No happy Homecoming for the Trojans as Oregon moved the ball almost at-will, and put the brakes on USC’s offense for much of the second half
By Michael Brown
Sentinel Sports Writer
USC head coach Lane Kiffin said his squad played like “two teams” in the same game. Unfortunately, the “bad” one prevailed.
In front of more than 88,000 people, the No. 2 ranked Oregon Ducks spoiled USC’s Homecoming in a 53-32 rout at the Coliseum on Saturday night. The Ducks outplayed the Trojans in all facets of the game, sending a disappointed USC crowd to the early exits during the waning minutes.
The futile final minutes were caused by USC’s porous play and execution, after it had took the lead 32-29 early in the third quarter on quarterback Matt Barkley’s 1-yard touchdown run and pass to Ronald Johnson for a two-point conversion.
That was the “good” USC team Kiffin made reference to, but with 11 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third quarter, the ‘bad” one reappeared and Oregon took over.
The Ducks’ quick-strike No. 1 nationally ranked offense went to work, led by tailback LaMichael James. On Oregon’s next drive after USC gained the lead, James carried the ball four times for gains of three, six, 10 and seven yards.
Later in the drive, on a crucial third-and-four at USC’s 33-yard line, James gained six yards, converting one of Oregon’s third downs. The conversion proved to be pivotal. Oregon’s offense took advantage all-game long of the Trojans’ inability to stop it. They converted 11-of-17 third downs.
Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas seized the opportunity by throwing a 30-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jeff Maehl, giving the Ducks a 36-32 lead.
USC wasn’t as fortunate on offense with third down, completing 7-of-17.
“Our third down play was bad on both sides of the ball,” Kiffin said. “You’ve got to convert third downs against them. We just didn’t get it done.”
After USC punted away on its next drive, Oregon marched down the field from its own 18-yard line behind a heavy dose of James. James had six carries during the drive and capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown run, allowing the Ducks to take a 43-32 lead, which they never looked back from.
Both third quarter drives were uncharacteristic of Oregon’s offense, which usually scores quickly. The Ducks came into the game with 16 touchdown drives of less than 56 seconds and with 22 touchdown drives of five plays or less.
During both drives, Oregon held the ball a combined eight minutes, 35 seconds and ran 23 plays.
James, a Heisman candidate, bolstered his chances by finishing with 239 yards on 36 carries with three touchdowns, one of which was a 42-yard run for a score during the second quarter.
The ending at the Coliseum was almost a mirror image of last year’s game, where Oregon thumped USC, 47-20. James had 183 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown in that contest.
It wasn’t a one-man show however. James had help.
Thomas went 19-of-32 for 288 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Maehl baffled USC’s defensive backs and finished with eight receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
Early on, USC looked like it would be able to trade punches with Oregon.
With the Ducks leading 8-3, Johnson returned a punt 24 yards, giving USC possession at its 48-yard line. After two Oregon penalties for 20 yards, Barkley connected with wideout Robert Woods for 17 yards. Running back Marc Tyler, finished the drive with a 1-yard run.
After James’ 42-yard run put the Ducks up, 15-10, USC answered on its next drive with an 8-yard touchdown run by Tyler, giving it a 17-15 advantage.
After USC’s defense forced Oregon to go three-and-out, momentum was on the Trojans side. However, a miscue swung the tide towards Oregon.
With a little over seven minutes left in the second quarter, Barkley looked over to USC’s sideline while the ball was snapped, resulting in a fumble and recovery by Oregon’s Boseko Lokombo at the Trojans’ 45.
It took Oregon all of nine seconds to capitalize on the turnover when Thomas hit Maehl for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
After Oregon regained the lead, 22-17, its special teams stepped up, in what was shaping up to be an offensive shootout.
Defensive back Cliff Harris returned a punt 41 yards to USC’s 34. Again, the Ducks didn’t waste any time with a long sustained drive.
After a 1-yard run by James, Thomas completed a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Levasier Tuinei for a touchdown, giving the Ducks a 29-17 lead with just more than a minute left in the half.
After the game, Kiffin assessed his team’s Jekyll and Hyde performance.
“We were good in the first quarter, bad in the second, OK in parts of the third-and terrible in the fourth,” he said. “We were like two teams out there and you can’t win like that.”
Oregon (8-0 overall and 5-0 Pac-10) compiled 599 total yards during the game against what was thought to be an improved USC defense. But, much like the Washington and Stanford losses, the Trojans failed to make stops when it mattered.
Following the two earlier losses this season, fatigue may have played a role in USC’s failure to thwart late scoring drives by other teams.
USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said, “We weren’t really that tired. It was just all about us not going out and finishing plays. We didn’t execute like we were supposed to, and we just let them off the hook.”
Cornerback Shareece Wright echoed Casey’s sentiments when he said, “We had them in the third when we led. We stopped them multiple times. They ran the same 6 or 7 plays, but they just waited until we made mistakes.”
The Trojans much maligned defense perhaps deflected some attention from its offense’s inconsistent performance. Barkley finished 26-of-49 for 264 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
USC’s pass heavy offense wasn’t helped by an ordinary rushing attack, which generated a meager 113 yards on 35 carries for a 3.1 average.
“We were in a rhythm (at times), then we weren’t,” Barkley said. “You need four quarters (of consistency) and we didn’t do that. You can‘t beat a team like Oregon when you play that way.”
The latest USC loss drops its record to 5-3 overall and 2-3 in-conference. The Trojans will look to bounce back next week when it plays against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Kiffin discussed the week ahead.
“I’m not worried about our guys,” Kiffin answered when asked about the team’s motivation for the rest of the season. “We’ll answer the same questions we had to answer after our earlier losses and just go back to work in practice.”