After a physically taxing game in Stanford last week against the formerly ranked #4 team in the nation, I thought that Oregon would struggle with an underrated (believe that, right?) USC squad. But, the Trojans won’t be able to win this game without WR Robert Woods. The sophomore from Los Angeles has a myriad of injuries and he’s the one player Oregon’s defense can’t match up with on the perimeter.
As of press time, he hasn’t practiced and is questionable for the game in Eugene. Regardless, Oregon hasn’t seen a speedster at the wide receiver position like Woods all season long but without him, USC’s offense is a glorified version of Stanford’s without the powerful running game. And, we all know what Oregon’s defense did to the Cardinal last week. The biggest key for the USC defense in this one is to keep the Ducks from taking a three yard play and turning it into a 82 yard touchdown.
When Oregon RB LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner emerge from the mesh untouched up to the second level, forget it. Last week, Stanford’s safeties took horrible angles once James and company sprinted untouched past the first two levels. They had no chance. The last two years have turned into a track meet and that’s a game the Trojans can’t win.
However, the USC defense has started to turn a corner, especially matching speed with speed. It’s not able to handle a power running attack, as evidenced by the 34 it gave up to Stanford in regulation a few weeks ago. However, the Trojans have as much defensive team speed on the field as they’ve had in quite some time. The freshmen at linebacker can all fly and look like three safeties playing on the field. That’s the perfect tonic to have against the Ducks. As such, look for the Ducks to win, but the USC defense and USC QB Matt Barkley will help keep it close, even without Woods.
The Sooners have gotten to this point in the season in previous years, but have come up empty in a game they shouldn’t have ever lost. Here they are again, sitting with one loss and many feel the Sooners are the best or second best one loss team in the nation, but vulnerable. Injuries have decimated the offense, with Dominique Whaley and All-World WR Ryan Broyles on the shelf for the remainder of the season. But, QB Landry Jones is still upright, WR Kenny Stills can whip anyone and WR Jaz Reynolds has helped fill the massive void Broyles left after tearing his ACL against Texas A&M a couple of weeks ago. Not to mention, the Baylor defense is a sieve.
But, the more compelling matchup this week is Robert Griffin III, Kendall Wright and company taking on the Sooner defense. The Sooners defense hasn’t been truly tested since the night of the Texas Tech loss, but facing the multi-dimensional star RG III presents a much different set of issues for the Sooners defense. The good news is that the defense IS relatively healthy and I think that the defensive front will be the key against Griffin. As he gets rid of the ball quickly, Griffin is difficult to corral in the pocket, but that’s what the Sooners must do. Rush responsibly but don’t lose your lane integrity. If he scrambles, force him to scramble up the middle where a linebacker is there to spy on him throughout the game.
Then, smash him.
Every time he drops to pass and most importantly, when he leaves the pocket, the Sooners have to hit him every chance they get. The Bears don’t turn the ball over much, but against Oklahoma State, they did and got smashed. This time out, the Bears will be a little more conservative so as to not get hammered early, but in so doing, they’ll play right into the Sooners hands. The Bear defense won’t stop the up-tempo attack and be roadkill in the second half.
After an emotionally taxing trip to Happy Valley last week, the Huskers get back to a somewhat normal week, if that’s possible. That said, a trip to the Big House is anything but normal for Nebraska as this is the first time since 1962 that the Big Red have visited Ann Arbor. I love that and this is one of the games I’ve been looking forward to since the beginning of the season.
It does help that there is the potential that it could mean something in the Legends division of the Big Ten. (Trust me, that takes some getting used to saying Legends division, but I’m getting there.) The most positive sign for the Wolverines is the continued defensive progress under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines are 17th in the nation in total defense and other than the 28 that Michigan State scored (7 on a pick six), they’ve not given up more than 24 points in a conference game this season.
But, to beat Nebraska, even at home, the defense has to get off the field. The Wolverines can’t afford to be out on the field for 9 to 12 play drives on a consistent basis, but that’s what Nebraska can, and will, force them to do. Although the Huskers have QB Taylor Martinez, who is capable of taking it to the house every time he touches the ball, they’re not a group that generates a ton of big plays, in either the running or passing game. That said, the Huskers have become the Rex Burkhead show and they’ve found every way imaginable to get the ball to the gritty Texan. Since the Wisconsin loss, Burkhead has averaged over 28 touches a game, including 36 in a 24-3 win over Michigan State in Lincoln. The Huskers defense will frustrate the Michigan offense, bottling up RB Fitzgerald Toussaint and physically pounding a beaten-up Denard Robinson, while the offense does its “ground and pound” thing in a hard fought Nebraska win.