Fallout from the Quack Attack: Oregon 53, USC 32

To give new readers a glimpse of my style and to give this new site an early push, I am re-publishing articles from my previous sports blog. Here is my recap of the football game between the Ducks and the Trojans earlier this season:

In the biggest game of the Lane Kiffin Era thus far, the Trojans fell in a shootout Saturday night to the Ducks. Oregon’s quick-strike offense overwhelmed the Trojans defense and quarterback Matt Barkley just could not muster enough points to keep up. Looking beyond the box score, we learned the following:

USC’s Defensive Problems Result from Subpar Personnel

The defense has been criticized all season long here at Bringing the House and by most media outlets. While it has delivered some nice performances (Virginia and California), it has also laid down some duds (Hawaii, Washington, and Stanford). Throughout the season, different parts of the defense have taken the blame; first, we thought new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s schemes were too new for the players and that the adjustment period would inevitably be filled with hiccups; and second, we hypothesized that a slew of unfortunate injuries prevented the defense from fielding its best possible lineup.

Well, this weekend, the Trojans put those theories to the test. The defense has had seven weeks of playing under the elder Kiffin and showed, in last week’s game against California, that it had finally caught on to the scheme. The Trojans came off a bye week, which would allow Kiffin to extra time to prepare the defense for Oregon’s offensive attack. And finally, the extra week would also allow the Trojans to rest up and enter the important showdown fully healthy.

So much for all of that. While the Trojans forced several three-and-outs, I would attribute their brief moments of success to luck and adrenaline, not preparation and skill (the Ducks dropped multiple passes that could have gave them first downs). The fact is that the Trojans’ defense played awful. Not only did they surrender 311 yards on the ground and another 288 through the air, but they played undisciplined football that made you wonder what Kiffin and his staff were doing for the past two weeks. And while I think it would be easy to blame the coaches for this performance, I think I have finally discovered the root of the problem:  the players.

While the players are not terrible, they just aren’t good enough. And they certainly don’t live up to the defenses of the past at USC. It’s not that they gave up all of those yards to this juggernaut–everyone does. But it’s the manner in which they gave up those yards:  players were constantly out of position, bit on play-action fake after play-action fake, and missed countless tackles. Shareece Wright led the team in my new statistic, “plays caught out of position.” On Oregon’s first drive, Wright blew his coverage on wide receiver Jeff Maehl’s comeback route that resulted in a key third-down conversion for Oregon; in the second quarter, Maehl burned Wright for a 45-yard touchdown catch (Wright was trailing him by about 10 yards); and in the third quarter, Wright inexplicably peeled off Maehl as Maehl broke his route inside on a 3rd and 13 and caught the ball for a 30-yard touchdown.

The bottom line is this:  we have a lot of defensive players who were highly recruited but have not yet lived up to their billing. At the same time, these defensive players were brought in by Pete Carroll for a particular style of defense, which is completely different than Monte Kiffin’s approach. I still have faith that Kiffin can build a dominant defense, but he will need to bring in the right players to do so. Until then, Trojans fans should expect let downs similar to this one for the rest of the season. Which brings me to my next topic…

Will the Run Defense Hold Up Against Oregon State and UCLA?

Never mind the insane amount of yards that the defense allowed on the ground in the first three quarters of Saturday night’s game. Instead, look at how many yards the team allowed in the fourth quarter. The key to winning football games, at any level, is stopping the run. If you cannot stop the run, you cannot win games; if you trail in a game, good running teams will use the run to drain the clock and prevent your offense from having enough time to mount a comeback. And that is exactly what happened to the Trojans.

With 12:20 left in the game and USC down 43-32, Oregon started a drive with the ball on their own 36-yard line. Here is the play-by-play for that drive:

  • LaMichael James rushed for 8 yards.
  • Darron Thomas rushed for 3 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 2 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 15 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 5 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 4 yards.
  • Darron Thomas rushed for 5 yards.
  • Darron Thomas completed pass to Lavasier Tuinei for 4 yards.
  • Remene Alston, Jr., rushed for loss of 1 yard.
  • Darron Thomas completed pass to Remene Alston, Jr., for 2 yards.
  • Rob Beard kicked 34-yard field goal.

