USC Trojans: Kenjon Barner

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 3

February, 25, 2013
Our countdown of the top 25 players in the 2012 season continues.

You can see the preseason top 25 here.

No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

2012 numbers: Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns. He also rushed 13 times for 106 yards. And returned a kickoff 100 yards for a TD.

Preseason ranking: No. 9

Making the case for Lee: It's pretty simple: Lee, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound true sophomore, was a unanimous All-American because he was the best receiver in the nation this season. Some might argue he was the best overall player in the nation. He ranked second in the nation in both receptions per game (9.08) and receiving yards per game (132.38). His 345 yards receiving at Arizona set a Pac-12 record and also were the fifth-most in FBS history. Lee produced three of the top four receiving games in the conference this year -- the Arizona performance, 197 yards versus Hawaii and 192 yards at Utah. Five times he went over 150 yards receiving. It wasn't like teams didn't know he was coming. He was a 1,000-yard receiver as a true freshman. Further, the Trojans other top receiving target, Robert Woods, was a unanimous All-American the year before. You'd think Lee would have had to share the ball more. Yet Lee was so difficult to stop, so tempting to target, that it's possible -- probable perhaps -- that the Trojans strangely inconsistent offense this year looked to Lee too often. That, however, isn't Lee's fault. Lee posted a spectacular season that wasn't appreciated enough because his team was so massively disappointing overall.

No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah
It appears that Jim Mora was very good for Datone Jones.

Jones, who belatedly broke through as a senior for the Bruins under Mora, earning second-team All-pac-12 honors, is having a great week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and his draft stock is surging, according to multiple reports.

First from ESPN's Todd McShay, Kevin Weidl, Steve Muench Insider:
UCLA's Datone Jones (6-4[, 280) had another good day. Talk about explosive upper body power -- this guy has it. He played hard and is a disciplined backside defender. He blew up a play on nine-on-seven with his quickness and ability to get inside. He also has the ability to work his hands and disengage when he's locked up in a tight situation.

He's had a good week. There's a buzz in the stands about him.
CBS Sports rated Jones one of the Senior Bow's top "risers."
After an impressive practice on Monday, Datone Jones kept the momentum going on Tuesday, standing out as one of the best defensive stars on the North squad. He is very strong from head to toe and does a nice job using his powerful arms and hands to rip past blockers. He wasn't overly productive as a pass rusher at UCLA, largely due to the fact that he was moved all over the Bruins' hybrid 3-4 scheme, but he did make 19 tackles for loss as a senior with his impressive blend of burst and power to dispose of blockers at the point of attack. Jones is a name that will start to appear in first-round mock drafts moving forward.

It also appears that two Pac-12 running backs, UCLA Johnathan Franklin and Oregon's Kenjon Barner, also are doing well.

That said, McShay, Weidl and Muench had some questions about Franklin's speed, and that "makes him more of a third- or fourth-round prospect instead of a second."

Another Pac-12 player on the North, Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, has distinguished himself. From CBS:
While tight end Vance McDonald has impressed on the South squad, Colorado tight end Nick Kasa has stood out on the North team. A former defensive end, he didn't make the move to offense until late last season, entering the 2012 campaign with just one career catch on his resume. Kasa plays a bit tight and bulky, but he is an intriguing athlete and has really impressed as a blocker this week. He obviously needs some more seasoning, but the tools are there for Kasa to be an interesting developmental draft choice early on the third day.
As for South practices Insider, where California and Stanford players are, the Bears seem to be doing well. Cornerback Marc Anthony and offensive lineman Brian Schwenke have impressed:
Cal CB Marc Anthony had the best Wednesday. He turned and ran with Georgia's Tavarres King. I think he runs well, showed the ability to turn and run with guys, and he can break on balls thrown in front of him. He almost had a pick, and he can get physical.
And here's a take on Schwenke:
While Jenkins has shown the ability to dominate lesser opponents, California center Brian Schwenke has proven surprisingly effective when taking on the massive defender. While perhaps not the most aesthetically-pleasing blocker, Schwenke shows good quickness, functional strength and understands leverage. He sinks his hips on contact, anchoring well despite being significantly lighter at 6-3, 307 pounds than many of his opponents.

