Friday, July 29, 2011
First, first look: Oregon
By Pedro Moura
As the weeks count down until USC football fall camp begins on Aug. 4, we've been offering up an early first look at the 12 scheduled opponents for the 2011 season, in chronological order. We began back in May with Minnesota, Utah and Syracuse, continued the next three weeks with Arizona State, Arizona, and Cal and added Notre Dame, Stanford, Colorado and Washington recently. We now present Oregon, who the Trojans will play on the road on Saturday, Nov. 19:
History: Oregon has won seven of the last 11 games played between the schools, a period of dominance unmatched in the Ducks' history against the Trojans.
All-time, USC still leads the series 37-18-2. This is a matchup of, at this point, teams on opposite trajectories. Oregon is on the way up; USC is on the way down. Look at the last two head-to-head matchups -- Oregon 47, USC 20 and Oregon 53, USC 32 -- for evidence of that.
Of course, a game like this can help reverse things.
An interesting note about the schools' recent histories: Of the last seven Oregon-USC games, only one has been decided by 10 points or fewer -- and none by less than a touchdown. Five of the last six have also been won by the better-ranked team entering into the game.
Offense: Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are the stars, at quarterback and running back, respectively.
Thomas, a redshirt junior who played his first year and sat out his second, is a true talent who had a very, very good season as a first-year starter in 2010. Coach Chip Kelly didn't ask him to do too much, and he didn't try to. His touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio was a healthy 30-to-9, and he was 17th nationally in passing efficiency. There's also, of course, his running ability -- he carried the ball 93 times for 486 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Oregon's running back corps is probably the best in the nation. James, also a redshirt junior, was a unanimous first-team All-American last season with more than 1700 yards rushing. Then there's Kenjon Barner, a dynamite returner who quietly accumulated 551 yards on the ground as a backup last year. The Ducks also add redshirt freshman Lache Seastrunk and true freshman DeAnthony Thomas into the mix, both five-star prospects out of high school who USC recruited heavily.
Oh, and then there's senior tight end David Paulson, an all-conference first-team pick. He was the Ducks' representative at Pac-12 media day last week.
But, hey, their two top receivers and three starting offensive linemen are gone, so it's not all a nightmare. Oregon will need production from junior college transfer receivers Lavasier Tuinei and Rahsaan Vaughn, plus sophomore Josh Huff, who had a 57-yard catch against the Trojans last season.
Defense: This team's weakness might be its defensive line. Coordinator Nick Aliotti doesn't have a big-time prospect slated to start anywhere on his line -- the closest thing to it is sophomore tackle Ricky Heimuli -- and the only returning starter is senior defensive end Terrell Turner, a local kid from Crenshaw High who played linebacker as a prep and earned most improved for the Ducks in 2010.
At linebacker, Oregon loses Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger and returns only Josh Kaddu. It looks as if the Ducks might start a true freshman, Anthony Wallace, at middle linebacker.
Cliff Harris, a high school teammate of T.J. McDonald's at Fresno Edison, is the big name in the Oregon secondary. But he's suspended indefinitely for a high-profile June arrest and, although it likely won't keep him out of the USC game, it could affect his progress as he's currently not allowed to participate in team activities while the matter waits to be resolved.
Safety John Boyett, a junior, is a potential All-American who had five interceptions last season. Senior rover Eddie Pleasant is in his second year at the spot now.
Special teams/special circumstances: This game stands right in the middle of a brutal four-game stretch for the Ducks in November, back-to-back road games against Washington and Stanford followed by this matchup with the Trojans and then a Civil War contest against Oregon State.
On the field, junior kicker Rob Beard has a year of experience and missed just four total kicks last season; junior punter Jackson Rice has two years' worth of experience and ranks seventh on Oregon's all-time list of yards-per-punt average.
The return game is another Oregon strength, Harris and Barner combining to run back five punts for touchdowns in 2010. And Huff, the young receiver, is also a talented kick returner.
The Ducks' Tom Osborne was one of four candidates for special teams coordinator of the year last season.
That's it for this week. Our final first look, at UCLA, comes next Wednesday, the day before 2011 fall camp kicks off for the Trojans.