Ducks reach new heights in USC win
EUGENE, Ore. -- For the first two months of the season, not one of the perennial college football powers has played well week after week. Each has won games with willpower instead of dominance, by knowing how to make a play late in the fourth quarter. None of them, however, had been exposed as a fraud until Saturday night.
Meet the USC Trojans, phony as an ID in a 20-year-old's wallet. No. 5 USC's identity as a top team began to look suspect in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame two weeks ago. The Trojans raised more doubts in the way they outlasted Oregon State last week.
Well, there are no doubts anymore. Not after what No. 10 Oregon did to USC at Autzen Stadium on Halloween in front of a record crowd of 59,592 and a national television audience. Oregon won 47-20. That's right. No need to reboot. Oregon 47, USC 20.
The Trojans' seven-year reign atop the Pacific-10 Conference came to a sudden, sodden end. It's just as safe to say that the annual December ritual of USC players complaining about returning to the Rose Bowl has come to an end, too.
Yes, USC has a mathematical chance to win the Left Coast League. The Trojans are 6-2 and 3-2 in league play. They need Oregon to lose two of its last four games, have someone else finish with at least two losses and throw themselves at the mercy of the tiebreakers.
Stranger things have happened. The Oregon team that failed to make a first down in the first half of Week 1 at Boise State made 31 of them against USC. The Oregon team that eked out a win in Week 2 against Purdue humiliated the most dominant team of this decade.
The Ducks gained 613 yards of total offense. They scored five touchdowns and four field goals. They scored nine times without forcing a turnover until the last play of the game. Oregon generated touchdown drives of 80, 80 and 78 yards. I don't know for sure, but I'd bet there have been All-Americans at USC who didn't allow that many long drives in their careers.
"That's the most relaxed I've been in my career," Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said. He threw for 222 yards and rushed for 164 yards. Just think how good he'll be when he fully recovers from the knee injury he suffered four weeks ago.
Kelly and his players used words like "rhythm" and "momentum" to describe what they did on offense. There is something to that. To see the Ducks move the ball is to realize how far ahead offensive coaches are ahead of defensive coaches these days.
Speaking of which, USC head coach Pete Carroll needs to shake up the guy who runs his defense. Guy by the name of Pete Carroll.
"They [the Ducks] overloaded us and threw us off our game plan, and we missed our chance to stay in the game. We couldn't keep up with the fast-paced offense of Oregon, and we couldn't settle the ball," Carroll said. "The Ducks' running backs had their way with us, and they were much too fast. It was a real mess with the running game; they outran us, and we couldn't make the tackles."
If a ghost inhabited the Trojans' sideline on this spookiest of nights, it was the ghost of Paul Hackett, whose mediocre three-year tenure (19-18) prompted the hiring of Carroll after the 2000 season. In the nine years since, Carroll has lost only one game by more than a touchdown. That happened in 2001, his first season, a 27-16 loss to Notre Dame.
No Carroll team has allowed more points. Shoot, only one USC team in history allowed more yards. The 1946 Trojans gave up 623 yards to a Notre Dame team considered one of the greatest of all time.
Among the most interested Oregon students watching the game was freshman Jackson Rice of Moraga, Calif. He is the Ducks' punter. He played one snap.
"I walked back and forth a lot, just in case," Rice said. "My favorite games are the ones I don't have to play."
Kelly loved how well his team played. "They are the benchmark that everyone is shooting for," he said of USC. "I think everyone in the league is starting to catch up to them."
But Kelly also reminded his team that at 7-1, all it's guaranteed is being 7-5. Asked how his team will survive the giddiness that descended upon this campus, he said, "That's a good question."
The Ducks, having come from the depths of their loss to Boise State, have proved they can learn from the bad and set it aside. Now they must prove they can set aside the good, too.
"This team has been unbelievable in focusing on what the task is at hand," Kelly said. "The task at hand is for us to come back on Monday and go to work."
That may be easier to do here than at USC.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.
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