Oregon's furious rally falls just short
Ducks barely miss field goal to force overtime, as USC escapes with 38-35 win
EUGENE - Facing an 18-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, the Oregon Ducks were undaunted.
But despite a furious rally, a win for the Ducks - and a chance to return to the BCS national championship game - were not to be.
Kicker Alejandro Maldonado pulled a 37-yard field-goal attempt that would have forced overtime. His kick missed to the left as time ran out, and USC escaped Autzen Stadium with a 38-35 upset of the fourth-ranked Ducks. The loss ended Oregon's 21-game home winning streak, and 17-game league winning streak.
USC's Matt Barkley threw four TD passes, and the USC defense held UO's offense in check for much of the night, with the Ducks making various errors, many of them unforced. In the end, another mistake - the missed field goal - enabled the gasping Trojans to hold on.
The Ducks (8-2, 7-1 Pac-12) can still clinch the Pac-12 Conference Northern Division championship by beating Oregon State, 12:30 p.m. next Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
"I don't feel like they beat us. We beat ourselves," said LaMichael James, who had an off night. "We're still in good position. ... Everybody knows (about needing to beat OSU). I'm sure everybody's going to come out battling."
On the second year of a two-year bowl ban, USC (9-2, 6-2) regained a bit of swagger in a league the Trojans dominated for most of the past decade. The Ducks broke through and won the past two league titles, but the Trojans showed Saturday that they still had some pride by beating the two-time champs on their home turf.
"You can't make the mistakes, especially early, against a good football team," UO coach Chip Kelly said. But, "I loved their effort."
He added, in the wake of the big win at Stanford last week, "I didn't feel like it was a hangover. Credit goes to the other team."
"To break the longest home winning streak in the country says a lot about this team and how far they have come," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
But Oregon had a chance to steal the win. The Ducks started the last drive at their own 14-yard-line with 2:31 left, after USC's Marc Tyler committed an awful mistake - fumbling as USC was trying to pad their 38-35 lead.
"Those things usually don't happen," Kiffin said, of a Heisman Trophy candidate QB and a fifth-year senior muffing a handoff.
Kenjon Barner rushed for 17 yards. Darron Thomas threw 12 yards to David Paulson, 14 to De'Anthony Thomas and nine to Rahsaan Vaughn. Barner rushed for nine and four yards, before it appeared the Ducks were settling for getting into field goal position rather than to win the game.
A USC offsides penalty moved the Ducks forward five yards, making it a 37-yard attempt by Maldonado. But the UO kicker missed it; Maldonado said his right leg was too stiff for the kick.
"We called some plays, they did a good job in coverage," Kelly said, of settling for the field goal attempt. "What you don't want to do is force it."
Said Barner: "Extremely disappointing, to come so close to tying the game up. ... (Kelly) made the call. We came up short."
It was a big comeback, reminiscent of when Darron Thomas made his debut in 2008 against Boise State, nearly rallying the Ducks to the win in the fourth quarter.
The Trojans outplayed the Ducks in the first half, with Barkley and receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods starring. And then USC went ahead 24-7 in the early moments of the second half.
The QB Thomas was stopped on two runs and then fumbled (but recovered) on third down. The Trojans' T.J. McDonald blocked Jackson Rice's punt, and USC recovered at the UO 12. The Ducks' defense stiffened, and Barkley threw incomplete on third down, but Andre Heidari's 26-yard field goal put the visitors up by three scores.
The Ducks, needing a score, struck back. De'Anthony Thomas, who had an earlier TD reception against his hometown school, returned the kickoff 51 yards. QB Thomas hit Josh Huff on a 28-yard catch-and-run play. And, Barner had a 9-yard TD run, making it 24-14.
But the relentless USC offense, led by Barkley, continued to cut through the UO defense. Curtis McNeal ran for 21 yards, and then Barkley found Lee for a 41-yard pass play, with the receiver breaking out of safety coverage and beating Ifo Ekpre-Olomu for the ball. Tyler's 3-yard TD made it 31-14.
Huff dropped a third-down pass, and the Trojans took over after the punt. Surgically cutting through the UO defense, the Trojans went 65 yards in nine plays and scored on Barkley's fourth TD pass, a 5-yarder to Randall Telfer. USC led 38-14.
But, "I thought we always had a shot at it," Kelly said, "till the last tick off that clock."
De'Anthony Thomas, a true freshman from Los Angeles who spurned USC to sign with the Ducks, faked a reverse with James on the kickoff and ran 96 yards for the touchdown. Oregon had some life, down 38-20.
"LaMichael set it up good with a fake reverse," De'Anthony Thomas said. "Once I saw the lane, I hit it."
The Ducks forced a punt at the end of the third quarter, and Oregon faced an 18-point deficit headed into the fourth quarter.