Another player whose speed is being questioned is Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas. While he's been impressive on the physical side, Thomas apparently has struggled in coverage. From CBS:
Speaking of looking the part, no linebacker was as physically imposing as Chase Thomas (6-foot-3 1/8, 241 pounds). The outside linebacker practiced and played with a lot of effort, throwing around fellow linebackers in a tackle-shed drill, and that helped make up for a lack of burst and speed that a lot of high-profile outside linebackers tend to have. On Tuesday, Thomas was beaten a number of times on a quasi-race from a two-point stance to a tackling dummy. Ultimately, he seemed a half-step behind receivers in practice and a bit slower than his teammates in drills.
LOS ANGELES -- It was another up-beat practice for the Trojans in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Friday as they returned to Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field after spending Wednesday at the Coliseum. Continuing in the initial stages of the team's prep-work for Georgia Tech, who USC is set to face in the Hyundai Sun Bowl on Dec. 31, Trojans' head coach Lane Kiffin believes the team has come back with an extra bounce in its step after some recent time away.

"Another good practice today," Kiffin said. "I think that the break off was good for them. There was good energy out here at practice, and it was very competitive in a lot of different drills today."

Quarterback Matt Barkley arrived mid-way through practice without a helmet or shoulder pads, appearing to be in positive spirits.

Lee returns a Biletnikoff Award winner

Just as the team was leaving the field Friday morning, having concluded its workout, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee arrived on campus and made his way to a host of waiting media, fresh off winning the Biletnikoff Award in Orlando (Fla.) on Thursday Night at "The Home Depot College Football Awards."

"Obviously proud of Marqise -- as a true sophomore -- to win the Biletnikoff Award," Kiffin said. "It's a really big deal. He's the first one in the history of the school, and that credit goes obviously to him, but to a lot of other people as well."

Making 112 receptions for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, Lee, like his coach, was quick to recognize those around him.

"My heart was racing, to tell you the truth," Lee said of the moments leading up to the announcement. "Once I won, all of my teammates came to mind, from Robert [Woods] to Barkley, to the linemen especially for maintaining their blocks and everything. We had a tough season, and just how much we put into it, this award is not necessarily just for me, it's for the coaches, and for the defensive and offensive players."

Lee said the award weighs close to 60 pounds, and that he doesn't plan to take it home -- instead leaving it on campus, possibly in the locker room so, "all of the players can enjoy it."

As far as the overall ceremony experience, Lee -- who confesses to being most comfortable in "sweats and a t-shirt" -- said he made sure to get his suit selection approved by wide receivers coach Tee Martin before he went on stage, and that his favorite part of the trip was meeting the other players nominated for awards.

"Met a lot of friends out there, and met some new people -- [Braxton] Miller, [Johnthan] Banks ... I enjoyed my time with them," Lee said. "I was with Kenjon Barner most of the time, along with Johnathan Franklin."

Now ready to get back in the flow of things after missing both of the team's practices this week, the Gardena (Calif.) Serra product already has switched his focus toward having an even bigger 2013 campaign, something that has Martin particularly impressed.

"What's so great about him is I sent him a text and just told him how proud I was of him and, 'Congratulations,' and he goes, 'Can't wait to get better. Thank you,' " Martin said. "So he's just focusing on getting back with his teammates and working to get better."

Pac-12 on Walter Camp All-America team

December, 7, 2012
The Pac-12 was well-represented on the Walter Camp Foundation's 2012 All-America team, released Thursday.

USC sophomore receiver Marqise Lee, Stanford senior tight end Zach Ertz and a pair of running backs, Oregon senior Kenjon Barner and Arizona sophomore Ka'Deem Carey, were named to the first-team offense.

Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer, both seniors, earned spots on the first-team defense.

(Read full post)

Built to Perform: USC run defense

November, 14, 2012
One of the key areas for USC in its upcoming game with UCLA is the ability of the Trojans to stop the Bruins’ run game.

