The set up: Does it even need to be explained? The Ducks were ranked 4th in the BCS. They were fresh off a dominating 53-30 victory over Stanford in Palo Alto. A win would clinch them the Pac-12 North title. They were staring at an outside shot at a national championship berth. The Trojans hadn’t won in the state of Oregon since 2005. As the public address announcer informed everyone before the game, “it (was) 40 degrees. There (was) a seven mile-per-hour wind. It (was) overcast, with a chance of rain.” It was not a setting for the Trojans to pull off the upset.
The story: But they did. Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed a game-tying 37 yard field goal attempt wide left as time expired, and the Trojans escaped with a stunning 38-35 victory. The win is without a doubt the biggest in Lane Kiffin’s tenure as head coach, the so-called “signature victory” that he had yet to achieve, according to many.
“To break the longest home winning streak in the country says a lot about this team and how far they’ve come,” Kiffin said. “The way these guys have come together these last five or six weeks is great to see.”
USC jumped out in front early behind a beautiful 59 yard touchdown strike from Matt Barkley to Marqise Lee. Then Barkley led the Trojans on a 66 yard scoring drive, this time finding Robert Woods from 12 yards out to give USC a 14-0 lead.
Oregon cut the lead to 14-7 after they went 88 yards in just over two minutes, but the Trojans answered right back as Barkley again hit Woods on 3rd & goal for a 21-7 advantage.
The Ducks looked as though they would get one score back before halftime, having driven to the USC nine. But USC safety Jawanza Starling recovered a LaMichael James fumble with just 23 seconds remaining in the half to preserve the 14 point lead.
“That was a huge turnaround for us,” said cornerback Nickell Robey. “They were about to score and change the momentum of the game. Jawanza (Starling) came up with a huge recovery and it made a huge difference.”
On the Duck’s first possession of the second half the Trojans forced a three-and-out, and then blocked the ensuing punt, setting up a 26 yard field goal to give USC a 24-7 lead. The teams traded touchdowns, and then the Trojans again found the end zone on their next drive, as Randall Telfer found the endzone from five yards out to give USC a 38-14 lead.
But Oregon was not about to go quietly. DeAnthony Thomas, a former USC commit who spurned the Trojans for Oregon, took the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to the endzone. The legendary Autzen Stadium crowd, so quiet for most of the game, was back in it.
The Ducks scored on their first drive of the fourth quarter, moving 75 yards in two minutes to cut their deficit to 38-27.
Then a Barkley pass intended for Telfer was tipped and intercepted at the Oregon 40 yard line. The Ducks put the ball in the endzone from there in just under 90 seconds, and their two point conversion attempt was successful. Just like that, it was a three point game.
But the Trojan offense responded, methodically moving the ball downfield and eating more than four minutes of clock as they drove to the Oregon 11. And then the unthinkable happened. A botched handoff occurred between Tyler, a fifth year senior, and Barkley, a captain, dynamic team leader and three-year starter at quarterback. The Ducks pounced on the loose ball, and their dynamic offense was give two-and-a-half minutes to move 86 yards.
The Ducks eventually moved to the USC 20, setting up Maldonado’s attempt. But it was clearly wide as soon as it was kicked, sparking complete bedlam on the Trojan sideline.
The crowd: Autzen Stadium is legendary for its crowd noise, and Saturday was no exception. Despite forcing just one false start by the Trojan offensive line, the 60,000 Oregon faithful in attendance (minus a couple thousand USC fans) were yelling full bore most of the game, and were particularly rowdy as the Ducks mounted their comeback. But following Maldonado’s miss, it was dead silent. Many stayed for sat in their seats for several minutes after the game, perhaps unsure of how to react following Oregon’s first home loss since 2007.
“’SC is back!”: Those were the cries heard on the field by many of the players after the game. Most called it the most exciting win of their careers, including those (such as Barkley) who made the trip to Ohio State in 2009. Said safety T.J. McDonald, “We’ll go into any stadium, anywhere, and play anybody. People sometimes forget: This is SC.”
Up next: Another “need it be explained situation.” The Victory Bell is on the line as the now No. 10 Trojans host UCLA. It will be Kiffin’s first time as head coach against the Bruins in the Coliseum, and USC has a chance to win 10 games and secure their spot in the top-10 in the AP poll. USC has already clinched the Pac-12 south title, but because of their bowl ban cannot compete in the Conference Championship game. A UCLA upset victory would clinch second place in the south—and the right to represent the division in the Conference Championship game—to the Bruins.