The Ducks improved to 7-0 last week with a 60-13 thrashing of UCLA. Because that game took place on Thursday, the team has had a couple of extra days to prepare for this week's matchup, although USC is coming off an open date. The Ducks own their first No. 1 ranking in school history, and all seven of their wins have come by double figures.
"I have a lot of respect for them," said Oregon coach Chip Kelly of USC. "I checked on them last week and it was 42-0 in the 2nd quarter. It's a good football team."
Speaking of USC, its only two losses to date have come on last-second field goals. The Trojans are 5-2 overall and crushed Cal by a 48-14 final last time out. Lane Kiffin is in his first season as the leader of a program which has certainly endured its share of off-the-field distractions.
"I'm very pleased by the way our players came out today," said Kiffin after the Cal win. "For the first time, we played in exactly the style we wanted to play in."
USC owns a 37-12-1 series lead over Oregon, but the Ducks have won two of the last three meetings.
Oregon possesses a legitimate candidate for the Heisman Trophy in tailback LaMichael James, who has rushed for 971 yards and 11 touchdowns. James is suffering from a minor leg injury, but that won't keep him out of action against USC. Darron Thomas is the quarterback of the Ducks, and while he is often overshadowed by James, the signal caller has had a banner campaign. Thomas has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,539 yards with 17 touchdowns against only five interceptions. Jeff Maehl is the top receiver for Oregon, as he has made 39 grabs for 530 yards and six scores. The Ducks are racking up 55.1 ppg and 569.1 total ypg.
The Ducks amassed 582 total yards and 32 first downs en route to eight offensive touchdowns against UCLA last week. James ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while Thomas completed 23-of-31 passes for 308 yards and three scores. Maehl made eight catches for 107 yards and a score, while Remene Alston rushed for three touchdowns on just eight carries.
"Darren was really distributing the ball all over the place," said Kelly of his quarterback. "When we have receivers and Darren clicking like that, we are hard to stop."
Defensively, Oregon is limiting opponents to 15.9 ppg and 331.6 total ypg. The Ducks have been tough against the run, yielding a mere 3.4 yards per carry. They have been equally impressive against the pass, especially considering that they have already intercepted 13 balls. The 25 takeaways mustered by Oregon to date has been key to the team's success, and 19 sacks have helped the cause as well.
Oregon limited UCLA to 290 total yards and came up with three takeaways in that game. The Ducks were extremely tough against the run, holding the Bruins to 2.8 yards per rushing attempt. The pass defense was solid as well, yielding a lowly 6.9 yards per completion.
The USC offense figures to pose a much stiffer test than did UCLA. The Trojans are averaging 37.4 ppg and 494.0 total ypg, and Matt Barkley has quietly had a sensational season. Barkley has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,869 yards and 20 touchdowns against four interceptions. Ronald Johnson leads the team with 39 catches and seven touchdowns, while Robert Woods is tops with 515 receiving yards. Allen Bradford paces the Trojan tailbacks with 560 yards and four scores.
In the romp over Cal two weeks ago, USC rolled up 32 first downs en route to 602 total yards. Barkley was nothing short of spectacular, passing for 352 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions. Woods made seven catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns, and Johnson reached the end zone twice as well.
On the defensive side of the ball, USC is yielding 24.3 ppg and 402.4 total ypg. Of the 21 touchdowns that the Trojans have allowed to opposing offenses, 15 have been passing scores. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging 13.2 yards per pass completion and 274.0 yards per game through the air against USC, which has come up with eight interceptions. Foes are moving the chains on 43 percent of their third down conversion attempts, a figure that needs to improve. T.J. McDonald leads USC with 49 total tackles and three interceptions.
USC permitted just 245 yards to Cal last time out, including only 52 rushing yards on 20 attempts. The Trojans intercepted two passes and limited the Golden Bears to 23:53 of possession time,
"It's really frustrating to be talked down," said USC defensive lineman Jurell Casey, on responding to the criticism directed toward the defense. "Every week we've tried to brush it off and play the game we know we can play. Today I think we played that game. The key things were to wrap up and tackle, and I think everyone was on the same page today."
There is no doubt that USC has the talent to beat Oregon, but expect Kelly to out-coach Kiffin, leading the Ducks to a narrow and thrilling victory. Both Thomas and James will shine under pressure.