When the USC Trojans started last week’s game against UCLA, they were already scheduled to play at home in the Pac-12 Championship game. They came back and beat the Bruins, and they were set on preparing for the Washington Huskies.
But in the back of their minds, they also had to prepare for the Oregon Ducks just in case — and it turned out to be a good catch because the Huskies were going to be unable to field a team for the game and had to turn to Oregon to play the game.
The Trojans have their hands full. But against Washington, it might’ve been much worse.
The Ducks are 3-2 against their Pac-12 opponents — losing to the Beavers they share a state with and the Cal Berkeley Golden Bears in back-to-back weeks. Something clearly went wrong in both games. The game against Oregon State was a collapse in the fourth quarter — OSU touchdown to start, Oregon interception, OSU touchdown again to take the lead, Oregon touchdown to take back the lead, Oregon defensive stop, Oregon three-and-out on offense, then they gave Oregon State about two minutes to go 53 yards to score a touchdown with half a minute left in the game.
The game against Cal was a different one — Oregon had the 3-point lead at halftime, and after four straight punts, Cal’s touchdown late in the third quarter gave them back the lead and eventually the win.
The Trojans have been lucky enough to come out on top after late-game heroics. Their undefeated record hasn’t been challenged as much as audiences around the country wish it would be. Friday’s game is likely to give audiences that.
The key matchups for the game are simple: two Arizona natives who have great throwing ability, one offense with an actual running game, and two defenses that are expected to play some strong football.
Both quarterbacks are sophomores from Arizona — Kedon Slovis from Scottsdale and Tyler Shough from Chandler. Both quarterbacks have thrown for over 1,000 yards on the season and are leading the conference in passing yards — Slovis having thrown for over 200 yards more than Shough in five games. The difference between the two that will be a challenge for USC’s defense is Shough’s ability to run with the ball. He has rushed for 256 yards on over 50 attempts so he isn’t going to stay in the pocket as much as you’d like on Friday.
Both teams have a trio of wideouts that catch the ball early and often — but the trio for the Cardinal and Gold have a clear advantage ranked second, third, and fourth in the conference with Ducks sophomore Devon Williams ranked No. 9. The Lancaster native has 264 receiving yards and two touchdowns on the season, but all three Trojans’ receivers have over 380 yards thus far. It’s apples to oranges.
The Ducks have a clear running game, which the Trojans can’t seem to find. Oregon is ranked fourth in rushing yards a game with about 189 on the season while the Trojans are ranked last with an average of about 109 yards a game. Junior Norco native Travis Dye has rushed for 336 yards on 45 attempts while junior CJ Verdell has rushed for 285 yards on 65 attempts. The good thing for the Trojans is they’ve allowed the fifth-least rushing yards averaging 157 yards a game. That’s going to be a battle in itself.
USC and Oregon are pretty close in conference rankings on defense, and their talents are pretty similar. The Ducks’ defense is much more smothering than the Trojans, but if you aren’t careful, like against Washington State, USC’s defense will find a weak point and attack it.
Shough has only been sacked eight times this season while Slovis has been sacked 12 times, but it’s more likely junior defensive lineman Nick Figueroa and the team will get to Shough more often than Oregon will get to Slovis.
It’s going to be a close game. ESPN predicts USC is going to win the game and the money line gives the Trojans the advantage. The over/under for the game is 64, and if you enjoy betting responsibly, it would be smart to consider the over because both teams average around 35 points per game.
The game in sunny Los Angeles is scheduled for Friday at 5:00 p.m. on FOX.