The story: The No. 24 Trojans put in a strong effort but ultimately did not have enough offense for the No. 1 Ducks, falling 53-32 at the Coliseum.
USC came out of halftime and rattled off two quick touchdowns to take the 32-29 lead. The crowd was as loud as it had been all night and there was a tangible sense that an upset was looming.
But Oregon, led by quarterback Darron Thomas and spry running back LaMichael James, went on a 24-0 run to end the game. For as well as USC seemed to play at times, the end result was not much different than last year’s 47-20 blowout in Eugene, Ore.
Player of the game: James. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Oregon running back really is as good as advertised.
James finished with 239 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. As the Ducks started to pull away in the second half, James began to wear down the Trojan defense on the same play over and over again, the zone read.
“He’s fast man, he’s a good back,” senior cornerback Shareece Wright said. “He’s stays low and he gets up the field.”
Oregon coach Chip Kelly put into words what seemed apparent on the field in the second half:
“[James] gets stronger as the game goes along,” he said.
Turning point: Down 29-17 at halftime, the Trojans came out fired up and scored two touchdowns and a two-point conversion within the first four minutes of the third quarter.
But the Ducks stayed calm, zeroed in and started to tire out the Trojans as they have done to opponents all season. Thomas led the Ducks to two consecutive four minute-plus touchdown drives, which seemed to take the air out of the once-raucous Coliseum crowd.
Meanwhile, what offensive rhythm the Trojans had earlier in the third quarter quickly evaporated.
“We were in a rhythm,” sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley said. “And for whatever reason we went out of it, then we went back in it, and then we went out of it. It wasn’t consistent.”
USC coach Lane Kiffin called his team’s offense “terrible.” The Trojans finished with 377 yards and hurt themselves by going only 7-for-18 on third-down conversions.
“Finishing, I think, is what we didn’t do,” Barkley said.
Truly a blur: The Ducks’ offense was as fast and as efficient as its top-rated tag indicated.
Oregon gained 599 total yards and finished just under its previous season average in points at 55.14. Thomas had as good a game throwing as James did rushing, throwing for 288 yards and four touchdowns with one interception on 19 of 32 passing.
The Ducks ran 83 plays in just 27 minutes and 25 seconds. Although the time of possession was more lopsided in the first half — Oregon had the ball only eight minutes and 49 seconds — Kelly said it was about what a team does in that time, rather than how long it controls the ball.
“[Time of possession] is vitally important,” Kelly said. “But how many plays did we run? Really it’s about the number of snaps you get in.”
The Trojans were doing all they could to keep up with Oregon’s breakneck pace, but like every other challenger that has faced the Ducks this year, they were overwhelmed.
“They’re so fast-paced, they don’t slow down for nothing,” Wright said. “The more they run it, the better they get at it.”
Wright said fatigue must have played a role in the defense’s second-half letdown.
“It had to be,” Wright said. “Either we thought we weren’t tired and tried to be tough guys and stay in the game, but we have to come out when we’re tired.”
Better than last year?: Even though the score ended up being very similar to a year ago, many Trojans insisted that they performed better on Saturday than in last season’s 27-point defeat.
“It was different than last year,” sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard said. “I feel like we played a lot better on defense.”
The Trojans did seem more prepared after having two weeks to scheme for the Ducks’ attack, but whatever progress they made was undone when they yielded big plays. Oregon scored four touchdowns of at least 30 yards or more.