UO NOTES: Surging Ducks expect tough game against improving USC
STANFORD, Calif. - Moments after Oregon dismantled Stanford 53-30, thoughts had turned to the Ducks' next opponent.
Time was USC dominated the Pac-10 Conference. Now, it's Oregon sitting atop the new Pac-12, with consecutive Pac-10 titles already in the bag.
The Trojans (8-2 overall, 5-2 Pac-12), still playing for pride and nothing else because of NCAA sanctions, visit Autzen Stadium, 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19. USC has its share of talent, as always, led by quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods. But, the Ducks have run away from the Trojans in games the past two seasons.
Now the Trojans stand in the way of Oregon sealing the Pac-12 Northern Division title and playing host to the league's first championship game. The Ducks play Oregon State on Nov. 26, but a win against USC would clinch the division.
"It's a big-time game for us," QB Darron Thomas said. "We haven't scratched USC off the list. They've been doing great things all year, even though they're dealing with sanctions. We're ready for the competition."
USC beat Washington 40-17 Saturday, and Barkley and his crew have things clicking.
The Trojans will present speed challenges, after Stanford had absolutely none on offense - or defense.
The improved UO defense made Stanford QB Andrew Luck look pedestrian, intercepting him twice and sacking him three times (he had been sacked four times all season). The Ducks forced five turnovers.
"We're getting better. I don't think we're unbelievable," said defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, whose unit's improvement has made the Ducks a solid top-five team again.
"We're getting better at the right time," Aliotti said. "And, all I can think about is those fast receivers coming in with USC ... and, really, isn't that a shame?; you have a game like this and right now, I'm seeing Robert Woods ... and Barkley, and all that."
• Stanford had allowed 10 first-quarter points all year, while scoring 67. The Ducks scored a touchdown and added a two-point conversion in the first quarter Saturday, and held Stanford scoreless. The Ducks never trailed in the game.
"That was huge," UO coach Chip Kelly said, of playing with a lead.
Oregon kept the lead and built on it, which forced Stanford to basically abandon its power ground game and throw the ball with Luck.
"That's really important," linebacker Josh Kaddu said, of the early lead. "It put us in good situations on defense, we knew they had to pass, and we put tackles on their heels. ... Everybody let loose."
"They really rely on the run game, and then the play-action pass," running back LaMichael James added. "Once we got up, they had to pass. Our defense kept the ball in front of them."
Stanford ran for only 129 yards and went 5 of 14 on third-down conversions.
• Biggest win in Kelly's three-plus years as UO head man? Arguably.
It's the first time Oregon has beaten a top-five team on the road - ever.
James and others credited Kelly for the win, because of his challenge to the team to play Stanford physically before the game and his calls in springing James, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff for long touchdowns.
Saturday's game was classic Oregon: Get athletes in space and let them make plays.
"Coach Kelly did a great job. Phenomenal coach," James said. "He put us in situations to win the game.
"Coach Kelly is the best coach in the world - with 'W' capitalized."
Added QB Darron Thomas: "We wanted to come out and be physical. Coach Kelly knew that was a physical team, and he took that as a challenge. He wanted to be physical also - smash-mouth football, getting the ball out there and being aggressive. We were very aggressive. Our game plan was basic, but it was aggressive."
Kelly now has a 31-5 career record, with his only league loss avenged. Stanford and Luck beat Oregon 51-42 on the same Stanford Stadium field two years ago.
The Ducks have won 19 consecutive conference games. Darron Thomas said "it's a statement for us in the Pac-12, to make sure we're the leaders in the Pac-12. I don't know about BCS talk, right now."
• Just as last year's win against Stanford made a statement, the same thing can be said about Saturday's win against the Cardinal: Beating a top-five team on national TV with ESPN's "College GameDay" on site. Statement.
A lot of the post-game questioning had to do with how much Oregon has improved and, if the game could be played over, how the Ducks would do against LSU. Remember, it was 40-27, LSU winning Sept. 3.
It appears to be a longshot for Oregon to get a rematch with LSU in the BCS national championship game. But, who knows? Unbeaten Oklahoma State is the other unbeaten of note, and Alabama and Oklahoma join the Ducks as formidable one-loss teams.
"We've progressed a lot," Darron Thomas said, of the past nine games since the LSU loss. "Young guys are now veteran guys out on the field. It's a faster game (for us). We can pick up tempo."
"I really don't have any regrets about the LSU game," defensive end Terrell Turner said. "They came out and beat us. If we end up playing them later, that's cool, too."
"(The Ducks) can be very good," Huff said. "This team has got great potential."
The Ducks are playing their best in November, when it counts, linebacker Michael Clay added. "Championships are won in November," he said.
• The defensive line has really improved, with Turner getting the key sack and forced fumble on Luck in Saturday's game and the unit wearing down Stanford's offensive line.
"I think we're getting better and better every week," Turner said. "We know where we are, what our strengths and weaknesses are. We're way better (than vs. LSU). That was our first game."
• James scored three rushing TDs, giving him 47 for his career, and he passed USC's Marcus Allen (45) and OSU's Jacquizz Rodgers (46) for fifth all-time in the conference.
His 146 yards rushing marked the 23rd game of 100 yards or more.
One would think James would be elevated back into the Heisman Trophy picture, as he builds on his third huge season with the Ducks and adds to his numbers as UO's all-time leading running back.
And, the fact is that Luck and Boise State's Kellen Moore - other Heisman hopefuls - both lost games Saturday.
• Darron Thomas, who had 30 TD passes and only nine interceptions last year, improved to 22 TDs with only five picks this year. More importantly, he moved to 2-0 against Luck, a fellow Houston, Texas native.
"It was a big-time statement game for me," he said. "I wanted to come out and compete against Andrew Luck."
Thomas looked to have more mobility, as he continues to recover from a knee injury. "Knee felt good," he said. "It's been improving."
Thomas has chucked at least one scoring pass in 22 consecutive games (every start in his career).
• This and that: "I don't want it to sound like bragging ... we're very excited," Aliotti said, of his unit's play. "I'd like to take credit, but I can't. It's those kids." ... De'Anthony Thomas scored a touchdown, on a 41-yard screen pass, for the sixth consecutive game. He has 13 TDs, the most among true freshmen in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks. After fumbling in the first half, the Ducks went right back with him, with Darron Thomas tossing him a screen pass that the freshman took for a 41-yard TD score. "This guy's a hard-working guy," Darron Thomas said. "Everybody's going to fumble. He had a fumble like that in the LSU game," when the rookie fumbled twice. "He's doing great things." ... The De'Anthony Thomas screen-pass TD came on fourth down. "We weren't in field- goal range and, if you punt it, you're always in that quandary if it goes into the end zone," Kelly said. "It's a confidence that we have in ourselves. It was also not wanting to give the ball back." He added: "We got a good play call, based on our scouting." ,,, With Boise State's home loss to TCU, the Ducks own the nation's longest home winning streak - 20 games. ... Stanford clearly missed the services of receiver Chris Owusu, who sat out the game after a concussion. "I didn't even think about Owusu," Aliotti said. "He's a good football player, but it didn't cross my mind." Griff Whalen had nine catches for 107 yards and two TDs. ... After recovering only two fumbles through nine games, the Ducks recovered three against Stanford.