Execution, not anger will redeem USC vs. Oregon

October, 2, 2008
10/02/08
7:50
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The general consensus is that USC is angry and the Oregon Ducks, to paraphrase Bruce Banner, aren't going to like the Trojans when they are angry.

That's the run-up to Saturday's clash in the L.A. Coliseum: Exit Dr. Banner (the USC team that looked woeful at Oregon State last Thursday) and enter an angry green -- make that Cardinal and Gold -- Hulk (the Trojans who've spent a long week-plus hearing a nation crow about their embarrassing loss).

"I don't know if they are angry but they are going to be ready," said an unusually terse Pete Carroll.

USC defensive end Kyle Moore is typically a go-to guy for reporters who regularly cover USC. He's smart and outgoing but, most important, he's good for a colorful quote. But not this week. Moore's colorful personality turned beige when asked what happened to USC's defense against the Beavers.

"We're past that game," he said. "We can't go back and replay it."

True. But is he bothered by how the national media pounded the Trojans after they lost?

"People can jump on whatever bandwagon they want," Moore said. "One week they love us. One week they hate us."

So, sure, there's some "grrrr" there.

Of course, Oregon faced a similar situation last year when it was headed to Michigan, which was supposed to be beside itself after it lost at home to Appalachian State, an FCS school, and subsequently got pilloried as victims of one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

All the Ducks did in Ann Arbor, though, was roll up 624 yards of offense and deliver one of the worst whippings the Wolverines had ever taken, 39-7.

Therefore, pardon Oregon coach Mike Bellotti for finding the "anger" angle a little amusing. "It was going to be a challenging game anyway," he noted.

That's because, as Mel Kiper said today on "SportsCenter," USC is still the nation's most talented team. USC figures to be more focused than last week: Yes. USC figures to feed off of 93,000 fans expecting the now-ninth-ranked Trojans to make a statement at Oregon's expense: Yes.

But USC is going to have to execute on both sides of the ball -- not just foam at the mouth -- to beat a talented Ducks squad, one that also has recently tasted Trojans blood (see a 24-17 win in Eugene in 2007).

The first step for USC is shoring up a run defense that was as feckless against the Beavers as it has been during the Carroll Era.

"We didn't play very well at the line of scrimmage," Carroll said. "They blocked us. And, coupled with some sloppy tackling, that got them enough consistency that they could control the ball. We weren't making first downs on the other side, and it all kind of fit together."

Oregon is not the ideal opponent to face when a defense is trying to rebuild against the run. The Ducks rank fourth in the nation with 309 yards rushing per game.

Of course, the Ducks spread-option offense is significantly different than the Beavers pro-style attack, particularly the blocking schemes. That doesn't mean, however, that Bellotti didn't raise an eyebrow while watching film of true freshman Jacquizz Rodgers gashing the Trojans.

"Obviously we're looking at that as a blueprint for success but we don't do that blocking scheme," he said, suggesting there was a lot to learn from how the Beavers created space for Rodgers.

USC will be operating its defense without All-American middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who sprained his knee at Oregon State. Lineup changes won't only be due to injuries, though. Their performance against the Beavers earned defensive endEverson Griffen and nose tackle Averell Spicer demotions. They will be replaced by Clay Matthews and Christian Tupou.

The Trojans offense also will need to bounce back, and it will be interesting to see how the rotation at tailback changes after Joe McKnight fumbled and was generally ineffective against the Beavers.

The Ducks defense gangs up against the run and tries to force foes to pass, expecting one of the nation's best secondaries to pounce on mistakes. Half of that plan worked in their lone defeat. Boise State only rushed for 38 yards, but Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore feasted, passing for 386 yards and three touchdowns.

When they are at their best, the Trojans are all about balance on offense, but quarterback Mark Sanchez and his receivers will have to sync up better than they did in Corvallis to punish the Ducks.

If the Trojans do take out their frustrations on the Ducks, they may make a resonating statement to pollsters that it's premature to count the House of Troy out of the national title race just yet. Not that Carroll is interested in talking about rankings or big picture stuff like that.

"The ranking don't figure into anything that counts until the end of the season," he said. "That's how we talk about it and deal with it."

What counts for Carroll and the Trojans is turning that frown upside down at the Ducks expense.

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