- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- No. 2 Oregon is starting to repeat itself. It doesn't matter where the Ducks play. It doesn't matter whom the Ducks play. They are like the road show of a Broadway play. They unpack their trunks, put on their outlandish costumes, hit every cue and move on to the next stage.
The Ducks spend the first quarter finding their footing. They spend the second half grinding their footing into the neck of their opponents. The 53-32 victory over USC on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum resembled the 52-31 victory over Stanford four weeks ago, give or take a point.
LaMichael James rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns. That's 2 yards short of the best performance ever against USC. (Take a bow, Curtis Enis of Penn State, 1996.) Darron Thomas threw for 288 yards and four touchdowns.
"They didn't even run a lot of plays," USC corner Shareece Wright said. "They just run the same plays to perfection. They wait until you break down as a defense. There were times when we didn't break down, and they didn't have a chance against us. The times we did, they capitalized on us."
USC led 10-8 when Oregon punt returner Cliff Harris brought the ball 13 yards to the USC 46. On first down, James ran 4 yards. He had carried the ball five times for 29 yards. James popped up. Seven seconds later, Oregon center Jordan Holmes snapped the ball. There's no defense on God's green earth that could be in position, recognize what the offense had in mind and execute the appropriate response.
All of which is to say that the Trojans broke down and the Ducks capitalized. James burst through the line and sprinted 42 yards for a touchdown.
After USC gave up up seven touchdowns and 599 total yards, coach Lane Kiffin said, "I thought our defense at points played well enough to win." And he was serious.
That's what Oregon does. It skews perspectives. Yes, the Ducks gave up 32 points. But USC scored two touchdowns in the first four minutes of the second half on drives of 21 and 11 yards, respectively, thanks to an interception and a punt return. The Trojans led 32-29. The Coliseum and the announced crowd of 88,726 came to life. And USC didn't score again.
This might have been different. USC had two weeks to prepare. USC has athletic talent that the New Mexicos and Portland States do not. USC has never lacked for confidence. USC could deceive itself into thinking that it had a chance to win Saturday evening. USC came into this game two plays from being undefeated. It was playing at home against the country's No. 2 team, which had played one good opponent (Stanford).
That formula worked in Iowa City on Saturday. Iowa had two close losses, and look at what the Hawkeyes did at home to a top-five team: Iowa 37, No. 5 Michigan State 6.
Oregon proved Saturday night that it is not Michigan State.
The previous three Saturdays, the No. 1 team in the country has gone on the road and lost. Alabama lost, Ohio State lost and Oklahoma lost. Oregon is No. 1 according to the human polls. The Ducks are No. 2 in the BCS because the computer ratings decided that Oregon is the eighth-best team in the country.
Oregon is not Alabama, Ohio State or Oklahoma, either. As for the computers, perhaps they will get the elections wrong. It's that time of year.
Ducks coach Chip Kelly didn't allow himself to think that this win meant anything more than an 8-0 record. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, in his 20th season in Eugene, allowed himself.
"I think it was a huge hurdle," Aliotti said. "Not many teams come into the Coliseum and beat the Trojans by three scores. They have good football players. They have good coaches. They have excellent talent. I was really concerned about this one. Everything was right for this one [to go wrong] in a big-ass venue. 'GameDay' was here. It's special. It feels really good."
Higher hurdles are ahead. The Ducks are slumming down at No. 8 in the computer ratings because they have yet to play three difficult opponents. They'll play at California, which is 4-0 at home. No. 15 Arizona will come to Autzen Stadium. And Oregon will close on the road against archrival Oregon State.
Wins in those games would bolster the Ducks in their stretch drive toward the crystal football. But no team in the nation has been more consistent than Oregon.
They may wear different uniforms. Against Stanford, they wore home green. Against USC, they wore white and silver, looking like something out of the Stormtrooper Collection. But the performance never varies.
The author and playwright Nora Ephron has a play running off-Broadway called "Love, Loss, and What I Wore." Eight performances into a 13-show run, the Ducks are starring in "Your Loss, and I Love What I Wore."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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