For a few minutes, Southern California thought it had figured out the nation’s top-ranked team. The Trojans scored two quick touchdowns and stopped Oregon’s high-octane offense twice, setting the Coliseum abuzz with anticipation of an upset.
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Turns out a third-quarter deficit is about as important as a play clock to these dynamic Ducks.
LaMichael James rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns, Darron Thomas threw three of his four scoring passes to Jeff Maehl and No. 1 Oregon roared back from a rare second-half deficit with a 53-32 victory over the 24th-ranked Trojans on Saturday night.
Thomas passed for 288 yards and Maehl had eight catches for a career-high 145 yards for the Ducks (8-0, 4-0 Pac-10), who racked up 599 total yards in yet another barn-burning offensive performance for USC’s clear replacements as kings of the conference.
Oregon trailed in the third quarter for just the second time all season after USC took a 32-29 lead in a 2 1/2-minute outburst. The Ducks still had 26 minutes left to demolish the Trojans, with national rushing leader James leading the Ducks to 24 consecutive points to close their first win at the Coliseum since 2000.
”That’s a little different for us, especially in the second half, but we just kept pushing,” Maehl said. ”We knew our offense would wear them down.”
Matt Barkley passed for 264 yards and Marc Tyler rushed for two scores for the Trojans (5-3, 2-3), who used trickery and big defensive plays to stay competitive until the third quarter. USC ran out of tricks in the fourth quarter, failing to match the Ducks’ frenetic offensive pace.
”We thought we had this game in the bag, but they played a hell of a game,” said USC defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, whose interception set up the Trojans’ first score in the third quarter.
The role reversal atop the Pac-10 is essentially complete with this victory for the Ducks, who toiled for much of the past decade in the shadow of USC’s seven consecutive conference titles. Oregon shoved its way into the Rose Bowl last season after a 27-point win over USC on Halloween night, and these speedy Ducks finally outran the probation-afflicted Trojans in the rematch.
”It was a big-time game for us,” said Thomas, who made three TD throws of at least 30 yards. ”I don’t think Oregon had won in the Coliseum for so long, so it was one of those goals that we had put forward at the beginning of the season.”
Despite a vibrant homecoming crowd cheering on its underdog Trojans, USC lost at the Coliseum for the fourth time in seven games. Ronald Johnson caught a TD pass in what’s likely to be the biggest game of USC’s bowl-less season under NCAA sanctions.
”Their tempo is real fast, and they don’t slow down the whole game,” USC cornerback Shareece Wright said. ”They didn’t even run a lot of plays. They just run them to perfection and wait until the defense breaks down.”
Lavasier Tuinei had seven catches for 78 yards and a score for the Ducks, who are likely to keep the first No. 1 ranking in school history for a third straight week and hold on to second place in the BCS standings behind Auburn. They’re four games away from a perfect regular season, with Arizona the only ranked team left on their schedule.
”Our team feels like they get stronger as the second half goes along,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. ”It’s great for this group of guys. There’s no panic.”
After a slow start, James rolled to his third 200-yard game of the season. Maehl had a juggling, one-handed TD catch during his career day, and Thomas shook off a few early mistakes to go 19 for 32.
When USC surged early in the third, it looked as if another No. 1 was in danger of getting taken down on the road.
Casey intercepted a tipped pass on Oregon’s opening drive, and the Trojans swiftly drove for Johnson’s short TD catch just 1:17 in. Johnson then made a 51-yard punt return, and two Oregon penalties set up Barkley’s 1-yard TD dive and a 2-point conversion pass for a 32-29 lead.
”You could feel the momentum on our sideline,” Barkley said. ”We had it, and we didn’t capitalize on it.”
The Ducks came back with a 30-yard TD throw to Maehl and a scoring run by James to cap an 82-yard drive, all before the third quarter ended. Oregon’s defense, shaky in the first 35 minutes, shut out the Trojans in the final 25 as the Ducks extended their second-half scoring advantage for the season to 180-38.
USC entered the Coliseum as an underdog for the first time in 51 games since 2001, but the homecoming crowd blanketed the Coliseum in USC’s cardinal color.
USC got off to a solid start despite a lightning-quick strike by Oregon on its first drive.
Trojans coach Lane Kiffin thought the game fell apart when they led 17-15 and had the ball in Oregon territory midway through the second quarter, but Barkley fumbled a shotgun snap after getting distracted by Kiffin yelling from the sideline. On the next play, Maehl made a 45-yard TD catch, artfully tipping the ball before catching it with one hand.
”It all went downhill from there,” Kiffin said. ”That was me. That was a coaching job.”