Beating USC: The Script That Flipped the Pac-12

Jeremy Mosier Analysis 37 Comments

Among the most pivotal points that propelled Oregon past USC the past decade was the 2012 matchup in Los Angeles. The Trojans went into the season ranked No. 1  under current Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin. The Ducks stormed L.A. in their all-white “Stormtrooper” kits and put a “65” on the L.A. Coliseum scoreboard.  In the seven seasons since, USC has managed only one win over Oregon.

Offensive game plans typically open with a script of pre-determined plays to see how the defense reacts to various formations and schemes, and the game plan proceeds based on adjustments to the defense’s reactions to that opening script. In their 2012 win over USC, the Ducks offensive script was Oscar-worthy, as were its post-script adjustments. In this article we will analyze the script that flipped the balance of power in the Pac-12.

Attacking the Apex

In the opening series Oregon attacks the Apex player, the linebacker or strong safety that can align to play both the run or pass (circled player in video above). Against USC, many of these opening plays were designed to attack the Trojans’ All-American safety (No. 7) T.J. McDonald. USC knows they need McDonald to help stop Oregon’s strong run game, and so they initially align him in the box close to the line of scrimmage.

Oregon was prepared for this and attacks McDonald by throwing inside, outside, under, and over McDonald’s alignment. This forces McDonald to retreat into pass coverage and away from run support, with an additional element of wearing him out as the game progresses. The Ducks cap their first drive with a 16-yard TD pass to De’Anthony Thomas over the top of the defense.

Attacking the Middle and Outside

After exposing USC with the passing game, the Ducks adjust  in their second offensive series to attack the middle of USC’s defense.  In the video above, the apex player is aligned wider and the safeties are so deep they are often out of the picture.  Oregon uses run plays, quick passes, and tunnel screens to attack the softened underbelly of the Trojan defense. Oregon’s second drive ends with a 21-yard TD off a Josh Huff tunnel screen.

Total Control

Oregon has now taken a stranglehold of the USC defense. The Trojans have given up two touchdown passes on the two previous drives and almost every linebacker and defensive end has either taken on a run blocker, been read by the QB on a run play, or been forced to play pass defense. Oregon has the defense stretched wide and deep, providing the Ducks a numbers advantage in the run game. The Ducks turn up the tempo and begin hammering the run.

Oregon’s warp-speed tempo is now wearing down and confusing the USC defense. Oregon’s lethal backfield of Marcus Mariota, Barner and De’Anthony Thomas begin gashing the Trojans for chunk yardage, and the series ends with a 27-yard TD scamper by Barner.

Kevin Cline

Kenjon Barner had a game for the ages…

Barner had very few carries on the first two scripted possessions, but Trojans’ reaction to those scripted plays created an opportunity to shift to a ground-and-pound offense. Barner took advantage of that opportunity to the tune of 38 carries for 321 yards and five touchdowns.

When the Ducks finally kickoff the season on November 7, it will be exciting to see new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s opening scripts and in-game adjustments. The script for a national championship has become recruiting and game planning, but in-game opening scripts and adjustments will be key to accumulating wins in the Ducks’ abbreviated league schedule, a schedule which may very well culminate in a championship game against USC.

Perhaps Moorhead can write a storybook ending for Our Beloved Ducks?

Jeremy Mosier                                                                                                                                   
Geneseo, Illinois
Top Photo by Kaly Harward

Phil Anderson, the Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Daily Articles NO MORE on FishDuck

Please see this explanation right here… and to learn about the impact of FishDuck on so many–check the summary right here.  I will be writing intermittently on FishDuck (as the mood strikes) this summer, and a couple of times a week during the football season, and those articles and analyses will be posted here on FishDuck, and the links to my articles will also be available on the new site PuddleHuddle, when it is up soon.

New at FishDuck? Learn about the site right here!

Our 32 rules can be summarized to this: 1) be polite and respectful, 2) keep it clean, and 3) no reference of any kind to politics. Easy-peasy!

