5 Things To Watch: USC
LOS ANGELES — The Oregon football team will look to become two-time defending Pac-12 Conference champs when the Ducks play at No. 13 Southern California on Friday.
The Ducks (3-2) are coming off a bye week because Washington was unable to play in Eugene last week due to COVID-19 protocols. The Huskies thus won the Pac-12 North based on winning percentage, but they also could not play this week and so Oregon was elevated into the conference title game matchup with the Trojans (5-0).
Friday's game will be televised by FOX, with Joe Davis on play by play and former UO coach Mark Helfrich providing analysis.
Some storylines to follow in the game …
1. Coming off two losses and a bye week, how sharp will the Ducks be in their return to action Friday night?
December has been an emotional roller coaster for Oregon, beginning with the team's second straight loss, to California. The Ducks seemed poised to rebound after a strong week of preparation for the UW game, but that was cancelled.
And this week has featured the triple distractions of Monday's change of focus from Colorado to USC, UO coach Mario Cristobal's contract extension and national signing day on Wednesday — three ultimately positive developments for the program, but nonetheless challenges to players' ability to lock in on the Trojans.
Championship programs overcome adversity, and this is a chance for the Ducks to prove their mettle.
2. Overall, the body of work for UO quarterback Tyler Shough has been outstanding this season. Still, he's looking for a bounce-back effort Friday.
Shough has had a couple of bumps in the road here and there, but his first real sustained struggles of the year came in the second half at Cal earlier this month. The Ducks were shut out over those two quarters, and the Golden Bears came from behind to win.
Shough still leads the Pac-12 in passer rating and yards per attempt, and he led in touchdown passes and passing yardage until not playing last week. So his confidence should still be intact, and now that the Cal game is even deeper in the rearview mirror, it's time to rebound.
3. Greg Dulcich of UCLA leads the Pac-12 in receiving yards this season, but right behind him are a trio of Trojans who will test Oregon's secondary Friday evening.
Drake London is the big-play threat, averaging 17.08 yards per reception. Amon-Ra St. Brown is the red-zone target, with six touchdown receptions — all in the last two games. Tyler Vaughns showed off his clutch playmaking with the long reception that set up last week's game-winning score to beat UCLA.
USC leads the Pac-12 with 25 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Oregon is in the middle of the pack defensively, having allowed 15 pass plays of 20 yards or more. The Ducks will do their best to keep those totals from growing too very much Friday.
4. The good news defensively for the Ducks is, the defense could be as close to full strength as it has been all season.
Since freshman Noah Sewell entered the starting lineup the second game of the season, Oregon's best, most experienced group at each position would include Jordon Scott, Austin Faoliu and Kayvon Thibodeaux on the line; Sewell, Isaac Slade-Matautia and Mase Funa at linebacker; and the nickel group of Mykael Wright, Deommodore Lenoir, Jamal Hill, Verone McKinley III and Nick Pickett in the secondary.
The problem: Due to injuries and suspensions for targeting, that group has yet to actually start a game together. That could change Friday, with the Ducks having had the chance to heal up due to the unplanned bye week last week.
5. The break also could have been long enough for the Ducks to welcome back a key weapon on offense, receiver Devon Williams.
Though he didn't play in the loss at Cal, Williams still leads Oregon in receiving yards with 264. Long and tall, at 6-foot-5, Williams is an excellent complement to the smaller, shifty starting trio of Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III and Mycah Pittman.
Williams should have a little extra motivation Friday, too. He began his career at USC in 2018, before transferring to Oregon last year.