GAME NOTES: The 18th-ranked USC Trojans will take the field for the first time
since their upset loss to Boston College when they play their Pac-12
Conference opener this Saturday night at home against the Oregon State
Fresh off a 13-10 toppling of Stanford, the Trojans were ripe for a letdown
and that is exactly what they got from their visit to BC two weeks ago. USC
was gashed for 452 rushing yards by the Eagles en route to a 37-31 loss, the
Trojans’ first of the season.
“For whatever reason we didn’t tackle very well tonight,” USC head coach Steve
Sarkisian said after the game. “The quarterback got confident running it, the
running backs got confident running it and in turn we started to lose that
confidence that we were going to make that play and inevitably, it didn’t work
Oregon State has yet to feel the sting of defeat with wins in each of its
first three games. The Beavers started with a 29-14 triumph over FCS foe
Portland State and then racked up victories over Hawaii (38-30) and San Diego
State (28-7). Saturday’s duel will serve as their conference opener.
It also will give them a chance at redemption after the Beavers were bested,
31-14, by USC last season. Oregon State has not ended up on the winning side
of many encounters with the Trojans, who hold a commanding 60-11-4 edge in the
all-time series. However, since 2006, neither team has won consecutive games
against the other.
Oregon State made a name for itself as a high-flying passing offense last
season. The Beavers have continued to rely more on the pass than the run this
fall, but the splits have been a bit less dramatic, thus resulting in less
eye-popping offensive numbers. They are averaging 31.7 points and 446.7 yards
per game, ranking ninth in the Pac-12 in both categories.
Sean Mannion is still the man under center but, now that Brandin Cooks is
catching passes from Drew Brees in New Orleans, his production has dropped a
bit. Mannion is still averaging more than 300 passing yards per game, but he
has only four touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions.
Victor Bolden (18 receptions, 192 yards, TD) has been Mannion’s favorite
target early on, leading the team in receptions and receiving yards. Connor
Hamlett (11 receptions, 165 yards, TD) and Richard Mullaney (11 receptions,
119 yards, TD) have been key contributors as well.
Running back Terron Ward has been a versatile performer for the offense,
providing a steady presence both rushing and receiving. He has 212 yards and
four TDs on the ground, and 10 receptions for 94 yards. Storm Woods (212
yards, two TDs) also gets work in the backfield.
The Beavers have enjoyed strong play from their defense this season. They are
surrendering only 17 points and 255 total yards per game, ranking second in
the Pac-12 in both categories. They also have a 41-20 scoring margin off of
turnovers, while owning a national-best 23.1 percent yield on third down.
“It feels good, especially with our defense playing like the way we are,”
Linebacker Michael Doctor said, although he is not satisfied just yet. “We
still have to put together a whole game of defense.”
Doctor (18 tackles, 3.5 TFL, INT) is a multi-faceted linebacker who plays well
against the run and the pass. Obum Gwacham (3.0 sacks) is the team’s top pass
Since piling up 52 points and 701 yards of total offense in the opener against
Fresno State, USC has been regressing badly on that side of the ball. The
Trojans finished with only 337 yards against Boston College a week after being
held to 291 by Stanford.
When the offense has played its best Cody Kessler has been the key. USC’s
quarterback has completed 71 percent of his pass attempts for 846 yards and
eight touchdowns this season. Even more importantly, he has yet to be
intercepted. He had an exceptional game against BC, with 317 yards and four
scores on 31-of-41 passing.
Nelson Agholor (23 receptions, 212 yards, three TDs) has clearly been
Kessler’s favorite target. He is the only player on the team with 20 or more
receptions. However, JuJu Smith (11 receptions, 170 yards) and Javorius Allen
(10 receptions, 141 yards, TD) are both doing a better job of picking up yards
on a per reception basis.
Allen’s primary role on the team is as lead running back, however, with a
team-high 318 yards on 60 carries.
Obviously, the Trojans defense cannot afford to let up such inflated offensive
numbers to opponents as they did against the Eagles. In total this season,
they have been solid, letting up 20 points and 412 yards per game, although
they only have four sacks as a team.
Leonard Williams (23 tackles, 1.0 sack, INT) is an athletic defensive end who
has made quite an impact already.
As talented as Ward and Storm are, it is unlikely they will have the same
success against USC that BC did, especially with the Trojans having two weeks
to work on their deficiencies against the run. In a shootout between Kessler
and Mannion, it is the USC signal caller that gets the edge.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 35, Oregon State 24