UCLA runs a no-huddle, spread offense featuring senior tailback Johnathan Franklin, who is among the nation’s leading rushers, and redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who has been very efficient this season. The ability to successfully run the football has been a big part of why the Bruins are 8-2 in the first year under coach Jim Mora. UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is a familiar name for USC fans -- he was at the controls of the Arizona State offense in 2011 when the Sun Devils beat the Trojans in Tempe.

So far in 2012, the Trojans are giving up 3.9 yards per rush, while the Bruins are averaging 4.7 yards per rush with 45 attempts per game. USC has seen varying results against the run in recent weeks against teams who use a spread offense. The Trojans held Arizona State to just 71 rushing yards last week but gave up 321 yards on the ground two weeks ago to Oregon running back Kenjon Barner.

[+] EnlargeT.J. McDonald
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireUSC senior safety T.J. McDonald will be relied upon to help contain the running prowess of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
Here are three important ways the USC defense is built to perform in this game:

Stopping Franklin: The all-time leading rusher in UCLA history is also the nation’s No. 6 leading rusher with 1,270 yards. It will be critical for the USC defense to be aggressive and make early contact. The Trojans are No. 4 in the nation in tackles for loss, and that stat will be important to watch as USC hopes to limit the number of open-field runs for Franklin.

The Hundley factor: USC senior safety T.J. McDonald could play a major role here to help contain the young Bruins signal-caller. Hundley isn’t afraid to run the football -- he has 111 rush attempts -- and he has six touchdowns on the ground this year. He is a very steady player and hasn’t been rattled a lot this season but this game will be a step up on every level. Look for Monte Kiffin to use McDonald in different ways to confuse Hundley as much as possible.

Inexperience on the line: The Bruins start three freshmen on the offensive line, and you can be sure the Trojans’ defensive line will be looking to take advantage of that. USC is coming off one of its best D-line performances of the year, and Ed Orgeron’s group is getting production from multiple players right now. Senior end Wes Horton has battled back from an early-season injury to be playing at a high level, while Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams have been very effective as well.

Pac-12 Heisman tracker

November, 6, 2012
Just when we were ready to hand the Heisman to Matt Barkley (in the preseason, of course), Geno Smith came along and snatched it away. Until Collin Klein took it from him. And now, we might have another late-season changing of the guard with Oregon's Kenjon Barner coming on strong in recent weeks before blowing up against USC. Such is the fickle nature of the Heisman tracker. Barner is squarely in second place in the Heisman poll, though he has only one first-place vote this week (compliments of yours truly). He has 10 of the 15 second-place votes. Barkley and De'Anthony Thomas have dropped off the radar and Marqise Lee is the only other Pac-12 player receiving votes.

Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
  • Week 10 numbers: Carried 38 times for 321 yards (8.4 average) with five touchdowns. Caught two balls for 26 yards.
  • Season numbers: Has carried 179 times for 1,295 yards (7.2 average) with 19 rushing touchdowns. Has 15 catches for 184 yards and a score.
  • What went well: Where to start? The records? The fact that it was on the road at USC? The fact that anyone who watched that game should have been convinced he's the top running back in the country? All in all, a thoroughly dominant and prolific performance.
  • Any questions? Nope. None here. Others, however, still see Klein as the front-runner for now. But it's hard not to imagine Barner didn't punch a ticket to New York with his showing Saturday.
Others receiving votes

Marqise Lee, WR, USC
  • Week 10 numbers: Caught 12 balls for 157 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Season numbers: Has 88 catches for 1,286 yards and 12 scores.
  • Thoughts: While Barner went off and showed the country he's the best running back in the nation, there should be no question about who the best wide receiver is. The loss shouldn't take away from another stellar showing.
One of the top athletes on the West Coast in the Class of 2014 was among the many top recruits on hand for the Oregon-USC game on Saturday night.