Take note though, there are NO STRIKES, NO WARNINGS, and NO SLACK given. Violate the rules and you are gone, as this is what the 99% who post superb comments want. (The Ban could be for weeks, months or permanent) For the less than 1% out there who do not have impulse-control … as you write your comment that violates our rules, ask yourself, “is this worth getting banned over?”

FishDuck members….we got your back.  No Trolls Allowed!

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

It IS Going to Happen, as The FishDuck Forum is REAL!

The Our Beloved Ducks forum will be released and available on Friday, October 23rd, so all of us can discuss the daily items of Oregon Sports, and do so in our safe environment unlike anywhere else.

I do not have time needed to manage the daily articles,…and I do not have time to put together the “full-package” of features I had planned for the site right now as explained right here.

But I do need my daily “Duck-Fix” and love this community, and I can give the smaller expenditure of time required for a forum.

The timing is good with fall camp starting and it will be up in time for the upcoming beginning of Football Season and the Oregon Sports Overload!

More news about it coming later,

Mr. FishDuck

(We will publish articles every day up to the release date of the new forum!)

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I just have to say it again Coach Mosier….such an outstanding analysis and we are fortunate for your contributions to all Ducks fans.

Amen Charles, Jeremy is outstanding.

FYI – Bleacher report has a projected Rose Bowl of Bama vs Ohio St – same as Jerry Palm at CBS. But it has Georgia, not Oregon playing Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.

Bleacher projects Oregon playing Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl which, unfortunately, I think is more likely to happen than Oregon making the final 4.


Have you all been wondering about how Mike Yam is doing since the P12 N fired him?


Missed his departure amidst all the wildfire frenzy on the West Coast. Looks like the Yammer landed on his feet with the NFL network. Does make one wonder about how any of us will be watching Pac12 sports in 2021.

Jon Joseph

And prior to this gig he was often on the ESPNU radio network. Talented guy, glad he is doing OK.

Is Larry the new Pac-12 anchor or is it Yogi Bear?

David Marsh

This does put the last couple of years into perspective with Arroyo. The initial script was usually good towards the end of the season ended in points. However, the adjustments never really happened and the offense would eventually stall in every game. Offensive stalls are natural occurrences for a series or two but last year it would seem that Oregon would go dormant for quarters at a time.

I am really looking forward to having an offensive play calling expert back at Oregon.

Jon Joseph

Good call on Arroyo. That first drive in the Rose Bowl, fantastic. Thereafter?

And looking at how JH is playing in the NFL puts the stamp on him being underutilized last season.


The restraints on Herbert in 2019 were multi factorial, as has been discussed here often. I don’t disagree that Arroyo had some culpability, but don’t see it as black and white as many do. Have watched the last couple Chargers games, and to be fair, UO had no WRs in the same universe as Keenan Allen in 2019.

In the games I saw, Justin was going to Allen the same way he was going to Mitchell in 2018. They have developed a beautiful chemistry, and Herbie is putting the ball where Allen can make a play. Saints game could have well gone much differently had Allen not been knocked out with an injury late in the first quarter.

Right now, the Ducks appear to have outstanding quality depth in all offensive player position groups, with experience being the sole shortcoming, and possible liability. Moorhead has been to the circus twice and the rodeo 10 times, so I believe we are in as good a position as possible to be able to adjust for injuries and lack of experience. Can’t wait to begin to see how it plays out.

P.S. I’m hoping that the Chargers drop just enough games to be able to trade up for drafting Sewell.

David Marsh

Chargers have the same problem that would happen with Arroyo the last few seasons… early lead heading into the half and then becoming a predictable run game for the 3rd quarter… followed by PANIC in the 4th. Oregon would get away with a win but the Chargers aren’t so lucky.

Oregon would stop throwing the ball in the second half… and the Chargers are basically doing the same… well that and missing kicks.

Jon Joseph

KICKERS! So frustrating. I do not get in the NFL why any coach feels like a lead is safe. Just too much talent even on the worst of teams.

Jon Joseph

Keenan Allen is balling. Good points all. And understandably, Mario et al did not want to see JH getting injured.

JH should get his 1st W this weekend against the Jets, a team playing more like a DC-3.


