10 offensive keys for USC vs. Oregon State

·9 min read

Here we go. USC versus Oregon State is a huge challenge for the Trojans. USC football fans know that Corvallis has been a graveyard for very good Pete Carroll-coached teams. It has been a hard place for USC to win when the Trojans had a chance to pursue a national championship.

Maybe USC isn’t a realistic national title contender this year, with Georgia existing, but it remains that USC needs to beat Oregon State in order to have a successful season. The Trojans might be able to lose this game and still meet their goals, but a loss on Saturday would force the Trojans to run the table in the Pac-12 the rest of the way. They can’t realistically go 7-2 in the conference and expect to play in the conference title game. This one is huge.

We look at 10 different keys for Lincoln Riley when he tries to figure out the best line of attack against coordinator Trent Bray’s Beaver defense:

CALEB WILLIAMS AS A RUNNER

Sep 10, 2022; Stanford, California, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) throws the ball during the second quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It’s true that Caleb Williams can’t subject his body to too many hits. If he gets hurt, it’s a nightmare for USC. However, this is a huge game. Williams will need to put his body on the line to an extent. We saw the threat of the Caleb Williams rushing attack last week on read-option keepers versus Fresno State. That’s something Oregon State has to account for. If the Beavers are going to crash down on the running back, Williams keeping the ball is a counter to that tactic. Will we see Lincoln Riley use some quarterback-specific running plays that get Williams out of the pocket and thereby reduce the workload on USC’s questionable left tackles (Courtland Ford and Bobby Haskins), who are both expected to play but are not 100-percent healthy? So many tactical questions arise from this one dimension of USC’s arsenal.

DEPLOYING TRAVIS DYE

Sep 10, 2022; Stanford, California, USA; USC Trojans running back Travis Dye (26) reacts during the second quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon State and Dye know each other well. Dye played at Oregon for a few seasons. The Beavers know how good he is. The question becomes, “How will Lincoln Riley use Dye on Saturday?”

Does he use him as a runner between the tackles, as a receiver coming out of the backfield, or as a pass protector and decoy? So many options exist.

I think one intriguing possibility is having Dye in pass protection, maybe as someone who chips or provides an initial block to slightly slow down the pass rush, but who then leaks out on a delay screen, especially if Oregon State blitzes. USC running backs catching screen passes against an OSU pass rush intent on getting to Caleb Williams could be a very effective play in this game.

THE LEFT TACKLE QUESTION

Sep 17, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley reacts before the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

One thing to remember about play-calling is that it’s not just the matchup against a defense which matters. A team’s own roster situation will affect how a coach calls plays. Lincoln Riley needs to know how effective Courtland Ford will be when he presumably plays on Saturday. If he thinks Ford can be full-strength, fine — use a full playbook. If he’s not sure Ford can be at his very best, this will affect how Riley calls plays. He will need to run the ball up the middle or to the right-hand side of the line. He might invite Oregon State to blitz from the left side — where Ford is — and throw screens or other short passes in that direction. Knowing what he has at left tackle will guide Riley through this game as a play caller.

OREGON STATE PASS RUSH: BEING ON HIGH ALERT

Sep 17, 2022; Portland, Oregon, USA; Montana State Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen (left) and Oregon State Beavers head coach Jonathan Smith (right) greet after the game at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon State has just three sacks this year. This means the Beavers are going to search for ways to get after Caleb Williams, especially from his blind side at USC’s left tackle spot. Will OSU try to get pressure from its base front four, or will the Beavers feel the need to blitz? Riley has to be ready to address this question from both ends and prepare for both possibilities.

One intriguing possibility is to start plays with leftward motion, creating the appearance that a play will go at or outside the left tackle, only to then have a misdirection action swinging to the right side of the field. Oregon State might overpursue toward the left side of USC’s offensive line and could get caught out of position.

EVERYONE CONTRIBUTES

Sep 17, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans wide receiver Brenden Rice (2) is defended by Fresno State Bulldogs defensive back Cam Lockridge (20) in the first half at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

One of the strongest and most encouraging aspects of the USC offense through three games is that while Jordan Addison and Mario Williams are the big stars, lots of players are getting involved. USC is in a position to use both Travis Dye and Jordan Addison (in particular) as decoys who draw so much attention from Oregon State that Brenden Rice or Austin Jones or tight end Lake McRee can slip open for a big gain or a crucial fourth-down conversion.

SITTING BACK

Nov 3, 2018; Corvallis, OR, USA; Oregon State Beavers wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins (17), left, grimaces in closing moments of a game against the USC Trojans at Reser Stadium. The Trojans beat the Beavers 38-21. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

What if Oregon State sits back in coverage and uses the Iowa State plan which often bothered Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma? We saw this from Fresno State, which took away the deep shot and forced Caleb Williams to work the ball underneath with shorter passes and more runs. Can USC be patient and productive? The Trojans might have to convert a lot of third downs in this game. Having good plays on 3rd and 5 will be crucial. Finding ways to move the ball without the home run deep shot will likely come into play for Riley and Caleb.

REMAIN CLEAN

Dec 12, 2020; Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Oregon State Beavers running back Trey Lowe (21) and Stanford Cardinal cornerback Donjae Logan (5) go after a loose ball during the second half at Reser Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Williams wasn’t supremely precise against Fresno State, but one of the best things about his game this year is that he hasn’t yet thrown an interception. He must maintain a clean sheet against Oregon State, unless his interception is a 3rd and 25 arm-punt which pins the Beavers inside their own 10-yard line with USC leading on the scoreboard (something like that). This is not a game in which USC can afford to commit significant turnovers which leave points on the scoreboard. That should be obvious to everyone.

PLAYING THE OPPONENT

Sep 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oregon State Beavers tight end Teagan Quitoriano (84) completes a pass play and runs into the end zone for a touchdown in the first half against the USC Trojans at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Grinch needs to demand more from his defense, of course, but USC’s offense must go into this game expecting to score 40 points. The Trojans haven’t failed to reach 40 this season. They will likely need at least 38 if not 40 to win here. They have to assume Oregon State will avoid the mistakes USC’s previous opponents have made in the red zone. Valuing each possession, each touchdown, needs to remain a conscious thing for USC’s offensive unit.

FLIPPING THE SCRIPT

Sep 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oregon State Beavers linebacker Jack Colletto (12) runs for a first down before he is stopped by USC Trojans safety Isaiah Pola-Mao (21) in the first half at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The conventional wisdom is that Oregon State will try to run the ball and keep Caleb Williams off the field. USC can flip that script by getting an early lead and then using a run-heavy (or short-pass-heavy) approach to keep the ball away from Oregon State while reducing the amount of time the defense spends on the field. USC might not score 40 points using this approach, but neutering the Oregon State offense would (could) be a result of this line of attack. It might be the better play; it certainly would silence the Reser Stadium crowd if the Trojans can pull it off. It’s something to consider.

LATE-GAME PRESSURE

Sep 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; The Oregon State Beavers take the field for the game against the USC Trojans at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Will this be the first game of the Lincoln Riley era in which his USC offense faces intense late-game pressure? We don’t know how Caleb Williams will react. If we told you USC will be down three or four points with two minutes left and the ball at its own 25, how confident would you be the Trojans will win? Maybe we won’t get to see this scenario at all, but if we do, it will be fascinating to watch how this unit confronts the high stakes and the soaring emotions of a do-or-die drive.

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire