All eyes will be on Oregon senior pass rusher Dion Jordan, who hopes to be in USC quarterback Matt Barkley's hip pocket Saturday in Los Angeles.
Throughout the college football season, DuckTerritory will examine the "3 keys" to Oregon victory leading up to each of their games this year. In this season’s ninth installment, we'll take a look at what it will take for the Ducks to knock off the No. 17 USC Trojans this Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
1. No Freebies
Perhaps more than any other game the Ducks will play during the regular season, protecting the football while limiting advantageous field position for the opponent will be absolutely paramount if Oregon hopes to leave the Coliseum with a victory. As we've discussed in previous weeks, taking care of the football more or less starts with redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who will no doubt be playing in the biggest game of his young career. To this point, Mariota has handled the pressure like a seasoned vet, but he has had a "freshman moment" in virtually every game he's played in this season. While that's to be expected, Oregon can't afford for that to be the norm Saturday, as Mariota will face an athletic and opportunistic Trojan defense. Avoiding interceptions and an emphasis on ball security are two things that will help the Ducks run efficiently on offense, but failure to do this puts the ball in the hands of a capable, if not explosive, Trojan offense led by Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee, and Robert Woods. Getting in a hole early against a team with virtually nothing to lose at this point in the season could be playing with fire.
2. Keep Barkley On Edge
This was particularly critical in Stanford's upset win over USC in September. In that game, the Cardinal harassed Barkley with pressure from every fathomable direction, forcing the timing with his receivers to be disrupted and making Barkley generally uneasy in the pocket. Perhaps the matchup of the game will take place in the trenches, as senior defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan will be going head-to-head with USC true freshman offensive tackle Max Tuerk, who will be protecting Barkley's blindside. If Jordan is able to beat Tuerk at the point of attack with consistency, Barkley could be reliving the Stanford game all over again. If Tuerk is able to hold his own against a banged up Jordan, the Trojans are as capable as any team in country of matching Oregon score for score. Tuerk has performed admirably in place of Aundrey Walker who has battled injuries this season, however this will be Tuerk's toughest head-to-head matchup to date. Can Jordan take advantage?
3. Find Redemption On An Island
Saturday we find out just how much Oregon sophomore cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu have grown since facing USC wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee a year ago. Last season at Autzen, Woods and Lee combined for 15 catches for 240 yards and three touchdowns against the Oregon secondary; welcoming the Ducks' young corners to college football with cruelty. Since being served their medicine by the spoonful in 2011, Ekpre-Olomu and Mitchell have rebounded quite well in 2012, as the duo arguably forms the best tandem of corners in the Pac-12 Conference. Both players will likely find themselves alone in constant one-on-one matchups against USC's 1-2 perimeter punch, as Oregon will likely dedicate as many players as they can to blitzing Barkley and keeping him off balance. Will they hold up? Against talented wide receivers the likes of Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers, Washington State's Marquess Wilson, Washington's Kasen Williams, and Arizona State's D.J. Foster, Mitchell and Ekpre-Olomu have been nothing short of exemplary; winning the lion's share of those head-to-head matchups. A rematch with Woods and Lee, however, figures to provide a much truer indication of where the conference's third ranked pass defense really stacks up.