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USC at Oregon: Trojans will try to stay atop Pac-12 South standings

USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will play with a soft cast on his right hand for a third consecutive game.

USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will play with a soft cast on his right hand for a third consecutive game.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In its first game at Autzen Stadium in four years, USC tries to extend its winning streak to five games and stay atop the Pac-12 South Division standings. Times staff writer Gary Klein examines the matchups and story lines:

This time it really counts

USC is ensured of winning the Pac-12 South if it defeats Oregon and UCLA.

That was the same scenario in 2011, when the Trojans came to Autzen Stadium and beat the Ducks, 38-35, to end Oregon’s 21-game home winning streak. The next week, USC routed UCLA, 50-0.

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This season, however, the Trojans can actually advance to the Pac-12 title game for the first time.

In 2011, USC was in the midst of NCAA sanctions. The Trojans finished the regular season 10-2 overall and 7-2 in the Pac-12, but were ineligible for postseason play.

UCLA got the bid to the title game and lost to Oregon, 49-31.

This season, USC could lose to Oregon and still advance to the title game.

If UCLA wins at Utah on Saturday, and the Trojans defeat the Bruins next week at the Coliseum, USC would advance because it would have victories over Utah and UCLA.

In the running

Freshman tailback Ronald Jones II, USC’s leading rusher, averages 7.1 yards per carry. But junior Justin Davis has emerged as a go-to back, picking up the clinching first down on the final drive twice in the last three games.

That might continue with senior Tre Madden sidelined again because of a knee injury.

Jones said he struggled because he let the cold and the altitude in Boulder, Colo., get to him. That won’t be a problem Saturday.

Oregon’s Royce Freeman has averaged 139.2 yards rushing per game for an offense that ranks fourth nationally in rushing offense.

Freeman, a 5-foot-11, 230-pound sophomore from Imperial, Calif., has run for 12 touchdowns and has caught two touchdown passes.

Kani Benoit has rushed for three touchdowns.

Route runners

USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster will play with a soft cast on his right hand for the third consecutive game. The sophomore, a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top receiver, has averaged 116 yards receiving per game, which ranks sixth nationally.

Smith-Schuster has scored on long touchdown pass plays from quarterback Cody Kessler in each of the last two games.

Kessler, who has passed for 23 touchdowns, with six interceptions, will work against a defense that ranks 125th among 128 major college teams in pass defense.

Oregon’s Bralon Addison has 45 receptions, six for touchdowns. Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington each have four touchdown catches for the Ducks.

Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. has passed for 16 touchdowns, with five interceptions.

USC has intercepted seven passes in the last four games.

On the line

USC defensive linemen Delvon Simmons, Antwaun Woods and Greg Townsend Jr. — all seniors — have come on in the second half of the season. They are a major reason the Trojans have won four consecutive games.

Simmons had two sacks, forced a fumble and blocked a field-goal attempt in last week’s victory at Colorado.

Woods has five tackles for loss in the last two games. Townsend has 4 1/2 sacks this season.

Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner has 13 tackles for loss, including 7 1/2 sacks. The 6-7, 290-pound senior from Hawaii also has broken up five passes.

Stepping in

The linebacker corps is USC’s deepest position group, and the Trojans are hoping that pays dividends against the Ducks.

Starting middle linebacker Cameron Smith and backup Lamar Dawson both suffered season-ending injuries against Colorado.

Sophomore Olajuwon Tucker could start in Smith’s place alongside senior inside linebacker Anthony Sarao.

gary.klein@latimes.com


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