Sunday, November 20, 2011
The final 151 seconds
By Pedro Moura
EUGENE, Ore. -- Marc Tyler fumbled, Oregon recovered and the Autzen Stadium crowd went wild.
Down three points, the Ducks had two and a half minutes -- 151 seconds -- to score, needing a field goal for overtime and a touchdown for the win.
In Oregon-land, that's an eternity. And Chip Kelly treated it like one, declining to use a single timeout as his Ducks marched down the field with the game in the balance. He wasn't even afraid to run the ball, either. On the final drive, Oregon ran four run plays and got first downs on three of them.
The Ducks were more successful running than passing, really. But they couldn't get past the USC 18-yard line and were forced to kick a 37-yard field goal, and Alejandro Maldonado's attempt went wide left to give the Trojans the win.
For a team that so often scores so quickly, 151 seconds wasn't quite enough.
"We told them they were going to have to beat us with their kicker," cornerback Nickell Robey said afterward. "And that's what it came down to tonight.
"They tried to beat us with our kicker. We beat them with our defense."
If there were a win probability generator in college football like there is in baseball, the algorithm would have said the Ducks were favored when they picked up Tyler's fumble -- meaning there was probably about a 60-70 percent chance Oregon would win once it got that ball, statistically.
But the game's played on the field, and USC didn't give up any gigantic plays to the Ducks, so they were forced to try to grind it out. Kelly ran 15 plays on the final drive -- more than the Ducks had run on any other series in all of Saturday's game.
They weren't well-equipped to succeed in that situation, and they clearly didn't expect to be kicking the field goal. But USC expected them to.
"We have confidence in our special teams and our field-goal block team," safety Jawanza Starling said. "If the game's on the line, we're gonna make a play."
Maldonado was all set to kick a 42-yarder after Lane Kiffin used his last timeout to ice him, but USC left tackle Matt Kalil jumped offsides trying to block it and and the ball was moved five yards closer to the goalposts.
But it didn't matter. A number of USC players said the Oregon kicker was too flustered -- by the situation and by the prospects of USC's best-in-the-country field goal block unit -- to make the kick anyway. His attempt had the distance but hooked wide left late.
The Trojans didn't block it, but the players on the block unit didn't see the kick. Because they all went to the line, none of them knew what happened until they saw their teammates react.
"Once I saw our sideline and realized how quiet it was, I knew he missed it," Starling said. "Or it got blocked. One or the other."