The Pac-12 Championship Game that everyone wanted back before the season began will kickoff in just a few days.
The winner of Friday’s contest between the Oregon Ducks (3-2) and the No. 13 USC Trojans (5-0) will get an automatic bid to the Playstation Fiesta Bowl.
These two teams have established quite the rivalry in the conference, on the recruiting trail, and even between coaching staffs. Former Oregon corners coach Donte Williams - one of the nation’s top recruiters - left the Oregon football program after last season to “go home” and join the Trojans coaching staff.
This season, USC has wins over Arizona State (28-27), at Arizona (34-30), at Utah (33-17) and at rival UCLA (43-38).
Currently, the USC Trojans lead the Pac-12 conference in terms of passing yards per game (319.2) and are second in the conference in points per game (35.2) behind Arizona State.
On the other hand, USC is last in the conference in rushing yards per game (109.2).
This is an air raid, explosive offense and something that the Oregon defense has struggled to defend in the past whether it be against USC or Washington State under Mike Leach.
Last season, Oregon’s defense thrived against quarterback Kedon Slovis, intercepting three passes and sacking him three times. It will be critical for Oregon to put pressure on Slovis, not allow him to have time in the pocket and give his receivers time downfield. Unfortunately for Oregon, a few players who made such key plays against Slovis last season decided to opt-out of this season and declare for the 2021 NFL Draft: Jevon Holland and Brady Breeze.
That 2019 meeting at USC was Breeze’s breakout game with seven tackles, one interception, one touchdown, and one fumble recovery.
On Tuesday, Oregon Defensive Coordinator Andy Avalos and Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead met with the media to break down the Trojans and how Oregon can contain this air raid attack.
“Obviously, they are very talented at the wide receiver group the game always starts regardless of up front,” said Avalos. “So we’ve got to do a great job up front handling the run game and some of the differences what they’re doing this year as opposed to what they did last year.
“It’s got to be a balance on the perimeter and how you’re playing inside. The different coverages you’re playing, there’s got to be a balance.
On the flip side, when the Oregon defense does get these stops and limits scoring on USC possession, the Oregon offense has got to make the Trojans pay for it. Oregon can’t afford another offensive shut out like the second half against Cal.
It starts with controlling the pocket on the offensive line and containing USC outside linebacker Drake Jackson.
“Lot of movement up front and mixing up their coverages,” said Moorhead. “99 is a game-wrecker. He’s a guy that can single-handily take over whether it be the run game or the pass game. And then the second and third levels, a lot of length and a lot of speed. They play very hard and are very disruptive and create a lot of turnovers.
Kickoff for the Pac-12 Championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. (PT) on Friday, December 18 in Los Angeles, California.