Oregon vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Ducks vs. Trojans

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It’s too soon to put the Trojans on a pedestal, and it’s similarly too early to bury the Ducks once and for all.  But this year’s Oregon-USC meeting showed us some glimpses of what to expect in the near-to-intermediate future in the 45-20 Trojan win.

At times, both USC’s offense and defense gave us tantalizing glimpses of what could be possible under Clay Helton.  On the other side, Mark Helfrich’s squad looked overmatched in every facet, being completely unable to match the Trojans, blow for blow.

It certainly appears as if USC is on an upswing, while the Ducks are perilously close to collapse and a resulting reboot of the program—possibly under new leadership.

We’ll break down both the Ducks and Trojans in this week’s game grades.

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Oregon Offense

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It’s probably worth noting that Justin Herbert is the first true freshman to start for the Oregon Ducks at quarterback since the 1980s.  At times, it showed.

Herbert completed slightly more than half of his 33 throws, picking up 162 passing yards and a touchdown in the process.  While 18-of-33 for 162 isn’t really abysmal, it’s certainly not what we expect to see from a quarterback at Oregon.

The ground game wasn’t any better, as the Ducks had difficulty finding any running room.  The Ducks totaled just 85 rushing yards as a team, with Royce Freeman leading the way with just 38 yards—10 of which came on one play.

Most of the rest of the Ducks runners had one big gain and showed little to nothing else.  In order, the Ducks had rushing performance totals of 38, 25, 25 and 16 yards (with everyone else was in negative numbers). Those respective players had longs of 10, 25, 15, and 15 yards—which means if you take the long runs out of the mix, the totals would have been 28, zero, 10 and one.

This isn’t Oregon football, and without an explosive offense, the Ducks are going to continue to lose more games than they win.

Oregon offense grade: D

USC Offense

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Sam Darnold came out and right from the first snap decided he was going to take control of the game for the Trojans.  When the dust settled, he had over 300 passing yards and 23 rushing yards.

The Trojans ground game also shined, gashing the Ducks defense to the tune of 270 rushing yards and four touchdowns.  All four of those touchdowns came from Ronald Jones II, who finished with 171 yards on 20 rushes.

Add in some spectacular catches from Deontay Burnett and Michael Pittman Jr., and all of the sudden, the Trojans are starting to look like a very complete team on offense.

USC Offense grade: A-

Oregon Defense

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Oregon hasn’t always has the world’s greatest defense, but it didn’t really matter, as the Ducks could put up 60 or more points most weeks.  Now that Oregon’s offense is sputtering, the defensive weaknesses are being highlighted.

The Ducks gave up nearly 600 yards of offense and made many of USC’s scoring drives look almost easy.

There are some bright spots, most notably freshman Brenden Schooler, who came away with Oregon’s lone interception against the Trojans.  Schooler now has a team-high and Pac-12-leading four interceptions on the season.

But one freshman standout isn’t going to cure what ails Oregon.

Oregon Defense grade: D

USC Defense

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We’ve already talked about Oregon’s offensive woes, but that doesn’t mean that an opposing defense can simply sleepwalk through a game against the Ducks.  USC was very much awake and prepared for the Ducks.

Herbert was under duress for much of the night, and Oregon’s receivers never really found much room among the USC secondary.  The Trojans also showed off a canny ability to read routes and knock passes down, breaking up at least six Oregon throws by our count.

The defensive front also performed well, keeping Oregon’s backs running toward the sidelines, rather than up the field.  As a result, Oregon tied a low in program scoring offense.  The last time the Ducks scored just 20 points was in last season’s loss to Utah and two season’s ago against Ohio State in the national title game.

Oregon was last held to fewer than 20 points in 2013, in a 42-16 loss to Arizona.

USC Defense grade: A

Oregon Coaching

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There probably aren’t any easy answers for Helfrich, at least in the short term.  You can’t manufacture talent, and coaching young players is going to take time.  If Oregon is going to turn things around, it probably won’t be in 2016—and there’s no telling how hot Helfrich’s seat is going to get in the meantime.

Helfrich and company didn’t actually perform that poorly from a coaching standpoint.  It was simply apparent that Oregon doesn’t possess the talent that USC does.  The scheming wasn’t objectionable, and there weren’t any head-scratching in-game coaching blunders.  Eventually it comes down to the players on the field, and Oregon doesn’t have the better group on most Saturdays this season.

So as far as a game grade goes, we’re not going to flunk Helfrich and his staff.  Whether or not his season grade measures up, however, is up to the fans and the powers that be in Eugene.

Oregon Coaching grade: C

USC Coaching

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In contrast to Helfrich, USC head coach Helton has a roster full of talent to work with, and he utilized it perfectly against Oregon.  USC plugged in all of the right pieces at all the right times to match up against anything and everything the Ducks threw at the Trojans.

Helton may not be the most famous, most headline-grabbing head coach in the history of SC football, but he is developing his talent as well as anybody in recent memory.  Finally, after a long journey through the wilderness of NCAA sanctions and constant coaching changes—not to mention a worrying 1-3 start to 2016—the Trojans seem to be nearing the promised land.

The Trojans won’t be taking the nation by storm in 2016; the three early losses saw to that.  But when 2017 and 2018 roll around, the Pac-12—and everyone else—should be keeping a close eye on the Men of Troy.

USC Coaching grade: A


All recruiting information via ScoutStats from NCAA.comCFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Featured Columnist and Biletnikoff Award National Selection Committee member David Luther on Twitter @davidrluther.