What are three things the Trojans need to do to beat the Ducks?
1. Play for themselves: This game isn’t about the fans in the stands or the players who came before them. This game is about this team and these players, a group who entered the season with high expectations but suddenly is on the brink of going in two very different directions depending on the outcome against the Ducks. The only ones who can go on the field and do something about it are the players, so they need to go out there and show how they want to be remembered.
2. Cut out the mistakes: This part is pretty simple and it encompasses penalties, turnovers, mental lapses and even coaching strategies. Do everything you can to avoid the errors that have mysteriously plagued this team all year, and if a play is there to be made, make it. And give yourselves every chance to win the game with sound decision-making from all parties.
3. Change the shoes: Earlier this year, I mentioned this facetiously, but this time it’s more serious. If there was ever a time to make a statement about returning to the foundation of USC football, it would be Saturday against the Ducks. Let Oregon win the flashy shoe battle, while the Trojans go back to the traditional black cleats that have been a classic part of the uniform for so many years.
1. Remember last year’s game: The Trojans need to take a long, hard look at last year’s game, both the first and second halves. The first half, which had the two-touchdown-underdog Trojans on top 21-7, was a near-flawless performance that featured a productive ground attack with precision passing strikes. Conversely, in the second half Trojans were outscored by the Ducks 28-17. A major USC coaching blunder that brought the Ducks back into the game was kicking to De’Anthony Thomas, who should NEVER touch the ball this Saturday on kickoffs or punt returns.
2. Control the clock: The Trojans need to control the ball, run the clock and score, either touchdowns or field goals. In this game, you’ll need all the points you can muster, so don’t let All-Pac-12 kicker Andre Heidari waste away on the bench. Keeping the Ducks offense off the field is a no-brainer. On defense, everybody must stay disciplined and tackle, tackle, tackle. Defensive-line penetration will be critical, and the secondary can’t give up the big pass play.
3. Play to the crowd: The Coliseum fans will be critical in this game. The USC faithful need to make Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota feel the full intensity of playing the storied Trojans in the Coliseum. And in order to do that ,the fans will need to bring it as much as the players. What shouldn’t happen is that Trojans’ fans scream their heads off and the team gets 13 penalties to take the fans out of it. If the Trojans have more than seven penalties, they are cooked. If they have five turnovers, they could be looking at 60 points for Oregon. Remember, as well as the Trojans played last year in Eugene, they won 38-35 on a missed Oregon field goal on the last play of the game.
1. Prevent big plays: The Oregon offense has made a habit of demoralizing its opponents with game-breaking plays. The Ducks have already accumulated 27 of what they refer to as explosion plays -- those of 25 yards or more. In order to limit these, the Trojans’ defenders needs to play disciplined, stick to their assignments and swarm to the ball, similar to what they did last year. They also need to keep tabs on the Ducks’ two most prolific home-run threats out of the backfield, De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner.
2. Contain Marcus Mariota: USC coach Lane Kiffin has talked all week about how talented and athletic Mariota is. Completing 68.6 percent of his throws, he’s an efficient passer to say the least, but where he can really hurt the Trojans is on the ground with his feet, especially when he’s on the run after plays break down. If USC is going to have a shot in this one, the defense needs to have a better performance against Mariota than it did against Matt Scott, the last mobile quarterback it faced. A strong pass rush by the front seven will be key, and the Trojans’ defensive players will need to stay in position and, once again, play disciplined football.
3. Win the turnover battle: With the Trojans facing another up-tempo offense, their ability to win the turnover battle will once again be of the utmost importance. With all of the weapons in its offensive arsenal, Oregon has the ability to light up the scoreboard in a hurry, but force a turnover here or there, and all of a sudden you’ve reduced the Ducks’ opportunities while allowing the defense to catch a breather at the same time. By the same token, the Trojans will need to do a much better job of taking care of the ball on offense than they did against Arizona.