• John Skinner

Inside dirt heading into Oregon

Why Bohn is a good fit for SC- Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn is close to finalizing a deal to become SC’s next athletic director. Bohn’s extensive experience combined with his positive attitude and overall enthusiasm checked all the boxes for those involved in the search process. He has experience in the Pac-12, serving as AD at Colorado and has had impressive success at Cincy, both on and off the field. Check out this well-balanced article about Bohn and the situation he will be inheriting by the LA Times Ryan Kartje. Bohn will be the ninth athletic director in the school’s history and the first without USC ties since Mike McGee left in 1993.

Trojans survive “Friday night fright” in Colorado…young Trojans learning how to win- As we suspected last week, the Trojans battle with the Buffaloes was tougher than expected but they escaped the trap game with a critical road victory. Though the performance was mediocre, they did come back from a ten point deficit in the fourth quarter in a hostile environment with three true freshman (Slovis, London, Christon) playing key offensive roles. They are playing much better in the second half of games compared to the past few seasons and though their comeback bid at Notre Dame fell short, the way the offense is closing games is impressive. It usually takes some time to learn how to consistently win after coming off a disappointing 5-7 season, and it seems like they may have turned the corner.

Slovis playing his best when it counts the most- Throughout the past decade, with the exception of the Sam Darnold years, SC quarterbacks have struggled late in games. Slovis is bucking that trend. He has thrown five fourth quarter touchdowns in 45 attempts in just five games. Whereas, first-year starters Matt Barkley, Cody Kessler and JT Daniels threw five fourth quarter touchdowns combined on 208 attempts, across three whole seasons.

His 198.3 fourth quarter passer rating is fourth among Power 5 quarterbacks, trailing only Heisman Trophy candidates Joe Burrow (226.2) and Jalen Hurts (224.7), and undefeated Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan (204.2).

Using averages of Slovis’s full games to project the remainder of the regular season, including a bowl game, he’s on pace to throw for 3,176 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions, with a season-ending passer rating of 165.5. This hypothetical season would shatter Trojan true freshman records and be nearly identical to Darnold’s epic 2016 campaign.

Slovis Part II- Though Slovis had a career-high 406 passing yards with 4 touchdowns and 1 interception, he received a mid-level 66.5 game grade from Pro Football Forecast (PFF), his lowest since the BYU game. Besides the interception, his two fumbles that USC recovered, along with his ill-conceived shovel pass to Christon on the final drive that could have easily been intercepted, pushed his grade down from a more elite level. He will have to protect the ball better against a stout Oregon defense that ranks third in the nation in forcing turnovers.

Pittman Jr. making statement to the NFL- Michael Pittman Jr. had the opportunity to opt into the NFL draft last year and made the correct decision to come back. He is making the most of his senior season, leading the Pac-12 in receiving yards (10th nationally) and 3rd in the conference in receiving scores. Fellow receiver Tyler Vaughns is 4th in the conference in yardage and tied with Pittman Jr. for 2nd in the Pac-12 with 50 receptions.

St. Brown plays a little RB…Is Velus Jones Jr. next?- On the third play from scrimmage against the Buffaloes, Amon-Ra scored on 37-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep. He finished with three carries for 50 yards, to go with five catches for 55 yards. Keep an eye on WR Velus Jones Jr. He played some running back in high school and possesses some of the best breakaway speed on the team (leads the Pac-12 in kick-off return yardage). The Trojans are so deep at wide receiver they have had a hard time getting him on the field. This could be a chance to get him a few more touches.

Running back Part II- None of the Trojans top three backs (Malapeai, Carr, Stepp) will be available this week. True freshman speedster Kenon Christon will continue to get the bulk of the running opportunities and his excellent blocking grade of 83 against Colorado, should get him more snaps in passing situations.

Trojans still without Jackson and Hufanga but Steele, Iosefa and Rector are back- SC will still be without top defensive standouts DE Drake Jackson and S Talanoa Hufanga. They played significant roles in the Trojans victory over #8 Utah. The good news is top CB Chris Steele, experienced LB Jordan Iosefa and one of the Trojans best pass rushers DE Christian Rector, are at or close to 100%.

