Oregon still standing after shootout with USC

LOS ANGELES – There was never a doubt about the kind of game this would be. There were no pretenses about playing gritty defense or forcing turnovers or making big stops in the red zone.

USC and Oregon were all about scoring points – and being the last team standing.

“Knowing who you’re playing puts it in perspective,” USC quarterback Matt Barkley said Saturday night. “The way Oregon has been playing, we knew it was going to be a shootout.”

That’s precisely what it was – an electrifying, dazzling, don’t-look-away kind of game. A game made for Oregon’s offense.

The Ducks left little doubt that they’re miles ahead of the rest of the Pac-12 Conference, posting a 62-51 victory over a USC team that was a preseason No. 1 but now looks like just another team trailing in Oregon’s wake.

Give the Trojans credit. They made Oregon work in the second half, something no other team has done this season. They closed to within three points, 41-38, early in the third quarter before the Ducks scored two consecutive touchdowns.

Oregon (9-0) opened the game with touchdowns the first five times it had the ball and scored on nine of its 14 possessions. Four of its drives lasted fewer than two minutes. It finished the game with 730 total yards, including 321 rushing by Kenjon Barner, who scored five touchdowns.

“That’s just Oregon football,” said Barner, who played his high school ball about an hour’s drive away in Riverside, Calif. “We can put up points. If you don’t stop us, we’ll put up points.”

USC simply couldn’t keep up. The Trojans figured this game would be their showcase performance, at least when the season started. But they lost in September to Stanford and then dropped another game to Arizona last weekend, rendering this game little more than an attempt to show they were better than their record.

But they’re 6-3 now, 4-3 in the Pac-12, and the best they can hope for is another shot at the Ducks in the conference title game.

The 62 points by Oregon was the most ever allowed by a USC team. Barner’s rushing total passed the mark of 241 by a Trojans opponent, set by Curtis Enis of Penn State in 1996. And consider this: USC has never scored as many as 50 points in a game and lost.

But they knew the game was going to unfold that way. They knew it would depend on which team converted most of its chances.

“Every time we took the field, we knew we had to get a stop,” safety TJ McDonald said. “We took the attitude that we were going to get a stop. It didn’t work out in our favor.”

How could it? The Ducks came out at warp speed. Their first drive lasted all of six plays and took 1 minute, 5 seconds to cover 75 yards. It wasn’t all Barner either. Quarterback Marcus Mariota hit on three consecutive passes, including a 16-yarder to De’Anthony Thomas, for a 7-0 lead.

Mariota’s counterpart, USC quarterback Matt Barkley, completed 35 of 54 passes for five TDs but also threw two interceptions, one of which was converted into a TD by the Ducks. Marqis Lee had 10 catches for 157 yards and two scores and also set a Pac-12 record with 251 yards in kickoff returns.

But the back-and-forth nature of the game lasted only so long. Oregon was relentless, USC was not. And Mariota said it was important to force Barkley to play from behind.

“We knew coming in that we had score, and we had to take care of the ball offensively,” he said. “Because we knew if we had to give the ball back to that guy, he was going to score. We came out hot, and they came back firing.”

But there was never a sense the Trojans would catch Oregon. Every time it appeared they might have a chance, the Ducks scored again. And again. At times, there was a pinball feeling to the game.

“Obviously, this game turned out like we talked about,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I talked to the guys about making big plays, and unfortunately, we came up short. We needed to sit down and take a deep breath between rounds and go back and do it again. We shot ourselves in the foot.”

In some ways, there’s no shame in losing to a team like Oregon. The Ducks may well find themselves in the BCS title game if things fall into place. But the Trojans, despite high expectations, are struggling to reach the finish.

That’s not how it was supposed to be.

“When you invest in something so much and it doesn’t turn out like it’s supposed to, it hurts,” USC wide receiver Robert Woods said. “It hurts.”