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. Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado, 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.
“To break the longest home winning streak in the country says a lot about this team and how far they’ve come,” USC coach Lane 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.”
Though Oregon came into the game ranked third nationally in points per game, the USC defense held the Ducks scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season and the Trojans’ defense limited them to just 36 yards of total offense in the period.
USC, meanwhile, struck first as Barkley connected with freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee midway through the first quarter to give the Trojans an early 7-0 lead. Lee finished with eight receptions and a career-high 187 yards and one touchdown.
“I was just focused on making plays for our offense,” Lee said. “Robert [Woods’ injury] was a big deal. We had the opportunity to step up.”
Though Woods’ availability for the game was limited because of nagging injuries, Barkley found his favorite target for a 12-yard score early in the second quarter to extend USC’s lead to 14-0.
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.
Woods finished with seven receptions for 53 yards and two touchdowns.
“Robert was still not 100 percent out there,” 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, keeping the lead at two scores.
“That was a huge turnaround for us,” sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said. “[Oregon was] about to score and change the momentum of the game. [Junior safety] 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. Saturday was also the first time the Ducks had been held to single digit points at halftime since Nov. 13, 2010, at California.
Coming out of the locker room, USC used that momentum, extending its lead to 24 points at 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. De’Anthony Thomas returned a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, junior tailback Kenjon Barner notched his second score of the night and 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 when asked about USC’s lead. “[Oregon is] 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 the nation’s longest home winning streak to 21 games. But the defense made one last stand, forcing the Ducks to settle for a game-tying field goal that Maldonaldo ultimately missed.
“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.”
-Saturday’s home loss was the first in Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s tenure as head coach.
-With four touchdowns in Saturday’s contest, Barkley moved into second place on the school’s all-time list for passing touchdowns with 74. He currently trails former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, who threw 99 touchdowns over a three-year span as a starter.
-The USC defense held Oregon to just a 50 percent conversion rate (3-of-6) inside the red zone. Entering the game, the Ducks had converted on more than 91 percent of their opportunities inside their opponents’ 20-yard lines.