Matchups/Players to watch: Charles Nelson and Adoree’ Jackson set for head-to-head duel
Last weekend, Oregon capped off its best game of the season by beating then-No. 7 Stanford 38-36.
This week, the Ducks look to keep momentum rolling as they host Pac-12 South leader No. 24 USC.
Its fourth-consecutive win helped vault Oregon (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) back into the AP Top 25 at No. 23. The offense is clicking with a healthy Vernon Adams Jr. taking snaps, and the defense is much improved after a horrendous start.
The Trojans (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) are also bouncing back from a rough start to the season, which saw their head coach fired. Since interim head coach Clay Helton took over, USC has also gone on a four-game win streak that included an upset over Utah.
The Pac-12 Championship game is a possibility for both teams, as a Trojans win would allow them to control their own fate, while a win for the Ducks keeps hopes alive.
Here are the matchups to watch for on Saturday:
USC wide receivers vs. Oregon secondary
USC is a squad that is built to throw the ball. Starting quarterback Cody Kessler has a plethora of talented teammates he can sling passes to. The Trojans have the 22nd ranked passing attack in the nation with 295.5 yards per game and have collected 24 receiving touchdowns this season. One of the big reasons for the success in the air is 6-foot-2 sophomore JuJu Smith-Schuster, as he leads the team with 63 receptions for 1,160 yards and 10 touchdowns. For the Ducks, it will be important to contain the Trojans, preventing them from ripping off huge gains. Watch for them to utilize the bend-don’t-break mentality — where they will happily give up short passes instead of back-breaking deep throws.
Oregon running backs vs. USC front seven
While the Trojans will be looking to move the ball in the air, Oregon will settle for a rushing attack that is ranked fourth in the nation. The Ducks are piling on 297.4 yards per game, and in the past two weeks have shown an improved depth at the position. While Royce Freeman still takes the majority of the handoffs, Kani Benoit, Taj Griffin and Tony Brooks-James have all contributed to a solid season. On the other side of the ball, USC has struggled to contain the running game, leading to big games for opposing backs. They will have to keep Freeman and company out of the end zone if they want a chance to keep the score close.
Players to watch:
Coleman is the glue guy on the Oregon defense, always making solid plays and keeping things organized through his communication and leadership. He is a nice mix of fundamental tackling and excellent positioning, able to read plays and meet the ball in the hole. On the season, he has 45 tackles and 3.5 sacks. This weekend he will be important in bottling up the USC running game and forcing them to rely solely on the pass.
Nelson is becoming one of the most versatile players in college football. Shifted to safety to help bolster the secondary, he makes plays on defense, offense and special teams. In the past weeks, he has returned kickoffs for touchdowns, delivered punishing blows to opposing receivers, and, most recently against Stanford, ripped off a 75 yard run in the triple option. Against the Trojans, Nelson should once again have a major impact.
Similar to Nelson, Jackson is Mr. Everything for USC, playing offense, defense and special teams as well. The sophomore is fast, able to use his athleticism to his advantage in every situation. In the last three games Jackson has recorded a pick-six, returned a blocked field goal to set up a touchdown and averaged 25 yards on kick returns. Both Jackson and Nelson should battle throughout the contest, and the outcome could have a big impact on the final results.
Cravens is yet another star in a long line of talented linebackers who have come through USC. With previous experience at safety, he has the speed and ability to stick with route runners and not be a liability in obvious passing downs. On the season, Cravens has 66 tackles, 5.5 sacks and an interception.
Follow Christopher Keizur on Twitter @chriskeizur