The Ducks' momentum continued, as they drove 79 yards on nine plays in 2:16 to score on Barner's 8-yard TD. The extra-point made it 38-27, USC, with 12:44 left.
A little later, Oregon safety John Boyett intercepted Barkley near midfield, and Oregon drove again. David Paulson made a tough catch in traffic to the USC 1-yard line, and James punched it in for a touchdown with 7:05 remaining; Thomas threw to Lavasier Tuinei for the two-point conversion, and the Ducks trailed 38-35 in front of a frenzied Autzen crowd.
But USC held on, and celebrated on the Autzen turf after the final seconds ticked off.
"People have come really close, like we did last year (to beating Oregon)," Kiffin said. "You just got to find a way to do it the whole game and tackle really well. For the most part, we did that.
"Obviously they made their plays so we didn't completely shut them down. You better score, as we did, early. And then we screwed up in the second half. We didn't finish off our drives in the second half. That's why it became so close. We had the multiple turnovers in there. After the blocked punt, and only getting three points. We let them hang around too much and it almost cost us."
USC controlled most of the game, about 37 minutes possession time, 462 yards offense (UO had 474) and going 7 of 13 on third-down conversions. Barkley finished 26 of 34 for 323 yards and the four scores, with Lee (eight catches, 187 yards) and Woods (seven for 53) the main culprits. McNeal rushed for 94 yards.
"I thought Matt was outstanding," Kelly said. "(Barkley was) the best quarterback we played this year. He always seemed like he had the answer.
"We didn't generate the pass rush we did a week ago (against Stanford), but sometimes you gotta give the other team credit."
Barner rushed for 123 yards and two scores, while James, who said he felt fine in the second half, managed only 78 yards on 20 carries. Thomas went 23 of 35 for 265 yards and a score.
The Ducks haven't found themselves in too many two-touchdown holes at halftime, but that was the case Saturday. The Trojans, after a slow start, heated up with Barkley and his star receivers Lee and Woods. Barkley went 15 of 18 for 186 yards and three TDs in the first half.
Oregon had an early opportunity, with Brandon Hanna recovering Barkley's fumble at the USC 20. But Thomas threw a pass to De'Anthony Thomas that fell incomplete, but, on review, it was ruled a backward pass and a fumble.
After a Nick Perry sack and a 21-yard Rice punt, USC scored on its first play, Barkley finding a streaking Lee for a 59-yard TD play, the receiver beating Troy Hill.
The Ducks bounced back, but Thomas got sacked and Vaughn dropped an open pass on fourth-and-8 at the USC 33.
USC went ahead 14-0. Barkley hit Lee for 14 yards on third-and-13, and then Woods for 24 yards.
On third-and-3 at the start of the second quarter, Barkley threw a pretty 12-yard fade TD pass to Woods.
The Ducks later went 88 yards, with Thomas throwing 35 yards to Colt Lyerla and then 29 yards to De'Anthony Thomas for the touchdown.
Barkley and Lee torched Hill again, for 32 yards to the UO 6. On third down, Barkley found Woods for a 4-yard TD pass with 2:27 left in the first half, and USC led 21-7.
Usually dangerous to score late in the first half, the Ducks marched into USC territory. Thomas hit Paulson and Tuinei on third-down passes. De'Anthony Thomas caught a Thomas pass for an apparent 18-yard TD play, but, on review, it was clear that the receiver was out of bounds.
James ran for nine yards and then coughed up a costly fumble, with USC's Jawanza Starling recovering at the Trojan 9.
James said the brace on his injured right elbow actually broke, and his arm straightened out, which caused the fumble.
USC 7 14 17 0 -- 38
OREGON 0 7 13 15 -- 35
USC -- 1st, 6:35: Marquise Lee 59 pass from Matt Barkley (Andre Heidari kick)
USC -- 2nd, 14:54: Robert Woods 12 pass from Barkley (Heidari kick)
UO -- 2nd, 5:53: De'Anthony Thomas 29 pass from Darron Thomas (Alejandro Maldonado kick)
USC -- 2nd, 2:27: Woods 4 pass from Barkley (Heidari kick)
USC -- 3rd, 12:44: Heidari 26 FG
OREGON -- 3rd, 11:34: Kenjon Barner 9 run (Maldonado kick)
USC -- 3rd, 9:27: Marc Tyler 3 run (Heidari kick)
USC -- 3rd, 3:28: Randall Telfer 5 pass from Barkley (Heidari kick)
OREGON -- 3rd, 3:13: De'Anthony Thomas 96 kickoff return (pass failed)
OREGON -- 4th, 12:44: Barner 8 run (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 4th, 7:05, LaMichael James 1 run (Lavasier Tuinei pass from Darron Thomas)