I went to this game and sat in the USC season ticket holder section. The final score made the game look closer than it really was. Kenyon was a beast that day. One USC fan told us not to stand and cheer when Oregon scored. We didn’t listen to him and he left early that day…Good memories.

Go Ducks

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

What an experience that must have been! I sensed that it could be more than a “big” game and actually had two photographers at the game, and thus tons of great shots.

The top photo is one of the most beautiful ever, as the background is just so colorful and Barner is in such sharp focus and in a classic RB pose.

Jon Joseph

Man, that was Fun, Fun, Fun! Thanks Jeremy.

A few tidbits. LSU at UF is the 2nd SEC game COVID postponed this week. Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID and most likely will be sidelined and not on the sidelines for Saturday’s game vs Georgia.

No cupcakes = only Bama and UGA remain undefeated in the SEC. 1 goes down on Saturday. Will 2020 be the season that a 2L team makes the playoff?

With only 7 games, the Pac-12 is behind the playoff 4 ball. Add to this the fact that only 2 conference teams are ranked in the current AP Poll: Oregon 12; SC 25. At a hypothetical 7-0, will the Ducks SOS be good enough to get Oregon in over a 2L B1G or SEC team?

According to a recent study conducted by a 3rd party at the behest of the NCAA, NCAA members want a separate governing body for G5/P6 football. They also want wholesale changes made and not incremental changes. And to Brandon’s article the other day, a majority want an anti-trust exemption so that coaches salaries and overall football budgets can be capped.

Approval of 1 free transfer for CFB, men’s and women’s CBB, ice hockey and baseball appears to be coming soon. Roster management in CFB will be of more importance. How many scholarships do you leave open for transfers?

With the crippling COVID financial hits to athletic department budgets are we likely to see the Playoff expand before 2026? ‘We need the dues!’ The Pac-12’s request to go to 8 this season was turned down but not without, according to Pac-12 guru Jon Wilner, some serious discussion as to whether the field should be expanded this year and also, before 2026. Staying with 8 teams is costing hundreds of millions of much needed dollars.

Duck fans, all in favor of a 9 AM kickoff for the UW game? I for one would prefer this over the likely late kickoff in December. And how great would it be if it was the FOX Big Noon game?

Ducks big man, nose guard Scott, is down to 311 pounds and plans on being more disruptive as a pass rusher in 2020. Hopefully he will continue to be a big time run stuffer.

2 weeks before the B1G kicks off. Good news as we have only 1 top 25 matchup this weekend when 3. UGA visits 2. Bama.

Friday night, chance to watch 4-0 BYU at 1-0 Houston. And Cincinnati at Tulsa Friday night is another very interesting G5 game.


At a hypothetical 7-0, will the Ducks SOS be good enough to get Oregon in over a 2L B1G or SEC team? Darn good question.

Capping salaries is a good idea but will that prevent other perk’s for them ?? Free housing, private jet, COVID masks for life, etc.

“Staying with 8 teams is costing hundreds of millions of much needed dollars.” Never more obvious then in the Pac-12. Would the NCAA do it just for the Pac-12 ?? – – No, but would they prevent it just because of the Pac-12 ?? Hmmmmmm

Jon Joseph

$ might even bring reluctant SEC on board for playoff expansion? Think it would have to be an 8 and not a 6 team field for the SEC to approve; chance to get that second team in.

Correction on Cincy at Tulsa – Game is Saturday, noon on ESPN 2.

Jon Joseph

Saban is asymptomatic but quarantined at home for 10 days. Sark will be the designated HC on the sidelines. So, if UGA defeats Bama, does Saban’s undefeated streak against former assistant coaches, now 21-0 I believe, come to an end? [Dabo did not coach under Saban.]

Saturday evening when UGA plays Bama there will be many future pros on the field.

Hats off to Sark for battling and so far, overcoming his addiction. And hats off to Saban for giving Sark a chance to rehabilitate.

Sark could be the next man up in Tuscaloosa? If he is a contender to replace Saban, I certainly get why he turned down the CU job.


A 2 loss team in the playoff?