Adoree Jackson, Dwight Williams
Blair Angulo/WeAreSC.comAdoree' Jackson (left) and Dwight Williams of Gardena (Calif.) are intrigued with Oregon.
ESPN Watch List CB Adoree' Jackson, Gardena (Calif.) Serra will almost assuredly receive an offer from both of the schools that were on field. With eight offers to date from Colorado, Nebraska, Northwestern, SMU, UCLA, Utah, Washington and Washington State, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Jackson is looking for more. That's not to say he's in a hurry.

"I'm not really too worried about it right now" Jackson said. "I am worried about getting better and helping my team reach our potential."

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USC celebrates Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireThe Trojans could be celebrating again if they win their final two Pac-12 Conference games.

LOS ANGELES -- The Oregon Ducks' offense finally slowed to a jog. It was coming off the field after Kenjon Barner scored his fifth rushing touchdown Saturday night, when one of the offensive linemen, steam pouring off his head, yelled, "That's the way you finish, USC!"

Actually, that's not quite accurate. We're about to find out how USC finishes.

After Oregon's frisky herd of green-and-white ponies galloped up and down the Coliseum turf -- barely leaving a cleat mark (or having to break a tackle) -- we heard the usual array of motivations for the remainder of this USC season.

It's about pride. Trojans never quit, etc.

"We've still got a lot of football left," Matt Barkley mumbled afterward.

But it all rang a little hollow in the strange afterglow of a ridiculous assortment of records at the Coliseum -- and a 62-51 loss to the Ducks -- that left the Trojans with three losses nearly three weeks before Thanksgiving.

This would have been a disappointing season last year, when many people were still giving this team a pass as it dug its way out of the NCAA-created crater. In 2012, after everybody had built them up into an unstoppable machine, it's going to be viewed as a dull thud -- perhaps even the kind of thing that can get a team to lay down for the remainder of a season.

But here's what is stunning: Saturday's loss really didn't change the big picture. If these guys can regain their equilibrium after all the spinning, stumbling and chasing they did, they might realize they have exactly the same things to play for now as they did Saturday morning before the Oregon game.

If they beat UCLA and Arizona State in the next two weeks, they'll get a rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. If they somehow manage to win that game in Eugene -- and, granted, Marqise Lee might have to run backward to reverse the Earth's rotation to do it -- they could even play in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Together now: The what?!

Preposterous, isn't it? The Trojans' defense gave up 730 yards Saturday. I could have served as Oregon's punter and the Ducks still would have won.

(Read full post)

Among the many visitors to the Los Angeles Coliseum for the battle between Oregon and USC was 2014 ESPN Watch List linebacker Dwight Williams of Gardena (Calif.) Serra.

Saturday's clash of Pac-12 heavyweights turned into an offensive shootout for the ages. With 113 points scored, it would be fair to assume that a defensive player might picture himself out there helping slow the offensive explosion. For the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Williams, it was an eye opener in many ways.

[+] EnlargeDwight Williams
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comClass of 2014 Gardena (Calif.) Serra LB Dwight Williams was at the Coliseum for Oregon-USC and came away impressed with both teams.
"I've been to games at USC in the past, but that was by far the loudest, craziest it's ever been. That was the most people I have ever seen there," Williams said. "I couldn't believe how explosive both teams were out there."

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Inside the Locker Room: Oregon

November, 4, 2012
Los Angeles -- Notes, quotes and anecdotes from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum after the Trojans (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) lose to Oregon (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12), 62-51.

USC coach Lane Kiffin comments:
Three’s a crowd: “The game comes down to three offensive possessions. We kicked a field goal early. No points on the interception (in the end zone). And the fumble in the red zone, that makes a big difference.”

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kirby Lee/US PresswireMatt Barkley passed for 484 yards and five touchdowns Saturday but was always a step behind Oregon's offensive output.
On Oregon: “They’re better than we were because of their quarterback (Marcus Mariota) speed. He’s playing really well. We gotta find out how to make a sack and a fumble and make those plays in critical situations.”

On his team’s problem of defending the spread offense: “If you have back-to-back games (Arizona and Oregon) with over 600-yard games, we’ve got to look at what we’re doing, obviously. We’ve played two teams and both have over 600 yards, that’s not real sound and where we want to be.”

