LOS ANGELES -- If the goal for Saturday's game is to limit No. 2 Oregon's high-powered offense, what's more important: stopping the run or the pass?
That was the question posed to USC safety Jawanza Starling by a reporter after practice this week. He scoffed a little bit, entertaining the thought for a quick second.
"Definitely stopping the run," Starling said. "I think they're like third in the nation.
"Stopping the run will be key in winning the ballgame."
In terms of yardage per game, Oregon is third in the FBS, with more than 330 yards gained on the ground each week. Part of that is because the Ducks run nearly two-thirds of the time.
But even in terms of yardage per attempt, the Ducks are tops in the entire country: On average, they gain more than 6.2 yards each time they run the ball, almost two yards better than the NCAA average and more than a yard better than USC's 5.1 mark.
Through the air, Oregon is much more, well, average. The Ducks are 85th in the FBS in passing yards, and, judging by yards per attempt, they're right in the middle, 62nd out of 124 teams.
"These guys will run the ball down your throats," defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said this week. "You gotta stop the run against them."
Stopping the run against Chip Kelly's offense is a bit more complicated than it sounds. First of all, there's the tempo at which everything is run, comparable only to Arizona among Trojan opponents this season. Then there's Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, a 6-4 athlete who's been timed in the 40-yard dash faster (4.48 seconds) than USC's top two running backs.
He doesn't run as much as some of the top college quarterbacks, but he runs just as well. His 6.6 yards-per-carry average is fourth-best in the nation, tied with Ohio State's Braxton Miller.
USC has faced only one running quarterback this season: Arizona's Matt Scott. He ran for a career-high 100 yards against the Trojans last week after running for a total of 75 the previous four weeks, so there's a precedent for failure there.
Orgeron emphasized the importance of his linemen sticking to their assignments. Holding Mariota, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas to gains of five yards or less will be considered successes, so the Trojans' mindset will have to be more about containment than about outright stops.
"You can't just be screaming down the field," Orgeron said.