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Saturday, October 30, 2010
Can USC find a second wind?

By Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- This one might be about big chunks of yards.

Oregon's offense -- and most particularly running back LaMichael James -- thrive on fast-paced drives fueled by big plays. And USC's defense has given up yards in large chunks this year.

James leads the nation with 32 runs of more than 20 yards over the past two seasons. That's a big reason that Oregon has 10 TD drives of 70-plus yards this year that took less than two minutes.

Meanwhile, USC’s defense has given up 114 plays of 10 yards or more this season. USC opponents are averaging a 10-yard gain on almost a quarter of all plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information, a percentage that ranks it beside bottom-feeders like Colorado, Washington State and Minnesota.

So the first order of business for USC's defense is to stop the James and the Duck from piling up big plays.

The second order is to find a second wind in the second half.

The Trojans aren't deep. So far this season, they haven't rotated in many guys -- unlike Oregon, they rely heavily on their starters. And there have been times when the Trojans have seemed tired.

Oregon might be the best second-half team in the country. It's outscoring foes 156-23 after the break. It's reasonable to believe opponents wear down late due to the Ducks' pace of play.

Will USC?

Or might USC counter by holding onto the ball, grinding down on a fast, but undersized Ducks defense with a power running game, and then having Matt Barkley go over the top to Robert Woods and and Ronald Johnson?

Sure, these are not the dominant Trojans of 2002-2008. They are 4-4 in their past eight Pac-10 games -- after winning 55 of 63.

But if the defense can maintain a high level of play for four quarters, the Trojans' potent, balanced offense has the fire-power to win a shootout.

At this point, "Road Block Saturday" hasn't been good to unbeatens. Can the Ducks manage to thrive on the road and continue their pursuit of the school's first national championship?