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Originally published September 26, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 26, 2005 at 6:46 PM

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Bud Withers

Getting to Leinart is only way to stop USC

As the third quarter of the USC-Oregon game began here Saturday evening, one could almost feel a sense of foreboding in the crowd of 59,123...

Seattle Times colleges reporter

EUGENE, Ore. — As the third quarter of the USC-Oregon game began here Saturday evening, one could almost feel a sense of foreboding in the crowd of 59,123 at Autzen Stadium. Maybe they'd seen this movie before.

They had, it turns out. The last time the Ducks played the Trojans, in 2002 on the same field, they led 19-14 at half, an edge built mainly on field goals. Then, with Carson Palmer firing missiles, USC scored 30 straight points in the second half and won 44-33.

Deja blew. This time, the Ducks, ahead 13-10 at the break, gave up 35 straight to the Trojans. USC was preposterously efficient in the second half, scoring touchdowns on all five possessions and camped at the UO 28 as the game ended, poised to ram in another one.

In an anteroom to the USC dressing quarters, Reggie Bush, stripped to the waist, wore eye black with "619" stenciled on it. That's not USC's total offense in the second half, it's the area code for his hometown of San Diego. The Trojans only had 357 after the break.

The Ducks, 3-1, were left to entertain questions about who is best equipped to take out USC, since the Indianapolis Colts aren't on the schedule.

"Going by the rankings, probably Cal," mused quarterback Kellen Clemens. "They're the one Pac-10 team that's beaten them in the last two years."

"I don't think Cal can get 'em because of their quarterback situation," said receiver James Finley. "A-State can probably sneak up on 'em. They've got a good defense and they can score points."

Arizona State gets that chance Saturday, and it's in Tempe. Not that the Sun Devils need it, but the Ducks, in being the 25th straight USC victim, provided them a bit of a blueprint, in reverse.

The team that beats USC is going to have to be capable of playing man-to-man in the secondary to mount a rush on Matt Leinart, who had time against Oregon to mull primary, secondary, third, fourth and fifth reads, and yell over at coach Pete Carroll on the USC sideline and ask what he thought. Leinart got hit no more than three or four times.

Oregon chose to play conservatively, blitzing rarely and rushing four. You could envision Nick Aliotti, the defensive coordinator, being unwilling to put his secondary in man-to-man coverage, thinking this might be an offensive shootout and wanting to keep the explosive Trojans from big plays.

Fair enough, the Trojans settled for medium-big. They ruptured the Ducks for 15 plays of 10 or more yards in the second half.

The downside to Oregon's strategy was very little pass rush. Defensive end Devan Long, possibly headed for the top of Oregon's career sack list, struck out against the vaunted Trojans' offensive line, mostly versus tackle Sam Baker.

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"He's a good pass rusher," said Baker. "I think we were just ready for him. As you saw today, we see a lot of good pass rushers in practice."

The Ducks got something called a "team sack" against the Trojans, nothing more.

But it's hard to say what was most disappointing for Oregon, the defensive collapse or the inability to generate offense against the Trojans' putative soft spot, their defense.

Oregon's inability to run the ball out of its new spread-option offense was fatal. Terrence Whitehead, the 1,144-yard rusher of last year, was held to 14 yards on seven carries. Not only that, the Trojans mostly engulfed the Ducks' frequent pressure-release play, the shovel pass.

"We didn't run the ball very well, we didn't throw the ball very well," said Clemens. "We just didn't play very well in the second half."

Running to win in football is as old as Amos Alonzo Stagg, or at least Chuck Knox. The team that beats USC must do it, not only for the offensive gains but to keep Bush and Leinart idling.

Jeff Tedford gets big plaudits for his offensive wizardry at Cal, but it's the Bears' ability to run that allows them to compete with the Trojans. And if anybody's line in the league can compete with USC's, it's Cal's.

The Ducks direly needed the touted Timberline High product, freshman Jonathan Stewart, in the game, but he sat out with a persistent ankle problem. Behind a so-so line, Whitehead is a Clydesdale when Oregon needed a stallion.

"Yeah, Jonathan Stewart is real powerful," said Finley. "He's one of the best freshmen I've seen. He can run through tackles, he can block. I think Jon would have made a difference. He can take it 70 or 80 on you."

But that's for another week, in another stadium. The Trojans' rock band rolls on, kicking butt and taking names.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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