In less than 12 minutes, Oregon had rattled off 21 unanswered points, cutting USC’s lead to 38-35 with seven minutes to play. A botched handoff from junior quarterback Matt Barkley to senior tailback Marc Tyler on the next possession gave Oregon (9-2, 7-1) enough time to march the length of the field to the Trojans’ 20-yard line. Kicker Alejandro Maldonaldo, however, missed a potential game-tying field goal wide left as time expired and USC (9-2, 6-2) escaped Autzen Stadium with a 38-35 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 59,933.
“The fact that we finished and pulled the big win was huge,” Barkley said. “We needed it. Last year the big games didn’t really go our way in the end. On all parts we played lights out — special teams, offense and defense. We came in expecting to win and we are happy that we can celebrate like this.”
Though Oregon came into the game ranked third nationally in points per game, the Ducks were held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season and the Trojans’ defense limited them to just 36 yards of total offense.
USC, meanwhile, struck first as Barkley connected with his top two targets — freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee midway through the first quarter and sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods early in the second quarter — to give the Trojans’ a 14-0 lead.
Oregon responded quickly with quarterback Darron Thomas finding tailback De’Anthony Thomas for a 29-yard score. USC would answer right away when Barkley connected with Woods for the second time to extend the lead to 21-7.
Though Woods was questionable all week heading into the game, he finished with seven receptions for 53 yards and two touchdowns.
“Robert was still not 100 percent out there,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “But he was making plays and he stepped up when we needed it.”
With the Ducks on the verge of cutting the lead to a single score again, the Trojans’ defense forced and recovered a fumble at their own 9-yard line seconds before halftime, which kept the lead at two scores.
“That was a huge turnaround for us,” sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said. “They were about to score and change the momentum of the game. Jawanza Starling came up with a huge recovery and it made a huge difference.”
Despite trailing at halftime, Oregon had accumulated 221 yards of total offense compared to 211 for USC. It was also the first time the Ducks had been held to single digit points at halftime since Nov. 13, 2010 at California.
USC used that momentum at the start of the second half, extending its lead to as much as 38-14 after a field goal, a 3-yard run from Tyler and a 5-yard pass from Barkley to redshirt freshman tight end Randall Telfer in the third quarter. Barkley finished 26-of-34 for 323 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. After the game, Kiffin was quick to praise his quarterback’s performance.
“If you look at what he’s done with a bunch of young people, I can’t imagine other players putting up the same numbers,” he said.
Though the Trojans’ looked comfortably in control, the Ducks’ offense kept coming. Thomas returned a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, junior tailback Kenjon Barner notched his second score of the night and finally junior tailback LaMichael James cut the lead to a single score on a 1-yard plunge. Barner and James combined for 201 rushing yards and three scores while Thomas finished with 214 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
“I never felt comfortable,” Kiffin said of USC’s lead. “They’re so explosive on offense. They’ll literally score in a minute. You look up at the clock and there’s 13 minutes and that’s an eternity.”
That eternity turned out to be almost enough time for Oregon to extend its home winning streak to 22 games. But Maldonaldo’s missed field goal gave USC its first victory in Oregon since 2005.
“To break the longest home winning streak in the country says a lot about this team and how far they’ve come,” Kiffin said. “I’m really excited for our fans, first off. They’ve been through so much. And secondly, for our players — the way these guys have come together these last five or six weeks is great to see.”