Downright Offensive

Oregon, USC bring plenty of weapons into Saturday's showdown
Oregon running back Kenjon Barner is first in scoring and second in rushing yards in the Pac-12 this season.ASSOCIATED PRESS

There might be no finer collection of top-line offensive talent on the same field for a college football game this season than when USC hosts Oregon on Saturday.

Of the 16 semifinalists announced Monday for the Maxwell Award as the nation's player of the year, fully a quarter will be in action in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum when the Ducks and Trojans meet at 4 p.m. They were the only two teams in the country with multiple Maxwell nominees, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas joining USC quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Marqise Lee as semifinalists.

NO. 2 OREGON AT NO. 18 USC

WHEN, WHERE: Saturday, 4 p.m., at Los Angeles.

  • TV: FOX.
  • RADIO: KCMX (880-AM).

The plethora of talent isn't lost even on the participants.

"It's an art to watch all these athletes out there, running around making plays you don't see people make a lot in your lifetime," UO senior linebacker Michael Clay said. "There's definitely an art to it. It's a privilege to watch.

"But, as a defensive player you want to stop that — not Kenjon and De'Anthony, because they're on our side."

The game will feature the Pac-12's leading scorer (Barner), receiver (Lee), punt returner (Thomas) and kick returner (Lee). Barner is second in rushing yardage, Barkley is second in passing yardage, and the trio of Barner, Lee and Thomas all appear in the top five for all-purpose yardage.

And that doesn't include Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is fifth — one spot below Barkley — in the Pac-12 for total offense, or Robert Woods, who just happens to be the career leading receiver in USC history.

Lee has been the talk of the college football world since setting a Pac-12 record with 345 receiving yards in a loss to Arizona on Saturday. The previous record was 293, by Mike Hass of Oregon State; Oregon's leader for the season, freshman Bralon Addison, has 226 yards in eight games.

"I think that's enough work for two weeks," UO coach Chip Kelly joked Monday of Lee's outburst. "And if they want to give him this week off, I wouldn't object to it."

No such luck, Ducks. They'll have to contend with Lee not just on offense but on special teams, too, where he added a 72-yard kickoff return to his exploits against the Wildcats on Saturday.

"When the ball's in his hands, he's as exciting a player as there is in the country," Kelly said. "He's very, very difficult to tackle. He's got great change of direction, great vision, great knack for making people miss — especially the first guy. You know usually one guy's not going to bring him down. We've got to get a lot of guys around him."

Lee, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore, runs relays with the USC track team and reached the NCAA Championships as a long jumper. He attended Serra High in Gardena, Calif., as did Woods, and was also a top safety.

The Ducks initially recruited Lee on defense, but the UO staff knew then his future was probably on offense. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti laughed off a question Monday about Lee's potential as a safety, whether at Oregon or elsewhere.

"We would have never saw him anyway, so it doesn't matter," Aliotti said.

Incredibly, Lee was considered only a four-star recruit by some analysts out of high school. But he's exceeded even the highest expectations.

"We knew he was a really good player, but I don't think anybody could have predicted when he was a sophomore he'd have this type of impact," Kelly said. "The game last Saturday was one for the ages."

Lee wasn't too shabby against Oregon last season, too. He caught eight passes for 187 yards, with a 59-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter.

Woods and Lee are capable deep threats. But they're just as likely to get big yardage out of short crossing routes on which they weave through the defense and break into the open field.

With all the speed the Ducks have recruited in recent years, they've been able to play their linebackers and safeties farther off the line of scrimmage, allowing them more time to assess developing plays and to take better angles of pursuit. That will be paramount against Woods and Lee, as Oregon's defenders try to disrupt their routes and throw off Barkley's timing by clogging passing lanes and getting physical with Woods and Lee.

"We've got to run to the ball and make sure we tackle," Clay said. "A lot of their big plays are simple routes, but they're so athletic people miss them and they're going to take off. They're track stars out there."

The Ducks limited Colorado to 95 passing yards despite playing without middle linebacker Kiko Alonso (wrist) and losing outside linebacker Dion Jordan (shoulder) in the first quarter. Jordan dressed for practices Monday, but Alonso appeared to be absent, and both could be game-time decisions at best Saturday in Los Angeles.

Sophomore Derrick Malone filled in for Alonso against the Buffaloes and led the Ducks with nine tackles while recording his first career interception. Against Lee and Woods, though, his challenge will be exponentially more difficult.

With Lee, Barkley, Woods, Barner, Mariota and Thomas all sharing the field Saturday, the Oregon-USC matchup will be a thing to behold for fans of offense. Quite the aficionado himself, Kelly said he'll have to wait to appreciate it after the fact.

"We're coaching the game," he shrugged. "We'll watch it afterwards."


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