In a game with major Pac 12 and College Football Playoff implications, USC plays host to the Oregon Ducks. As the fans will filter in through the hallowed tunnels of LA Memorial Coliseum, the Trojans will be going through warmups without its top three rushers. Vavae Malepeai and Markese Stepp are out while Stephen Carr‘s status for Saturday is in question with a strained hamstring.
With Malepeai and Stepp out, and Carr most likely out, Kenan Christon will be the primary back for the second straight week. The true freshman had a decent outing against Colorado while gaining 76 yards on 14 carries. Kedon Slovis and the passing game alleviated the pressure on Christon. The Oregon defense will be keying on Michael Pittman, Jr, Tyler Vaughns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown so the running game will need to be a bigger factor. Can the Madison High School product step up to the challenge?
The Oregon Ducks defense has allowed a total of 66 points the last two games after allowing only 25 total points during the first five games of their seven-game winning streak. On the year, Oregon boasts the 20th ranked defense and the 14th ranked rushing defense. In fact, Andy Avalos‘ defensive unit has only allowed two 100-yard rushers all year. Auburn’s JaTarvious Whitlow and Washington’s Salvon Ahmed have been the only tailbacks to break the century mark against the Ducks in 2019. Stanford’s Cameron Scarlett came close with 97 yards.
Kenan Christon had to step in as a relief back during the homecoming blowout victory over Arizona due to injuries. He carried the ball only eight times but totaled 103 yards on the ground. That stat line was aided by touchdown scampers of 55 and 30 yards respectively. His burst and speed are the two most dangerous aspects of his running style.
The offensive line play is undoubtedly integral in the success of the ground game for any offense. So Austin Jackson and the rest of the Trojan trenchmen need to find ways to create running lanes so Christon can utilize his burst. If the San Diego native can spring into the open field, he can find his second gear to outrun the Ducks defenders.
This will be no easy task due to the play of the Oregon front seven. Whether or not USC can establish the running game will be made clear fairly early in the contest. The potentially potent passing game can only benefit from the success of the Trojans’ ground game. I would love to see a Reggie Bush comparison-worthy performance from Kenan Christon. If that is the case, Oregon will be forced to start loading the box, leaving one-on-one matchups with USC’s menacing receivers. Which is clearly something the Ducks do not want to happen.
On the flip side, if Oregon is able to maintain it’s stingy run defense, USC may be in for a long night depending on how their defense performs. With Pittman, Vaughns, and St. Brown, USC will never be shut completely down. Whether or not they can keep pace with Oregon in a shoot-out type of contest is a different topic though. Time of possession, staying ahead of the chains, and staying as close to 50/50 as possible on offense will give USC the best possible chance to play playoff spoilers. A lot of that will be on the shoulders of a true freshman. Could we all be witness to the birth of a legend come Saturday?