coach, said the Trojans should be fine as long as they tackle.
"They're going to make some plays, but where they hurt you is yards after contact," Orgeron said. "We're ready for the speed, but tackling in space is going to be important."
Monte Kiffin, USC's assistant head coach for defense, described the Ducks as "fast, fast and faster."
Last season, the Trojans couldn't slow Oregon in a 53-32 loss at the Coliseum.
Kiffin said familiarity with the Ducks' system isn't the only element that could help the Trojans achieve a different outcome Saturday.
"It's not just knowing them better — we know our team better," Kiffin said. "Our players have gotten better as the season went on and they've gotten a little tougher too."
Woods sits out
Receiver Robert Woods did not practice because of ankle and shoulder soreness, and Coach Lane Kiffin said the sophomore might not play against Oregon.
That seems highly unlikely given Woods' toughness and the adverse effect it would have on USC's offense.
"He's going in the wrong direction … he's not getting better," Kiffin said.
Oregon Coach Chip Kelly was unmoved.
"He's playing, I can tell you that right now," Kelly told reporters in Oregon. "I love that kid. He's a competitor."
Tyler on TMZ
Tailback Marc Tyler's latest appearance on TMZ.com was viewed more favorably by USC than his last.
In July, Tyler made remarks on camera that were deemed inappropriate by the school and triggered a suspension by Kiffin.
This week, Tyler appeared again in a video, saying the website helped him change by becoming sober and more conscious of what he says and does.
"I want to thank TMZ for helping me out," Tyler said in the video.
Lane Kiffin said he had watched Tyler's latest appearance and had no problem with it.
"I thought he handled himself in a first-class manner," Kiffin said. "He's still a kid and those situations are hard.
"I thought he handled himself very well. Now, people can say, 'Why is he on?' But he's not out there looking for it.... They find him; he doesn't find them."
Dillon Baxter, who last month was removed from the program by Kiffin, is considering transferring to San Diego State or Nevada Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. Baxter told reporter Mark Anderson that he was intrigued by the possibility of playing for UNLV and was "looking at it pretty seriously." Baxter also said he would prefer to play wide receiver.