Turnover margin and red-zone conversion – Why the Trojans will have a hard time pulling off the upset – The Trojans are struggling mightily when it comes to two key areas- winning the turnover battle (-.075, 118th nationally, last in Pac-12) and converting in the red-zone (77.42 percent, 100th nationally , last in Pac-12). The Trojans will have to reverse these trends to beat Oregon and seriously contend for a Pac-12 championship. If SC was just average in these categories, they would only have 1 loss or possibly be undefeated.

Trojans defensive line will have to compete at a high level against dominant Oregon offensive line- The Ducks have the best offensive line in the country, combining for 193 starts, allowing just 13 sacks this season and averaging more than five yards per rush. They piled up 962 yards of offense in their last two games (Washington and Washington State) and RB CJ Vardell ran for 257 yards and three touchdown last week. It is imperative the Trojans are able to create organic line penetration without having to constantly blitz to create pressure. The defensive gave up 520 yards of total offense against a lesser Colorado team last week.

Oregon offense Part II- Oregon has a well-balanced offense, ranking second in the Pac-12 in scoring offense and are led by Top-5 NFL draft pick Justin Herbert. Herbert is completing 68% of his passes for 2,104 yards with a remarkable 21-to-1 TD to interception ratio this season. The 6’6 Herbert is physically impressive and can run if he escapes the pocket. Also, under Mario Cristobal, Oregon is 9-0 when it rushes for 200 yards in a game.

Oregon Defense- Secondary starting to show some vulnerability- A few weeks ago, the Oregon secondary was applauded on a national level for being one of the best in the nation. The Duck secondary have 14 interceptions on the year (3 players with at least 3 interceptions each) and will be the best Slovis has faced, as they are giving up less than 6 yards per completed throw. However, over the last two weeks, they struggled as Washington managed 414 total yards and Washington State had 406 passing yards in close losses to the Ducks. The secondary have a tendency to over-run plays and have given up 11 plays of over 20 yards in those close wins against the Washington schools.

Oregon’s defensive line not as dominant as advertised- Oregon leads the Pac-12 in sacks but that stat is a bit misleading. The majority of their sacks came in a four-game stretch against below average offensive teams in Nevada, Montana, Stanford and Cal. In their last two games against Washington and Washington State, they totaled just two sacks and opposing QB’s completed 55 of 80 passes (68 percent) for 695 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. The Trojans offense is the most individually talented the Ducks have faced this season.

Trojans have a special team’s advantage- The Ducks have had issues with their kickers and have settled in on a freshman who has not been in any high level stress events on the road. Trojan kicker Chase McGrath has only missed one kick all year. Though P Ben Griffiths has not necessarily matched the hype from fall camp, he has steadily improved throughout the year and made some big kicks to flip the field vs. Colorado. Plus, rumors are swirling the Trojans special teams have been working on a few surprises the past few weeks in practice.

Betting guide- USC opened as a seven-point underdog to #7 Oregon but the sharps love the Trojans at that number quickly moved down to 5 and has since settled around 4.5. Both teams are 4-4 against the spread with the Trojans being 3-1 ATS at home while Oregon is 2-0 ATS on the road, having only played two true road games thus far. The total is 62 and it has gone under in 12 of Oregon’s last 15 games on the road. The total has gone under in four of SC’s last six games. The Trojans are just 4-13 ATS in their last 17 as an underdog.

Extensive game preview- Here is Tom Haire’s extensive game preview courtesy of uscfootball.com

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-bits-

*USC is 23-3 under Clay Helton in the Coliseum.

*Two sets of brothers will compete on opposite sidelines, as USC wideout Michael Pittman Jr. faces his younger brother, Mycah, a freshman wideout at Oregon. USC outside linebacker Eli’jah Winston will see his older brother, La’Mar Winston.

*Justin Herbert has just one interception over his last 360 pass attempts in Pac-12 road games with 24 TDs over that span.

* Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV practiced in a limited fashion on Wednesday and Thursday, after sitting out the last two games with a high ankle sprain. Helton called him a “game-time decision”.

*Oregon will be Trojans fifth AP-ranked opponent of the year