Perhaps USC can now empathize with hapless Colorado. When senior quarterback Matt Barkley completed 95 percent of his passes and threw for six touchdowns against the Buffaloes on Oct. 20, many celebrated the Trojans’ bevy of new offensive records, never stopping to think how helpless Colorado’s defense must have felt.
This time, on the other end of an offensive onslaught, the Trojans witnessed a redefinition of the term “video game-like numbers.” In Saturday’s 62-51 loss against Oregon, USC’s defense faced 12 offensive series from the Ducks’ up-tempo spread offense; Oregon scored touchdowns on nine of them.
“We weren’t aligned in our assignments perfectly like we were last year,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey said of the defense’s inability to produce stops. “We blew a lot of our assignments, and they capitalized on every single mistake.”
In their three non-scoring series, the Ducks missed a field goal, fumbled the ball on a shotgun snap that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota never fielded cleanly and punted in the fourth quarter after the game was out of reach.
In essence, the Trojans’ defense — a unit hailed for its improvement earlier in the season — produced only one actual defensive stop in the entire game.
“With our offense playing the way they did, we had to get one or two stops and we would be in this game,” Bailey said. “Our defense just didn’t do that tonight, and that’s why we’re on the losing side.”
Following the game, USC coach Lane Kiffin didn’t offer much explanation for USC’s inability to stop Oregon from marching down the field at will.
Instead, he lamented three offensive series in which the Trojans were unable to put points on the board: the first series of the game in which USC settled for a field goal, Barkley’s interception on a fade route intended for sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee that ended the Trojans’ second offensive series and Lee’s fumble in the red zone at the end of the first half.
“Unfortunately, we shot ourselves in the foot,” Kiffin said. “The game comes down to three offensive possessions.”
Barkley agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“We knew it was going to be a shoot-out,” Barkley said. “I felt like we had to play perfect on offense.”
But given the historic feebleness of USC’s defense on Saturday, many defensive players quickly shouldered the blame for the loss.
“Our offense put up 51 points,” senior safety T.J. McDonald said. “That should be enough.”
The number of records Oregon set seems to side with McDonald’s assessment, as USC Sports Information will have plenty of work this offseason when re-writing the USC football media guide’s “All-Time Opponents’ Records” section.
Beginning with Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, who has vaulted himself into a two-man Heisman Trophy race with Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, is a good starting point. Barner ran for 321 yards on 38 carries, scoring five touchdowns. All of those numbers broke USC opponent records, except for the 38 carries, which fell one short of former UCLA running back Gaston Green’s mark in 1986. Previously, former Penn State running back Curtis Enis held the record for most rushing yards against USC with 241 in 1996, while six players had scored four touchdowns against USC.
“He’s a slick guy,” Bailey said of Barner. “He keeps his feet moving, kind of like De’Anthony. They just keep running, but you got to really wrap his legs up so you can bring him down.”
Barner’s outrageous statistics buoyed Oregon’s offense to historic numbers for a USC opponent. The Trojans began playing football in 1888, and Saturday’s game marked both the most points (62) and the most total yards (730) a USC team has ever surrendered. The previous record for most points allowed by a USC team was 56 in its triple-overtime loss to Stanford last season at the Coliseum. Oregon’s 730 total yards shattered Notre Dame’s former record of 623 posted in 1946.
“They just know how to move the ball,” McDonald said. “They’ve got fast guys. They know the offense well. You’ve got to tip your hats to them. They’re not ranked where they are for no reason.”
Even with the barrage of quick-scoring series, McDonald maintained that USC’s defense never lost its confidence and played aggressively until the end.
“Every time we took the field, we knew we had to get a stop and we had the attitude that we would get the stop,” McDonald said. “It just didn’t work out in our favor.”