Oregon coach Chip Kelly comments:
On the high-scoring victory: “With (Robert) Woods and (Marqise) Lee, how accurate Matt (Barkley) was throwing, you knew it was going to be one of those games. We had to answer offensively. Those three guys are three all-time greats.”

On the Trojans: “You have to give credit to USC. Matt Barkley (35 of 54 for 484 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions) and Andrew Luck are the two best quarterbacks I’ve faced, and Marqise Lee may be the best receiver I’ve had the opportunity to coach against.”

(Read full post)

3 Up, 3 Down: Oregon 62, USC 51 

November, 4, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- A look at the positives and negatives from USC’s 62-51 loss to Oregon on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/ John Green 121103In defeat, Marqise Lee had 12 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a Pac-12-record 251 kickoff return yards.
1. Marqise Lee
The sophomore wide receiver once again helped establish himself as arguably the top receiver in all of college football, collecting 12 grabs for 157 yards and two touchdowns against the Ducks. Lee also made a huge impact on special teams, returning 8 kickoffs for a Pac-12-record 251 yards, including one beauty for 82 yards.

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Video: Oregon RB Kenjon Barner

November, 3, 2012

Oregon running back Kenjon Barner talks about his 321 yards rushing in the Ducks' 62-51 victory over USC.

Instant analysis: Oregon 62, USC 51

November, 3, 2012

The Oregon-USC matchup lived up to all of the hype and more. In what will go down as a classic Pac-12 shootout, the No. 4 Ducks survived a motivated and offensively potent USC squad 62-51 in Los Angeles. Here's how it went down:

It was over when: USC failed to convert on a fourth-and-5 deep in its own territory with 3 minutes left in the game. On the ensuing Oregon drive, running back Kenjon Barner went 22 yards for his fifth rushing touchdown of the game.

Oregon game ball goes to: Barner justified his Heisman hype with an explosive performance, rushing for 321 yards and five touchdowns on 38 carries. It was an Oregon single-game rushing record.

USC game ball goes to: There should no longer be a question of who is the best wide receiver in the Pac-12 -- or the country for that matter. It’s Marqise Lee, who had 157 yards on 12 catches with two touchdowns and 408 all-purpose yards.

Stat of the game: 1,345. Total offensive yards combined between the teams.

Stat of the game II: 2. The total number of punts.

Unsung hero: After missing time with a bad wrist, Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso had nine tackles (two for a loss) and an interception.

What it means for Oregon: For starters, legitimacy. For all those waiting to see if Oregon could do it against a quality opponent on the road, those questions were answered. The defense gave up a lot of yards and points -- not exactly surprising, though, considering the opponent. But the offense ran up 730 yards of offense -- the most ever by a USC opponent. And I think we can put all the talk about Marcus Mariota being young and overwhelmed by the moment behind us. He was 20-of-23 for 304 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

What it means for USC: With a third conference loss, the Trojans aren't out of the Pac-12 South hunt yet, but they are at the mercy of Arizona -- at least for now -- which holds the tiebreaker over them following last week's 39-36 Wildcats victory. Should USC win the South, it'll probably get another crack at the Ducks for a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. This might also be the dagger in Matt Barkley's Heisman hopes.

Halftime: Oregon 34, USC 24

November, 3, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- It was a first half full of offensive frenzy and turnovers, but Oregon and USC head into the locker room with the Trojans within striking distance, trailing 34-24.

USC gets the ball to start the third in a game where you can't waste too many possessions because the defenses are struggling.

The Trojans had three first-half turnovers, including a pair of Matt Barkley interceptions, but Barkley also threw three touchdown passes, including strikes of 75 and 76 yards. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 303 yards.

At 27-10 Oregon early in the second quarter, it looked as if the Ducks might run away with it. They still might. But not yet.

Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 14 of 16 passes for 213 yards with three touchdowns, but he had a fumble late in the second quarter at the USC 15-yard line after he seemed to get shaken up on the preceding play.

Oregon running back Kenjon Barner is headed toward a big night. He has 169 yards and two scores on 16 carries.