With Alabama and Georgia in different divisions, the SEC has a couple ways to spin why, not only should a 2 loss SEC team make it, but 2 teams deserve a spot.

Scenario 1: Alabama beats Georgia this week, the two teams meet again in the Championship Game, Georgia wins that one. The SEC would shout, how can either of these great teams be left out?

Scenario 2, either of the teams win both games. SEC logic again would proclaim, “Sure, (team) has 2 L’s, but look who they lost to?”

Jon Joseph

EXACTLY. And a 2L B1G team could also have an argument.

Hope it isn’t the case but there is no wiggle room in the Pac-12 schedule and no assurance that any team will play 7 games.


Covid related cancellations – with no window to postpone – seem almost certain. Still, dream seasons do happen!

Jon Joseph

In the SEC, 53 guys on the roster have to be healthy to play ball including 7 O line guys. I imagine the Pac-12 will follow suit?

If there are cancellations, figuring out division winners could get crazy.


Nice summary JJ; will look for your weekend preview special in the comments tomorrow. You’ve been spot on so far!

Jon Joseph

Thanks dc.

Bama O vs Georgia D – excellent vs excellent. UGA O vs Bama D? Can UGA put up enough points to get the W?

How much if any influence will Saban not being on the sideline have? He sure didn’t help the D against Ole Miss.


Love the idea of a 9 AM kickoff for Huskies game in December; early morning vs O-dark thirty at night? Ducks practice routinely in the early morning so that wouldn’t be much of a change for them. Impact on spectators likely minimal due to ongoing large group restrictions in Oregon/Lane county.

Think Mullens would be well served to walk back his “not raising my hand” comment for this particular game.


Apparently to match his new trimmer physique, Jordon has shed half of his number; he will wear 3 this season.


I love simple, script and adjust, well done. That was about the easiest analysis to understand I have read. It was also one of the most enjoyable, down goes the trojan!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Amen. Coach Mosier has done just an incredible job giving us great analysis articles, and I love this use of technology. Few coaches can do what he does.


Thanks for bringing this game back, and the inside look in to how the Ducks did it. 1 in 7 for USC. More than any other team, it’s been the Ducks who have knocked the Trojans off their pedestal, not only on the field, but recruiting too.

The intimidation factor that USC had is gone; on the field, and in their backyard. It’s the Ducks in the Trojans heads now, and the players look a lot like the ones that play at USC too.. It will certainly help the conference if USC can start winning again, a 6-0 start this season would be perfect.


6-0 for the trojans would be ideal. There is nothing like crushing the hopes of the elite. Also 6-0 gives Helton at least another year. It will also give future, Marlon’s, Talanoa’s, and Eli’jah’s even more to think about when they consider heading to the bright lights, dreaming they will find greatness.

Jon Joseph

Playing in the Coli is going to cost SC big $ for all the cut outs of faux fans.

I wonder if we will see Urban’s face in the ‘crowd?’ Reggie?

Be it 2021 or 2022 I think Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell will be the next HC at SC? Fickell turned down the Michigan State job but SC is likely too good a gig to pass up? And the SC. AD came from Cincy. At the G5 level he is a very good recruiter. He has 2 Ws vs UCLA.


I think you’re right about Fickell. No disrespect to U of Cincy, or to suggest that Fickell is fickle, but a jump from the Bearcats to the Trojans would be a logical step.

Jon Joseph

And likely twice the money with a COL bump included.


You are so right, everyone is planning on seeing the Ducks vs USC in the Pac-12 championship game, both at 6-0. Can’t wait to see that one.

Jon Joseph

I think to have a playoff chance, both teams will have to be 6-0? SC gets tested out of the box versus ASU and has tricky games at Utah and Wazzu.


USC HAS to beat ASU. A 6-0 ASU will not make anywhere close to the impact that an undefeated SC or Oregon would, they just don’t have the profile, or brand. ASU played a huge part in Oregon’s chances for the playoffs last season and they do again this season.


Your right about ASU, which is known for its basketball more than its football, however they have been known to win a football game at the most inappropriate time. (darn it) IMO it’s doubtful ASU can go 6-0 even if they win over USC.