Sunday, November 20, 2011
Oregon shocked by home loss to USC
By Ted Miller
EUGENE, Ore. -- This is most strange. The ball didn't go where it was supposed to go. The kick went to the left of the yellow pole, the clock ran out and the Autzen Stadium scoreboard said, "USC 38, Oregon 35."
We now know what disbelief sounds like.
This wasn't the storybook ending summoned by 59,933 with their collective knowledge that Oregon and Chip Kelly don't waste amazing comebacks. It had been 38-14 in the third quarter, and all was lost. Then it felt certain Oregon was going to win after an unanswered 21-point barrage that was vintage Ducks.
Ah, but this weekend certainly taught us -- again -- that there are no sure things in college football.
"The game comes, the game goes," Kelly said. "It's about making plays."
Both USC and Oregon made a lot of them -- good and bad -- but the Trojans ended up celebrating when the Ducks' final 16-play, 66-yard drive ended with a missed 37-yard field goal from Alejandro Maldonado.
For the first time in 21 games, the Ducks lost in their home stadium. For the first time in 19 conference games, the Ducks lost, period. And for the first time in two years, the Ducks are out of the national title race.
Oregon can't spend too much time shaking its collective fist at the heavens. It now needs to beat Oregon State at home on Saturday to sew up the Pac-12 North championship. While missing out on a second consecutive national title game is a bummer, as consolation prizes go, the Rose Bowl is pretty darn good.
As for USC, it doesn't get a postseason, but it gets a red-letter victory for coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback Matt Barkley, who tossed four touchdown passes as the Trojans jumped all over the Ducks for two and a half quarters. They improved to 9-2 and 6-2 in conference play. If they beat rival UCLA next weekend, they would end up atop the South Division, even if NCAA sanctions ban them from enjoying the fruits of that. Further, they could knock UCLA out of the title game while finishing with 10 victories.
"To break the longest home winning streak in the country says a lot about this team and how far they have come," Kiffin said.
USC went three-and-out twice and fumbled on its first three possessions, but a 59-yard bomb from Barkley to freshman Marqise Lee ignited the offense. Barkley completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards. With Robert Woods hurting -- ankle and shoulder injuries -- Lee became the go-to guy, hauling in eight passes for 187 yards.
Chip Kelly and Oregon lost at home for the first time in 21 games, to a Pac-12 foe for the first time in 19.
USC stormed ahead 38-14 with 3:28 left in the third quarter. Only then did the Ducks wake up. Or, more accurately, freshman De'Anthony Thomas woke up the Ducks and Autzen Stadium with a 96-yard return of the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown.
The Ducks got a defensive stop and drove 75 yards for a touchdown in 2:16. With its lead cut to 11, USC seemed to tighten up. Barkley threw his only interception to John Boyett, and Oregon drove 60 yards for another TD. After a two-point conversion, the Trojans' lead was just three.
"It wasn't fun seeing the score go in the wrong direction," Kiffin said.
The Trojans drove to the Oregon 11-yard line as the clock dipped inside of three minutes. But Barkley and running back Marc Tyler fumbled a handoff exchange, and that set up Oregon's final -- and ultimately unsuccessful -- drive.
"You're going to lose," Kelly said. "None of us have delusions we're not going to lose in Autzen Stadium."
The Ducks earned a first down on the Trojans' 32-yard line with 38 seconds left with three timeouts. In fact, the Trojans called timeout to regroup. After 9- and 5-yard runs from Kenjon Barner, who led the Ducks with 123 yards on 15 carries, the Ducks had a first down on the 18 with 20 seconds left. That, typically, is an eternity to Oregon. But not this time. The well-oiled machine seemed to get some sand in its gears. An incompletion and a pass that lost 2 yards eliminated a game-winning touchdown as an option.
"What you don't want to do in that situation is force it," Kelly said.
Or miss the tying field goal that would keep your national title hopes alive.
"I don't know how to explain how we feel right now -- this hurts," Oregon receiver Josh Huff said. "We just thought we were going to come in and run over them, but they came out hard and we lost."
It was USC's first victory in the state of Oregon since 2005. It was the first time Kelly lost to a team that had just one week to prepare.
All of it felt a bit weird, but that's college football. Its capacity to astound is part of its appeal.
Unless, of course, your team just saw the ball go wide left.