Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 11/15/11
It's the second to last game for the still-sanctioned Trojans and now is about when the measuring stick starts to appear. This weekend's contest versus Oregon will show how much USC has really improved from last year and during the course of this season. Oregon's head coach Chip Kelly notices that this is definitely a different team than the one they beat last year in the Coliseum, 53-32. "Obviously Matt Barkley is on another level," said Kelly. "I think the addition of Marqise Lee to the passing attack has really given them a whole other weapon. It's their second year under Monte Kiffin on defense. They have improved on the defensive side of the ball. I think they have a better understanding of what their coaching staff is doing so I believe they are better than when we played them last year." USC is a 15 point underdog heading into this weekend. It's far from ideal, but considering the Ducks won by 21 points last year and 27 points in 2009 at Auzten Stadium it's a definite improvment. The Duck currently have the longest active home win streak in the nation with 21 wins in Eugene since 2008. "Probably the hottest team in the country, especially if you put them at their place," said head coach Lane Kiffin. The spread and the home field advantage doesn't seem to be worrying Kiffin at all. "Sometimes you take it as motivation and also the pressure is off," said Kiffin. "We'll just go up there, have some fun and see what happens." "They are going to be loud. It's going to be exciting. It's going to be a good atmosphere so we're going to go in there and hopefully give a good fight and hopefully come up with a W," said S T.J. McDonald who seems to be as optimistic and relaxed as his head coach. Maybe they believe they are a little better too. "I think our guys have played together now for an extra year. We're obviously playing better as a team," said Kiffin. "We're definitely better on defense than we were a year ago. We're not a real old team, but we do have more experience with our younger guys and they've been on the road and in tough games." QB Matt Barkley reiterated that the growth that has occurred in the younger, less experienced players over the course of this season will help them cope with what is waiting for them at the notorious Auzten Stadium. "We can't get all out of whack just because it is a big time game like this and we can't let the elements get to us. Our guys have matured a lot since the beginning of this year," said Barkley. He noted that the amount of false starts and other careless rookie mistakes have decreased over the season. Some of the Trojans greenest rookies have made progress over the past couple weeks including true freshman middle linebacker Lamar Dawson. "He's going to be a great player and he's starting to show it now and he's going to have to play great for this week," said Kiffin. "This is a very difficult game for any linebacker, especially for a guy making his third start." One of the Trojans biggest issues last season was conditioning. The lack of stamina showed all season, but especially against Oregon. Though Oregon tends to wear out most teams by the fourth quarter it was especially evident against the Trojans who actually took the lead in the third quarter 32-29. It was only the second time the Ducks had trailed all season and it didn't last long. The Ducks used the remaining 26 minutes to score 24 consecutive points in the Oregon's first win in the Coliseum since 2000. Last year, the Trojans had a bye week before playing the Ducks and used the extra week to try to prepare for the Ducks by practicing in the mornings and have extra conditioning after practice. Now morning practices and extra conditioning are daily habits. "It's hard to do in one week so we've been working on it all season and even more this week but of who we're playing and how they play," said Kiffin. Indeed, the Trojans are better than last year. But are they good enough? TWO MINUTE DRILL: Injury report: DaJohn Harris, Christian Tupuo, Demetrius Wright did not practiceJawanza Starling, Matt Kalil, Simione Vehikite, Robert Woods still practiced, but were extremely limitedT.J. McDonald only migraine over the weekend (not a concussion as initially thought) and practiced today.
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