Appearing to have moved past last weekend’s loss to Arizona, and focused on the task at hand -- the Oregon Ducks -- the Trojans hit Brian Kennedy/Howard Jones Field on Wednesday in full pads for an energetic practice that USC coach Lane Kiffin seemed pleased with.
“I thought it was a really good practice,” Kiffin said. “I thought guys were very spirited, very up-tempo. We came back from yesterday’s practice, came back this morning, and I thought they prepared really well and had a good day.”
With a couple of days of work under his team’s belt this week, Kiffin is well aware of the daunting challenge the Trojans are presented with in going up against the No. 4-ranked Ducks, but he believes his team is up to the task.
“This is the best team in the country coming in -- one that has really blown everybody out by halftime,” Kiffin said. “So we have to be ready, and I think our players are.”
USC defense to be tested
Averaging 540.1 total yards per game and a nation's-best 53.4 points per game, Oregon has rolled through its competition in 2012 thanks to the team’s highly efficient no-huddle, spread offense.
No team has been able to slow the Ducks’ prolific attack, but the Trojans did have some luck last year – at least for a portion of the game – and ultimately held on to a 38-35 victory. In order for that to happen again, Kiffin will need a repeat performance out of his defense.
“You’re going to have to make those tackles in space,” Kiffin said. “We did a really good job through three quarters last year of doing that. We saw a lot of plays get outside on our perimeter, and then our outside ‘backers and our DBs made a lot of really good tackles.”
One other key will be the play of the Trojans’ front seven, and specifically, whether or not it can apply pressure to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. But that’s easier said than done. The Ducks have only given up 10 sacks on the season, primarily due to the fact the offense doesn’t call for Mariota to hold on to the ball for very long.
“They try to get rid of the ball really quick, not a lot of play action, balls [are] out on the perimeter, and so it is hard to sack [him],” Kiffin said. “But even if you’re not sacking [him], you have to get there to create errant throws.”
Oregon defense no slouch
The Oregon offense usually steals all of the headlines, and for good reason, but as Kiffin noted, the Ducks’ defensive unit deserves its fair share of credit. Often overshadowed by the gaudy numbers the offense puts up, the defense has quietly allowed its opponents to compile an average of just 4.6 yards per play -- a crucial statistic in Kiffin’s mind.
“I think it gets lost in the numbers,” Kiffin said of Oregon’s defense. “I think the most important -- when you look at stats – is average per play, because some defenses get put out there a lot more than others, and theirs does because they score so fast. You start looking at average per play, and they’re one of the better ones in the country, and if they had a slower tempo offense you’d see a lot better stats.”
On Tuesday, USC wide receiver Robert Woods said that many of the personal-foul penalties the team has been racking up have been due to temporary mental lapses caused by too much “pride.” It’s something the USC coaching staff has addressed.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on it,” Kiffin said on Wednesday. “It’s not a street fight, it’s a game -- there are rules within it. A lot of them have the mentality where they’re trying to protect their brother and, unfortunately, that’s cost us in a lot of these situations -- where we get retaliation off of something that happened to somebody else. And like what usually happens in football, the second person gets caught.”
Tall task at left tackle
Kiffin didn’t reveal who would get the starting nod at left tackle between Max Tuerk and Aundrey Walker against the Ducks, but he did say that whoever it is, he's going to have a stiff challenge on his hands going up against a talented pair of defensive ends in Dion Jordan and Taylor Hart.
“We feel really confident with both guys,” Kiffin said. “As we talked about, Max played really well last week. This would be much more of a test this week with their ability to rush with their two ends, especially with [Dion] Jordan on third downs. So whoever is out there is going to be tested a lot more than they have been the last two weeks.”