USC football: A fan's look back at the Oregon game
It took some time, but I finally found something good to come out of USC’s 47-20 loss to Oregon on Saturday night
I’m going to be able to sleep in on New Year’s Day. No getting up at 6 a.m., no leaving the house by 7 to get a decent parking spot at the Rose Bowl, no waiting six hours for the game to begin. No spending an hour afterward trying to find the car in the darkness, then needing two hours to move two miles.
Those are all problems that Oregon’s fans are going to have to deal with.
Yes, the Ducks are headed to the Rose Bowl, either for the Jan. 1 game or the Jan. 7 national championship game. They were that good Saturday night on their home field.
As for the Trojans? Where do you start?
For the first time in Pete Carroll’s nine seasons as USC’s coach, the Trojans looked completely outclassed. Of Carroll’s 16 losses before Saturday, only one was by double digits (a 27-16 loss to Notre Dame in 2001). The average margin of those 16 losses was 4.3 points.
That’s how good and competitive Carroll’s teams have been. And that’s what makes Saturday’s game such a shocker. In a big game, with the Pac-10 championship on the line, USC was embarrassed. I’m sure many USC fans thought a loss to the red-hot Ducks was possible. But by nearly four touchdowns? No way.
USC simply was a no-show on defense. The Ducks had 613 yards of offense, including 391 on the ground. If the Notre Dame and Oregon State games caused concern about the defense, Saturday’s game should set off a panic. USC couldn’t tackle, couldn’t get in the right position, couldn’t do much of anything. USC looked like Washington State, only worse. The Cougars gave up only 514 yards to the Ducks this season.
The Trojans lost a lot of players off last season’s defense, arguably the best ever in the Carroll era, but it should never get this bad for a USC team. Ever.
Whether it’s a different approach or different players, USC’s coaches must do something to fix the defense or USC will endure a three-loss season for the first time since 2001. The Trojans won’t face another offense as good as Oregon’s the rest of season, but that’s besides the point. USC’s last three opponents have scored 110 points. In 13 games last season, the Trojans gave up 117 points.
Oregon scored on nine of its 11 possessions. One drive ended with a fumble. Only once did the Ducks have to punt.
With the defense playing so poorly, the USC offense was forced to keep pace with the Ducks. And for 2 1/2 quarters, the Trojans did enough to make the game competitive. Matt Barkley threw touchdowns in the first half to Ronald Johnson and Damian Williams, and USC was only down by seven at halftime.
After Oregon got a field goal on its first second-half possession, the Trojans came back with a Jordan Congdon field goal to make it 27-20 with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.
The defense would eventually tighten up, make a stop and give the offense the chance to tie the score, right?
Not a chance. Oregon cruised down the field 80 yards in seven plays for another touchdown.
Barkley and Co. couldn’t respond to the 14-point deficit, which soon become 21, then 24, then 27. Frankly, the Trojans are lucky Oregon didn’t reach 50 points. USC had only seven first downs in the second half, three coming on the final drive of the game The Trojans, who have struggled all season converting on third downs, were four for 14 in those situations against the Ducks.
Give the defense an F for its play. But the offense gets nothing more than a generous C-minus.
So what remains for the Trojans? For the first time in eight seasons, they’re not going to win or share the Pac-10 title, barring an Oregon meltdown. For the first time in eight seasons, they’re probably headed to a non-BCS bowl.
How will USC respond to playing games that won’t have national championship implications? It’s the duty of the coaches and the players to make sure the season still has meaning. Taylor Mays and the other seniors need to go out with a bang, not with the whimper they showed at Oregon.
If USC can win its final five games, it will mean an eighth consecutive season of at least 11 wins, which would extend an NCAA record that the Trojans already hold.
USC plays its final road game next week at Arizona State, then finishes the season with home games against Stanford, UCLA and Arizona. If the Trojans win out, they will probably finish in second place in the Pac-10 and play in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 30.
There is a longshot chance that USC could make a BCS game. Ohio State went last season with a 10-2 record, so there’s always hope.
If the Trojans do end up in the Holiday Bowl, the drive will be longer than to Pasadena, but the game won’t start until 5 p.m. No need to get up at 6 a.m. for that.
-- Hans Tesselaar
Photo: The big L doesn't stand for "loss"; it stands for "line judge," which is whom USC Coach Pete Carroll is speaking to during Saturday's loss to Oregon. Credit: Steve Dykes / Getty Images