It figures that turnovers and precious defensive stops will be the key in the second half.
What are the keys to Saturday's showdown between USC and Oregon? Glad you asked.

Ted Miller: USC can beat Oregon on Saturday, but it needs to play efficient, disciplined football.

That sounds like coach-speak, and I don't like it any more than you. But after watching USC's bafflingly sloppy effort at Arizona, it's clear that we can't really know these Trojans, who unquestionably have loads of talent, until they get out of their own darn way. Or perhaps they're just a group that is incapable of doing that.

[+] EnlargeXavier Grimble
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSloppy with the ball all season, USC's 18 turnovers are the most for all but two Pac-12 teams.
Consider the numbers. USC is the nation's most penalized team. That includes 18 personal fouls, which is horrid and doesn't speak well for the Trojans or their coaches. They've turned the ball over 18 times. Only Washington State and Colorado have more in the Pac-12. The Trojans are tied for the league "lead" with 10 fumbles. Quarterback Matt Barkley has eight interceptions, one more than he threw all of last year.

USC needs to win the turnover battle and avoid the yellow hanky to beat Oregon. That alone won't guarantee victory, seeing the way the Ducks have been playing, but it's impossible to imagine that the Trojans' can win if their effort doesn't have that as a Point A.

That won't be easy. The Ducks force a lot of turnovers -- 23 -- and are tied for the Pac-12 lead with 15 interceptions. The Ducks have returned four of those picks for touchdowns.

Of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat. USC can win the turnover battle 5-2 just as it could win it 3-0. USC has also forced 23 turnovers this season and grabbed 15 interceptions.

The Trojans don't have to be perfect. They just need to be more perfect than Oregon. More disciplined, more efficient.

If USC pulls the upset, here's a confident bet that it will have fewer turnovers and penalties than the Ducks.

Kevin Gemmell: One of the cool things about working for ESPN is we have access to all kinds of obscure stats. So a tip of the cap to the ESPN Stats & Information group for coming up with this little gem that I will now share with you: On 42 of De'Anthony Thomas' 113 career carries, he hasn't been touched until he was 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. That means 37.2 percent of the time he carries the ball, he's getting 5 yards without so much as a finger finding fabric. And that goes a long way toward explaining his 9.7 career yards-per-carry average.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Scott Olmos/US PresswireThe big fellows up front are key in getting De'Anthony Thomas, right, into the clear untouched.
What's the point, you ask? Well, if you're looking for keys to the game for Oregon, you'd probably start with Kenjon Barner and finish with Thomas. Barner, who has four consecutive 100-yard games, and eight touchdowns over that span, is the key to the Oregon offense. He'll pound away at USC's defensive line inside and out, but it's Thomas who can deliver the proverbial knockout punch with one of his trademark jaw-droppers.

So the key to the game for Oregon: just keep doing what it has been doing. For USC, it's all about getting penetration from the front four. Easier said than done, right?

Ah, but peel back the layers and you find it's not just about Thomas and Barner.

I think back to the fumble Will Sutton caused in the first series of the game at Arizona State. Sutton blasted up the middle and disrupted the play in the backfield, causing a fumble that led to the subsequent ASU touchdown. Unfortunately, Sutton was injured on the play -- and much of the Sun Devils' defensive game plan revolved around moving Sutton up and down the line. I still think Oregon would have won that game regardless of the Sutton injury, but this serves as an example that with good penetration, the Ducks can get rattled.

Try as it might, USC isn't going to make Oregon one-dimensional. It just doesn't happen that way. Oregon can fail on 20 consecutive plays and then go for an 80-yard touchdown on the 21st. And then when you figure out what happened on the last series, they've scored again. It happens that fast.

So while this game might be chock-full of big-name players at the skill positions, it's the five up front for Oregon and the four up front for USC (and the many who will shuffle in throughout the game) that will really make the difference. And therein lies the true key to the game. After all, Oregon's front five are a big reason why Barner has 100-plus his past four games and Thomas can jaunt 5 yards without getting touched. For all the fancy stats and numbers, it still comes down to one undeniable truth: Win at the point of attack, win the football game.