Breaking down the on-field matchups for No. 7 Oregon (7-1, 5-0) vs. USC (5-3, 4-1) on Saturday at the Coliseum at 5 p.m. (TV: Fox, Radio: 790).
USC’s defensive line vs. Oregon’s offensive line. Senior captain Christian Rector is expected to return this week, giving USC a necessary influx of experience up front. But the rest of the defensive line rotation is a bit light as freshman Drake Jackson remains out, and Oregon boasts the most experienced offensive front in the nation. As a result, the Ducks have kept the pocket clean most of the season, and NFL-bound quarterback Justin Herbert has responded with 21 touchdowns to just one pass intercepted. Pressuring Herbert will be of the utmost importance, but whether USC’s decimated defense can actually make that happen is an open question.
USC (442.4 ypg, 31.3 ppg): After an uneven start, Kedon Slovis came alive late on the road last Friday, and USC is convinced that the freshman has taken another step forward in his maturation. Slovis still ranks among the best in the nation in completion percentage (72.3%), and with its backfield riddled with injury, USC will again rely on him to find a rhythm through the air. Slovis will hope to build on a huge fourth quarter from last week. After a solid showing as the lead back in Colorado, freshman running Kenan Christon will play that role again, potentially with a larger workload. Over two games, Christon is averaging 8.4 yards per carry.
Oregon (466 ypg, 36 ppg): Few teams in the nation have been better on the ground than Oregon, which rolled over Washington State with 306 yards rushing and three touchdowns last week. Sophomore C.J. Verdell accounted for 257 of those yards and should be a huge part of the game plan against a depleted Trojans defensive front. With its running backs carrying the ball over 40 times per game, Oregon hasn’t had to unleash Herbert much lately.
USC (429.4 ypg, 24.9 ppg): A group decimated by injuries could return two key starters, but against an offense that likes to take an early lead and control the ball, its depth may again be tested. USC was shredded by a far less superior offense last week in Boulder, allowing 520 yards, the second-most it’s allowed in four seasons. Making Herbert uncomfortable will be crucial. But if Oregon gets the run game going like it has in recent weeks, USC’s defense may have a hard time just getting off the field. Oregon will gladly make USC pay for any tackling issues that arise again.
Oregon (308.3 ypg, 14.8 ppg): No secondary in the nation has created more interceptions (14), and on paper, that would seem to be a nightmare for an opposing freshman quarterback. But it’s not just turnovers that make Oregon’s secondary so effective. The Ducks have held teams to 5.9 yards per pass attempt and a completion rate of 56%, figures that are second only to Utah in the Pac-12. Senior linebacker Troy Dye leads a run defense that’s also ranked among the conference’s best, allowing just over three yards per carry.
After eight field goals and 31 extra points, USC’s Chase McGrath missed his first kick of the season in Colorado. The miss came at the worst possible time, as USC tried to tie the score in the fourth quarter. But McGrath’s miss didn’t matter. The Trojans scored a touchdown on their final drive and McGrath drilled the extra point.
Two sets of brothers will compete on opposite sidelines of the Coliseum, as USC wideout Michael Pittman Jr. faces his younger brother, Mycah, who is a freshman wideout at Oregon. USC outside linebacker Eli’jah Winston will see his older brother, La’Mar, for the first and only time as an opponent.
Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV, who sat out the last two weeks with a high ankle sprain, will be a game-time decision for the Trojans. USC will also be without safety Talanoa Hufanga (shoulder) and Jackson (ankle).