- Garry Paskwietz, Publisher, WeAreSC.com
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LOS ANGELES -- It's no secret that any defense looking to slow down the Oregon offense is going to have to rotate in fresh bodies throughout the game.
The Ducks keep a frenetic pace that requires equal parts mental and physical stamina defensively. It's a style of play that can be wearing on a defender because of the quick pace of the offense and the lack of time between plays.
The Ducks get set at the line as soon as they can after a play is over, helping prevent the defense from making substitutions. It's not that the Ducks don't substitute, they just have the benefit of knowing which players are going in so those players are set and ready to go, similar to a line shift in hockey. On the other hand, a tired defender may not always have time to get off the field when he needs to, and that's usually when the Ducks strike.
The quick set at the line also forces the defense to get set right away, causing its own set of problems. As soon as a play is done, the defender needs to get back in his spot and quickly keep an eye out for the play call. As the game goes on and fatigue sets in, it's harder to focus on those tasks in a short amount of time. This becomes especially important late in the game, when 11 tired bodies need to be on the same page for each play.
This is where USC middle linebacker Lamar Dawson will have a challenge. Not only will this be the toughest physical test for the true freshman starter, but he is also the one responsible for making the play calls for the defense. The coaches obviously feel he is up for it, but don't be surprised to see senior Chris Galippo get plenty of action to help keep things settled.
USC has the benefit of solid depth at linebacker for this game. In addition to Dawson and Galippo in the middle, Shane Horton and Tre Madden are more than capable of providing outside linebackers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey a break when needed. The Oregon offense puts a lot of strain on opposing linebackers with its speed and misdirection, but USC is one of the few teams that has the athletes to keep up.
Perhaps the biggest need for rotation will be along the defensive line, meaning the health of starters Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris is huge.
It would be ideal for the Trojans to offer a four-man rotation along the interior with Harris and George Uko at defensive tackle and Tupou and J.R. Tavai at nose guard. This would keep the players fresh and active for the all-important push up the middle to disrupt the timing of the offense. If the USC four-man rotation suddenly becomes a two-man rotation with the loss of the ailing seniors, that is not a recipe for success against the Ducks.
The defensive end spots should be a strength for the Trojans. The three-man rotation of Nick Perry, Wes Horton and Devon Kennard played their best game of the season last week against Washington. This is a veteran group and has been through the wars with the Ducks before, so you have to imagine it will be well-prepared for this one.
USC should be fine at safety too. T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling are the starters, with Drew McAllister and Marshall Jones backing them up. Demetrius Wright was injured this week, so it remains to be seen how much he would play, but McAllister and Jones are more than capable of providing good depth.
The situation at corner is not as clear. Nickell Robey is a warrior -- he'll play the whole game and the Trojans don't have to worry about him. Isiah Wiley has been playing well lately as the starter, but Tony Burnett has been picked on a lot lately with plenty of success. If Burnett is in the game, the Ducks will pick up on that. There aren't a lot of other obvious options right now for the Trojans, so this will definitely be a spot to watch.
The matchups between the Trojans and Ducks the last two years have followed a similar pattern, with USC starting strong but fading in the second half in large part due to the Ducks' offense simply overwhelming the Trojans defense. The USC coaches know this and they realize how important depth is for this game. Do they have enough? We'll find out on Saturday.
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Oregon's style and pace makes it necessary for every available USC defender to have a positive impact on Saturday.