The meeting between USC and Oregon doesn't have the luster it had at the start of the season.
Nor does the showdown between Ducks quarterback Bo Nix and his Trojans counterpart, Caleb Williams.
That's three losses — including losses to Utah and Notre Dame — in four games for the Trojans, meaning that even a spot in the Pac-12 title game is likely off the table with just two regular season games left.
So what's USC's motivation on Saturday at Autzen Stadium against No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 5-1, No. 6 CFB)? There's a future bowl berth, and it would be a morale boost while at the same time spoiling the Ducks' season.
“I think guys understand we don’t have many options but to go to work every day," USC linebacker Mason Cobb said.
Oregon is playing arguably its best stretch of the season after a humbling 36-33 loss to the Huskies on Oct. 14. The Ducks have reeled off three straight wins, including last weekend's 63-19 rout of California.
Just because USC isn't the team it appeared to be after six straight wins to start the season doesn't mean the Ducks aren't leery.
“You talk about trying to make a team play left-handed, this is a hard team to make play left-handed because they do so many things really, really well," Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. "I think you have to be sound when you play these guys and their quarterback has kind of seen it all and has a lot of experience.”
Williams is still among the league's top quarterbacks, but lately he's been overshadowed by Nix and Washington's Michael Penix Jr.
The Heisman Trophy winner leads the nation with 28 touchdown passes and has thrown for 2,958 yards this season, second-most in the nation behind Penix. Williams is tied atop the Pac-12 Conference with 10 touchdown runs.
Nix, meanwhile, has steadily climbed in the Heisman conversation this season. He has a 78.1 completion percentage and is on pace to break the NCAA record of 77.4, set by Mac Jones at Alabama in 2021.
Nix ranks fourth nationally with 25 passing touchdowns and he’s rushed for five more scores. He's been intercepted just twice.
USC fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch on Sunday after the Trojans gave up 52 points and 572 yards in the loss to the Huskies. Overall, USC's defense had played poorly for the past six games.
Defensive line coach Shaun Nua and inside linebackers coach Brian Odom will serve as USC’s co-defensive coordinators for the rest of the season. Taylor Mays, the former USC safety who has been a defensive analyst this season, was promoted to an on-field role working with the Trojans’ safeties.
“Oh, we've got to find a spark. Got to get the guys playing as a unit and execute at a high level," Nua said this week. "Obviously, a change was made so that way we can look for that spark and look for a different outcome.”
He may have gotten off to a rocky start, but Oregon receiver Tez Johnson had a statement game against California last weekend.
Johnson bobbled Nix's pass on the first play from scrimmage for a Cal interception, but went on to make 12 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. He added 75 yards on punt returns.
"Tez is a guy that battles every single moment he’s on the field,” Lanning said. “I know he wants that first play back, just like all of us do, but those moments happen in football. You see adversity hit, seeing guys go out and respond and react to that adversity is really important. He certainly wants to be coached hard. He demands the best of himself. We’ll continue to challenge him and continue to see him grow as a player as well.”
AP freelancer Dan Greenspan in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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