When the clock finally struck zero on the Reser Stadium scoreboard, making official USC’s dominant 31-14 victory over Oregon State, the Trojans’ sideline responded in a manner that it hadn’t in nearly a year and a half — jubilation.
Up until Saturday’s win in Corvallis, each of USC’s previous five wins brought about tame responses from the Trojan faithful. USC’s most one-sided victory — a 35-7 win against middling Boston College on Sept. 14 — was unimpressive and to be expected. The team’s most meaningful wins of the season — a 38-31 defeat of Arizona and a 19-3 victory over Utah — were decent, yet demonstrated two of the team’s most problematic perceived flaws — its secondary and its offensive line.
But against Oregon State on Friday, USC put together a complete performance, and came away with a rare road win in a game that the Trojans entered as five-point underdogs. More importantly, the team snapped its three-game losing streak at Reser Stadium, a poor stretch that clearly had an effect on the Trojans’ reaction to the win.
“It’s been a long time since USC’s won in Corvallis, so we’re glad to be able to stop that trend and get a win in a hostile environment,” senior outside linebacker Devon Kennard said. “We always said it’s been rough for USC to play here, and we put a stop to that tonight.”
Aside from a 14-second stretch in which Oregon State scored its only two touchdowns of the night, USC did a superb job of making everything look easy against the Beavers. The Trojans outgained OSU by 120 yards and forced quarterback Sean Mannion to throw three interceptions. For the first time all season, USC excelled in every facet of the game against a quality opponent, and judging by the players’ responses after the game, the win could spark the team to a strong finish.
“It was a huge win for us,” redshirt junior safety Dion Bailey said. “The year we went 10-2, it took a win going up and beating Oregon to get us going. Hopefully this win against Oregon State can do the same for us and we can just keep it rolling the rest of the way.”
Bailey’s reference to the Trojans’ 2011 upset over then-No. 4 Oregon at Autzen Stadium is both revealing of the program’s recent struggles and reassuring about the team’s remaining four games of the season.
After beating the Ducks, USC capped off its 2011 season with a memorable 50-0 dismantling of rival UCLA at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which helped the Trojans earn a preseason No. 1 ranking heading into the 2012 season. That year, USC’s most impressive victory was a road win against Washington, a Huskies team that finished the season 7-6.
The rest of the team’s wins were hardly anything to celebrate. Four of the seven teams USC defeated in 2012 — Hawai’i, Cal, Utah and Colorado — finished with a combined 12 wins. The other three wins — against Washington, Syracuse and Arizona State — did not necessarily garner much excitement from players or fans.
But Friday’s win felt different. For the first time since beating UCLA in 2011, fans, players and coaches alike could all agree — this was a big-time win. Sure, maybe the Beavers weren’t as good as people expected them to be, but Reser Stadium had owned USC for the better part of the past decade. Even though the Trojans only played three games there, the “Corvallis Curse” loomed over the program in the weeks leading up to each fateful trip, including this year. The team had heard all about its past struggles on the road against OSU, and instead of ignoring them, quietly embraced them.
“The best part about [the win] was how loud they were when we first started playing,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler said. “And then dead silence — all you could hear were our fans cheering.”
Though it was only one win, you get a sense that it was the type of win that could cause a change in the trajectory of the season. What was once viewed as a hopeless season after several low points, including a home loss to Washington State, the firing of Lane Kiffin and a woeful loss at Notre Dame that pushed USC’s record to 4-3, has now turned into a potential resounding success — even by USC standards.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Kessler said after the win in standard cliche player-speak. “It’s obviously a big win on the road, and it helps us out in the Pac-12, but we’ve got to stay focused. This is when it gets really tight towards the end of the season.”
Given the overnight shift in attitude and the players’ extreme devotion to Orgeron, the Trojans suddenly have the look of a contender, and with another road game on the horizon against a 1-8 Cal team, it’s easy to envision USC having a 7-3 record when it returns to the Coliseum on Nov. 16 to face Stanford. With a packed Coliseum and a team full of confidence, its well within the realm of possibility for the Trojans to beat the Cardinal for the first time since 2008.
It all comes back to Orgeron, though. Under his no excuses, “One team, one heartbeat” mantra, USC players seem more locked in and dedicated than they have been in a long time.
“Coach O just brings that type of attitude to the team,” Bailey said. “Whatever he tells us to do, we’ll do it. Nobody questions anything he says, because he knows. If anybody knows the way to turn this program around, it’s Coach O, and right now I say he’s got it headed in the right direction.”
That direction appears, at least at the moment, to be trending upward.
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