The positive is that USC’s defense held the Ducks to only three points; a touchdown at that juncture of the game would have been devastating. However, Oregon ate up 5 minutes and 2 seconds on that drive, leaving USC only 7 minutes to score a touchdown, make a defensive stop, and score another touchdown. USC failed to score on the ensuing drive after Barkley threw an interception, and with 5:25 left in the game, up two scores, Oregon took the ball and did this:

  • Darron Thomas rushed for 3 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 10 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 45 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 2 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 5 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 7 yards.
  • LaMichael James rushed for 8 yards for a touchdown. 53-32, game effectively over.

If it wasn’t for James’ 45-yard burst, this drive would have taken longer than 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Either way, SC’s defense could not stop the run, precious seconds left the clock, and Oregon put the nail in the coffin.

It does not matter how many points Barkley and this offense can put up. If the defense cannot play well and protect a lead, this team will play from behind in every game and not be able to catch up. USC has two remaining games against teams that are run-oriented, and while I hate to admit this, I see the defense having trouble against both teams.

First, on November 20th, the Trojans will travel to Corvallis to the play the Beavers. The Trojans have lost 3 of their past 4 games against Oregon State, including both games in Corvallis. In the past two showdowns, the defense had trouble tracking down the small and elusive Jacquizz Rodgers. In 2008, Rodgers gashed the Trojans 37 times for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns. Then last season, while the Trojans won the game, they surrendered 113 yards to Rodgers plus an additional 42 yards to his brother, James Rodgers, who is out for the rest of this season. Quizz has four games with over 100 yards rushing already this season, and he also scored a combined seven touchdowns in his past two games. If the Trojans want to beat Oregon State, they need to stop that little giant.

The same goes for their game against UCLA and its running backs Jonathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman. While most everything about the Bruins is laughable, their running game is far from it. In fact, it’s probably the only thing Westwood Junior College UCLA has going for it; they currently rank 117th in Division-I in passing yards per game, 96th in points per game, and 92nd in points allowed per game. However, the run game ranks a surprising 26th in the nation by producing 192.5 yards per game. The UCLA ground attack turned in its most notable performance of the season in a 34-12 thrashing of Texas in Austin earlier this season. During that game, the Bruins rushed 56 times for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns. If the Trojans plan on beating their crosstown foe, the defense will need to stop the run and get the ball back into Barkley’s hands. Look, I am not saying that the Trojans will lose these two games. But these won’t be gimmes either. If the Trojans don’t make an emphasis to stop the run, these will be dangerous games that I could see going down to the wire.

The Oregon Ducks:  Your Future National Champs?

They sure look like a champion out there, don’t they? On the road, they went for and converted a two-point conversion on the first possession of the game; they relentlessly attacked a rival deep into the fourth quarter; and they answered each USC score with a resounding score of their own. The offense, aka the blur, is so unique, entertaining, and dominant that you have to wonder if there is any team in the country that can handle it. What defense can maintain that insane pace, the stamina, and the discipline necessary to even contain the Ducks? Alabama, maybe? This Ducks team is better than the Ducks team of last season because Darron Thomas is a better passing quarterback than Jeremiah Masoli. So, in essence, this is an attack with even higher potential because there is a better passing element to it–Thomas went 19-for-32 for 288 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Trojans.

The most interesting part of this team is that you cannot focus on any one player. Sure, LaMichael James is a stud at running back, but if he misses a game then the Ducks will just plug another running back, like Kenjon Barner, in and the well-oiled machine will not miss a beat. Just look at the transition the team made from Masoli to Thomas. This isn’t a star or player-driven team–it’s a scheme and system-driven team. And that might be harder to stop than the Cam Newton‘s of the world.

As a USC fan, I am torn whether I want Oregon to play in the BCS National Championship Game. Although Oregon would represent the Pac-10 well, an Oregon appearance and possible victory would elevate that program and increase its ability to recruit high-profile players that USC also targets. As a college football fan, however, I cannot hide my desire:  I want to see Oregon play  and dominate an SEC team like Auburn or Alabama in the big game.

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