Saturday’s game against Oregon State was supposed to be then No. 20 USC’s chance to flex its newly toned muscles, take the next step toward the coveted 10-win season and ultimately break its four-year curse of losing in the state of Oregon.
It turned out to be anything but that.
The Trojans (7-4, 4-4) fell behind from the start and never caught up, falling victim to the up-and-down Beavers (5-5, 4-3) 36-7 on a bone-chilling night in Corvallis, Ore.
“I am very disappointed and really shocked by the outcome of this game,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
Several Trojans players attributed the loss to an unfocused week at practice.
“It just goes back to practice like coach Kiff said,” redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Matt Kalil said. “It was our worst Tuesday, our worst Wednesday practice and it showed.”
Although Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers — who finished with 128 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries — gave the USC defense trouble, the loss came as a result of the Trojan offense’s inability to produce results: USC’s ground game was continually stuffed by the Oregon State defensive line, and its pass attack seemed to be non-existent under the watch of the Beaver secondary. No Trojan rusher gained more than 57 yards, and USC was held to just 135 yards through the air.
“We did not play well as an offense at all; not nearly close to how we needed to play to win,” sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley said. “It just wasn’t a good day for us.”
USC showed some fight at the start of the contest, but the Trojans simply could not respond to Oregon State’s challenges. USC surrendered a sole field goal in the first quarter, but the three-point differential quickly expanded in the second — the Beavers returned an interception for a 65-yard touchdown, then converted a touchdown and a field goal on their next two offensive possessions to take a 20-0 lead into the half.
Although the Trojans entered the third quarter led by senior backup quarterback Mitch Mustain, they managed to not only find the scoreboard for the first time but to also outscore Oregon State in the quarter. After a Beavers’ field goal, USC senior tailback C.J. Gable found the end zone on a 13-yard run to cap a seven-play, three-minute Trojan drive.
Unfortunately for USC, these were all the points it would manage for the night, as a couple of late touchdowns by Oregon State in the fourth ran the final score up to 36-7.
Senior fullback Stanley Havili said he felt the game simply came down to the Trojans being outperformed.
“We have to execute,” Havili said. “When you kill yourselves on drives, there’s nothing you can do.”
To make matters worse, injuries ravaged the already-depleted USC roster. Barkley left the game after being sacked with just four seconds left in the first half, and sat out the rest of the contest with a high-ankle sprain. He was just 10-of-19 with 75 yards and an interception at the half. Redshirt junior tailback Marc Tyler, who had 34 rushing yards on 11 carries, injured his ankle in the third quarter, re-aggravating a previous injury. Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo left the game in the first quarter with a concussion and reported experiencing a loss of vision and nausea shortly afterward.
“We got banged up throughout the game,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully we get all those guys back and get to work.”
Saturday’s game marked the first time in nine seasons the Trojans were held scoreless in the first half; their seven-point total was the lowest for USC since its 10-6 loss to Utah in 2001.
But despite the poor performance, Kiffin said the game on Saturday wasn’t a season-defining loss for the Trojans.
“We don’t overreact to one game either way,” he said. “One game doesn’t define you. Last week we weren’t the greatest team with no problems. This week we weren’t the worst team with a million problems. But if you put together a couple games when you play like that, it becomes who you are. So obviously it will be our goal not to do that, and we’ll go back home and have the chance to play in [Los Angeles] two weeks in a row.”