More details to come on Monday, but ESPN’s College GameDay was an amazing experience despite the rain. Despite an underwhelming turnout at GameDay, the Coliseum was rocking and rolling for the first three quarters tonight with a large crowd that created a large sea of cardinal. To the game…
The old adage reads: To take down the number one team in the land, you must play mistake-free football and take your opponent out of its comfort zone. Unfortunately, the Trojans were unable to use this formula.
USC’s main problem rests on the fact that their offense didn’t play to the same level it did a year ago. An offensive miscue may have been the turning point in the game. With a 2 point lead in the second quarter, the Trojans had the ball in Oregon territory and all of the momentum in the world on their side. Kris O’Dowd snapped the ball to an unsuspecting Matt Barkley, resulting in a fumble recovered by the Ducks. On the very next play, the Ducks threw a touchdown pass to take the lead. The play sucked the life out of the crowd momentarily and rattled the confidence of the USC offense. Yes, USC regained the lead, but the offense played much more tentatively after the mistake. Barkley ended the day 26 for 49. In fairness to Barkley, the receivers had some trouble getting open. However, he overthrew too many of his receivers and had two interceptions. The running game wasn’t particularly effective tonight either. The longest run on the night was a mere 12 yards. When you play a team with such an explosive offense as Oregon, your offense needs to keep pace and hope to win in a shootout. USC’s offense failed to hold up its end of the bargain.
Since Lane Kiffin gets credit for the brilliant play calling against Cal, he also gets the blame for the problems on offense as well. USC had trouble establishing a rhythm and beating the Oregon defense. Furthermore, he seemed relatively conservative with his calls, including runs on 3rd and 8 and 3rd and 10. The Trojans finished with 377 yards, but they only had about 280 when their final chance to keep hope alive dwindled.
Defensively, I thought Monte Kiffin prepared a solid game plan for slowing down the Ducks. Oregon was forced to punt 5 times and Darron Thomas threw an interception. Early on and at the beginning of the second half, USC’s defense came up with crucial stops and played inspired football. Unfortunately, the pace seemed to wear them down and limit their effectiveness. As Erin Andrews pointed out with about 10 minutes to go in the game, the USC defense was gassed and didn’t have much left. For the most part, USC did a solid job of limiting big run plays. LaMichael James had trouble establishing anything until the fourth quarter when the defense was running on fumes. Unfortunately, the secondary continued to struggle. Darron Thomas didn’t have to be particularly impressive tonight. His receivers enjoyed space around them and he was able to just play pitch and catch en route to 288 yards pass on 19 completions.
Tonight, USC’s season took another hit. The Trojans led with 11:14 to go in the third, but couldn’t cling on to their lead. Both times USC took the lead, the Ducks answered and the Trojan offense went missing for several series. At 5-3, the Trojans are in a very unfamiliar position. Although three points separate them from being 5-3 and 7-1, the fact remains USC has three losses just eight games in. Young Lane Kiffin continues to learn and fans can take solace in the fact USC hasn’t really been blowout. While this season has lost some of its luster, it’s important for fans to keep showing up and supporting, and for the players to continue to play hard and improve for next year.
Oregon certainly impressed me. The Ducks defense played better than expected and clamped down on USC in key situations. Meanwhile, the sheer pace of the offense is what makes them effective. Oregon remains explosive by hurrying up and running a play before opposing defense have time to adjust. One they have the defense on their heels, they use the confusing nature of their option attack to create opportunities to utilize their speed in space. If they go undefeated, there is no doubt in my mind they should play for the national title.