Friday, November 18, 2011
5 things to watch: USC-Oregon
By Pedro Moura
1. The implications: As is the case with most late-season contests between top-25 teams, Saturday's USC-Oregon will have quite a few long-lasting after-effects. If the Ducks do win, as they are expected to, they'll put themselves in a serious conversation for the national championship game with only a game against lowly Oregon State. If they lose, it'll be a role reversal of epic proportions as the Trojans turn the tables on the Ducks and do what teams tried to do to them for so many years: ruin their BCS bowl aspirations. And, for USC, a win over Oregon coupled with a season-ending win over UCLA just about ensures that the Trojans will finish the season in the national top 10 -- really a remarkable accomplishment considering all the circumstances surrounding USC's 2011 season.
2. USC's No. 1 receiver: USC pass-catcher Robert Woods isn't fully healthy -- that much we know for sure. But what we'll see on the field Saturday is exactly how healthy he really is, and whether he can actually help the Trojans upset Oregon at Autzen Stadium. Lane Kiffin says he's 70 percent recovered from ankle and shoulder injuries that have bothered him, in one form or another, all season long, but Woods insists he's further along. Last week's game against Washington, when he had just two catches for five yards, indicated he wasn't feeling too great. Also, a corollary to this item: If Woods can't go or can't be at full strength, is there any possible way USC can still compete? Brice Butler would be the next in line to line up across from Marqise Lee, and he has had some success of late.
3. The conditions and the crowd: The snow some projected for this weekend in Eugene has been pushed back to Sunday, but, even now, Weather.com projects a 50 percent chance of rain on Saturday and a high of 45 degrees. USC's had to play in some tough places this year -- windy Tempe, loud and cold South Bend and new Boulder -- but Autzen is likely to take the cake. In the Trojans' final road game of the year, expect 60,000 Duck fans to create by far the loudest experience yet of the 2011 season. Autzen only fits 54 thousand in seats, but Oregon filled it up well past its capacity last month against Arizona State, and it's likely the Ducks will do the same Saturday.
4. De'Anthony, Darron, Kenjon and LaMichael: Oregon has so many weapons. Any one of those four guys -- plus receiver Lavasier Tunei, really -- could be many teams' No. 1 offensive options. The Ducks have all of them, and Chip Kelly is sure to make good use of all his available players on the offensive end. LaMichael James, of course, is probably the biggest cause for concern from USC's perspective, but, as Kiffin said this week, the Trojans have to approach all of the Oregon runners in the same manner. They can't key in on James, because then De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner will go off. They can't key in on Thomas, because it's impossible to predict how he'll be used each week. And Thomas continues to quietly post solid numbers -- he has thrown fewer interceptions than both Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck this season.
5. The fourth quarter: All season, USC has talked up its supposed improvements in the final 15 minutes of games. We have seen signs of small improvements over the course of the year, but we've yet to see real, tangible evidence that the Trojans have fixed all that has ailed them in the past. As the fourth quarter began last season during the USC-Oregon game at the Coliseum, the Trojans were driving past midfield and on the verge of scoring a touchdown to put themselves within a field goal of the Ducks. Then they turned it over on downs and gave Oregon an easy field goal, and then, within another touchdown of making it a one-score game, Barkley was picked off by John Boyett in the red zone. Three minutes later, it was game and the final score (53-32) made it looked like Oregon had dominated the entire game. In reality, the Trojans weren't far away from making it very, very competitive.