I’m trying to believe in you, Oregon. I want to be a part of the excitement and I really do want to join the party, but I just can’t seem to find the invite.
This is one of the most fun teams in college football, and I hate the feeling that I’m going to finally catch on only when Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are holding the crystal trophy over their heads. Maybe it’s because teams that rely solely on high-octane offenses never seem to win national titles. Go through recent college football history, and the teams that live on lots of yards and points tend to lose to the teams who get lots of yards and points while also stopping someone along the way. Give someone six weeks to figure out how to slow down the explosion and the O will fall flat, right?
But maybe this was the game when Oregon showed that it does actually have a defense, even if it’s not a brick wall like most national title teams have. The secondary didn’t give Matt Barkley too many open areas to throw to and closed quickly whenever the lanes were there. The run defense was stout, not letting the Trojans establish anything on the ground, and after an early second half flurry, the clamps were put down and the game was over.
And then there’s the other side of the ball. USC is 87th in the nation in total defense and the Ducks still have yet to face a real defense, but it shouldn’t matter. Maybe it’s time to accept that Oregon isn’t likely to see a top-shelf D all year outside of Arizona’s run defense, and that includes in Glendale. Maybe it’s time to simply enjoy the beauty of LaMichael James tearing off big run after big run, the precision of the offensive line, the smarts and decision-making ability of Darron Thomas, and the great hands of Jeff Maehl.
Maybe it’s time to appreciate the resilience the team has shown, able to come back whenever tested. Maybe it’s time to realize that there isn’t going to be a Dennis Dixon-injury moment when Oregon becomes Oregon and the wheels fall completely off. Maybe it’s …
Whatever. The Ducks are going to lose on the road to either Cal or Oregon State, or they’ll blow it at home against Arizona and its aggressive defensive front.
All I ask is to leave a seat in coach on the bandwagon when I’m wrong.
Give the game ball to Jim Radcliffe.
What? Who? Radcliffe? What… is he one of the Oregon offensive line who helped spring LaMichael James and protect Darron Thomas all night in the Coliseum? Nope. Try the Ducks’ strength and conditioning coach, an overlooked and anonymous cog in the program’s 8-0 start and on-going run toward a Pac-10 and national championship.
Did you pick up on the body language of the two programs in the second half? For the most part, the Trojans were gassed, with their hands resting on their thighs. The Ducks, even the linemen, looked as if they were in pre-game warm-ups. It’s a stark contrast and a huge reason why Oregon has obliterated opponents in the second half of every game this fall. As if this program doesn’t possess enough speed already, that advantage is exacerbated in the final 20-25 minutes of a game. No, James and Thomas weren’t getting faster as the game wore on. That was an optical illusion, made possible by a group of USC defenders, who had simply been worn out by the up-tempo Duck attack and the supremely conditioned Duck athletes. Think of the edge your hyperactive kid has on you after a half-hour or so of playing tag. It’s just unfair.
A word of advice to Washington, Cal, Arizona, and Oregon State, the final four teams left on Oregon’s schedule. If you have any hope of derailing the Ducks, cut back a little on your film study and use the extra time on a treadmill, an elliptical machine, or any cardio machine. USC learned what seven other victims already knew — keeping up with this fine-tuned program is a 60-minute marathon that’s not for the faint of heart.
USC forced Oregon to punt on more than one occasion. The Trojans actually did contain LaMichael James and did not get gashed with the running game the way they did a year ago in Eugene. USC’s defense generated multiple takeaways against the Oregon offense and forced UO quarterback Darron Thomas to beat them through the air. The Trojans scored the first 15 points of the second half, a marked departure from their second-half no-show last year at Autzen Stadium, when the Ducks crushed the Men of Troy after halftime.
Punts. A contained running game. Multiple turnovers created. A pass-centric Oregon offense. A 15-0 second-half run. So many elements of Saturday night’s game in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum cut in favor of the Trojans, who spent much of this game competing with a fire that had been missing for much of 2010.
Final score: Oregon 53, USC 32.
It’s truly amazing that Oregon could look pedestrian on many occasions, and that USC made its share of defensive plays, only for the Ducks to ring up more than “half-a-hundred” and still win by 21. The quality of Chip Kelly’s coaching and preparation continues to exist at a level far beyond anything that ever could have been imagined when Mike Bellotti – one of the more successful and tenured coaches in Pac-10 history – decided to step aside.
It’s also hard to adequately express the extent to which Thomas – the quarterback who has made everyone forget about Jeremiah Masoli – has stolen the show this year for Oregon. Thomas calmly responded to USC’s 15-0 run by authoring two touchdown drives of his own, turning a 32-29 deficit into a 43-32 lead. Thomas threw the ball with distinction on a night when USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin decided to take away the UO running game. Thomas – as Brent Musburger mentioned in his call of this contest – is a far better passer than Masoli, and that was a central reason the Ducks won this game.
A special coach. A quick-study quarterback. One remarkable offense. No wonder Oregon continues to march toward a Pac-10 championship and – it hopes – even bigger prizes this season.