USC plays hard, parties long
- Stephen Alexander
- Portland Tribune - Sports
EUGENE - Seconds after Oregon Ducks kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37-yard field goal, the Autzen Stadium turf turned into a party site. USC players stormed the field. They shouted and hugged and jumped up and down.
Like all good Southern California parties, it went on and on. Long after the end of Saturday night's game, USC coach Lane Kiffin sat on a box outside the Trojans' locker room with his father, assistant head coach Monte Kiffin. Father and son talked quietly as they looked out at the empty field, where their team had just been victorious.
It was USC 38, Oregon 35. Gone were the Ducks' chances at a return to the BCS national title game. Gone was the Ducks' 21-game home winning streak. Back, if only for a night, was USC's dominance of the Pac-12.
It was reason to celebrate.
'I feel excited,' Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley said. 'You can see it with this team, how excited we were when that kick was missed. We were going crazy. Even in the locker room right now, guys are so happy. We deserve this after the work we put in. People didn't believe in us, and we believed in each other. It feels great.'
By beating the Ducks, the Trojans figured out one of the most difficult questions in college football. The equation was solved with offense, defense and by the skin of the Trojans' teeth, but USC had the right answers.
'People have come really close (to beating Oregon), just like we did last year,' Kiffin said. 'You just have to find a way to do it the whole game and tackle really well. For the most part, we did that. They made their plays; they're going to. No one is going to completely shut them down.'
The Trojans' defense was stout throughout most of the game. Oregon had 474 yards of offense, but only 263 during the first three quarters.
'You've got to play gap football (against Oregon),' linebacker Hayes Pullard said. 'You can't let LaMichael (James) run all over the place. You know they're going to try to get to the edge of the defense, and sometimes they were able to capture the edge, but we contained that most of the time.'
Kiffin said USC used the same defensive game plan as last year in the Trojans' 53-32 loss to Oregon.
'It really wasn't a huge scheme change, as crazy as it sounds,' he said. 'Even though we gave up a lot of points last year, we looked over that film again and again and felt like our scheme was good.'
Pullard, who led USC with 14 tackles, said the one change the coaching staff did make was simplifying the game plan a bit to combat the Ducks' high-tempo offensive attack.
'The coaches made the scheme way easier for us,' Pullard said. 'We were able to play fast and have no worries on each play.'
USC gained 462 yards and gave the Oregon defense a miserable time all night. The running game was basic, yet effective. With the offensive line getting a good push off the ball, Curtis McNeal gained 94 yards and Marc Tyler rushed for 49 yards.
'We kind of stuck with some of the same run plays the whole game, and Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler were just hitting those holes hard,' Barkley said. 'They were running downhill.'
The running game kept Oregon off balance enough for Barkley to put on a show. He finished 26 of 34 passing for 323 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception.
The Ducks' coverage did not present much of a schematic challenge for Barkley and his receivers.
'It's very simple,' said Marqise Lee, who caught eight passes for 187 yards and one TD. 'They go two high, and you go to things across the middle. They go single high, you open it up on the outside with the running and then with passing.'
Knowing Oregon has two veteran safeties in John Boyett and Eddie Pleasant, Barkley took advantage of young defensive backs, including Troy Hill and Avery Patterson.
USC scored its first TD when Lee burned Hill deep. Barkley stepped up in the pocket and made a textbook NFL pass that hit Lee in stride for a 59-yard TD.
The Trojans made the score 14-0 when a dinged-up Robert Woods ran a fade route to the back of the end zone and wrestled the ball away from Patterson.
'We attacked their corners, and the receivers were doing a great job of making plays with the ball,' Barkley said. 'They have veteran safeties who are good players. But we knew if we attacked their corners, we'd be set. Our wideouts were better than them today.'
The victory did not come easy for the Trojans. They had to withstand a furious fourth quarter Oregon comeback attempt, as the Ducks outscored USC 15-0 and had a 37-yard field-goal attempt to tie the game.
'We kind of got lackadaisical,' Pullard said. 'The offense came out viciously fast, and we were kind of sluggish.'
In the end, though, the USC victory seemed to be written in the stars.
Kiffin called the win over No. 4 Oregon the biggest of his head coaching career at USC.
'To break the longest home winning streak in the country says a lot about this team and how far we've come,' he said.
Kiffin, however, voiced doubts about whether the Trojans would get much respect in the polls.
'I'm sure there will probably be a writer in the AP (who won't vote for us), and we won't break the top 25, so we'll see,' Kiffin said. 'Whatever. We don't care much about that."
With USC in the second year of a two-year NCAA postseason ban, the Trojans won't get a rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game, should the Ducks beat Oregon State next week to qualify as the North Division champion.
'We knew coming into this season that wasn't going to happen,' Barkley said. 'It was unfortunate, but at least we're trying to show that we're doing the best that we can.
'We knew that we were going to shock everyone else and not ourselves,' Barkley said, of beating the Ducks. 'Coming out with the win ... we expected this, but we're happy we could celebrate it.'