HEADLINE

With Pac-12 title game in sight, No. 6 Oregon welcomes USC

Field Level Media

November 08, 2023 at 7:57 am.

Sixth-ranked Oregon will try to move one game closer to reaching its fourth Pac-12 championship game in five seasons when it welcomes visiting Southern California to Eugene, Ore., on Saturday.

The Ducks (8-1, 5-1) held firm at No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday, tops among all one-loss teams. They roll into Saturday’s matchup winners of three straight, all by at least 14 points, after last week’s 63-19 blowout of Cal.

Quarterback Bo Nix enters the game a rising candidate for the Heisman Trophy with 2,723 yards on 235-of-301 passing with 25 touchdowns against just two interceptions.

Nix has also rushed for five touchdowns to pace the nation’s most prolific scoring offense at 47.4 points per game. USC is second in the nation at 45.5 ppg.

The Trojans (7-3, 5-2) have scored no fewer than 32 points in any of their conference games behind reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams.

Williams went 27 of 35 for 312 yards with three touchdowns and rushed for another score last week vs. Washington, but the USC defense surrendered a season high in points for the second time in as many weeks in a 52-42 loss.

The Trojans gave up 49 points a week prior in a one-point win at Cal and come into Oregon having allowed at least 41 points in five of their last six outings.

USC’s defensive struggles led to the dismissal of coordinator Alex Grinch on Sunday. Defensive line coach Shaun Nua and inside linebackers coach Brian Odom were promoted to co-defensive coordinators to replace Grinch.

“Any time you have a situation like this, you start to look at, OK, who would be the next man up, the same way that you would an injured player,” USC head coach Lincoln Riley said on his weekly radio show appearance on Monday. “(Nua and Odom) both have great experience coaching their positions.”

The new co-defensive coordinators face a considerable task for the Trojans’ final two games. USC has allowed 34.5 points per game, more than any other power-conference team save Cal.

In last week’s loss — which put the Trojans in a must-win position this week to salvage any hope of making the Pac-12 championship game — USC gave up 256 rushing yards and four touchdowns to Washington’s Dillon Johnson.

Oregon, meanwhile, boasts one of the conference’s top ball carriers in Bucky Irving. He averages 91.2 rushing yards per game, has scored nine touchdowns on the ground and gains an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

Saturday will not be an Oregon team’s first time seeing an Odom-coordinated defense. Ducks coach Dan Lanning noted that Odom called the defense in Oklahoma’s 47-32 Alamo Bowl win over Oregon in December 2021, prior to Lanning’s arrival. Odom took over play-calling duties for that game after Grinch left to follow Riley to Los Angeles.

“There will be a lot of similarities to some of the stuff they already do,” Lanning said during his Monday news conference. “That group will probably have some new wrinkles we potentially haven’t seen. But it all comes back to what football’s all about: tackling, blocking, breaking tackles, making catches.”