by Garry Paskwietz
In the last four meetings between the USC Trojans and the Oregon Ducks, the Ducks have scored 198 points and gained 2,381 total yards.
That basically equates to 50 points and 600 yards per game.
So the offensive onslaught we saw on Saturday in Eugene is something we have seen in recent years, yet somehow it felt different with the way the Oregon offense connected on big passing play after big passing play and the way the USC defense, particularly the secondary, seemed to struggle with so many communication and assignment issues.
On top of that, the Trojans hurt themselves in the 48-28 loss with key penalties and an offense that left some opportunities on the table. The Trojans actually did a good job controlling the run (holding Oregon 128 yards below their average) and running the ball on their own, outgaining the Ducks 186-171 on the ground, with Justin Davis setting a career high with 141 rushing yards.
And in spite of allowing a career day for Vernon Adams, who would wind up with six touchdown passes on the day, the Trojans were still very much in the ballgame until early in the fourth quarter when a critical turnover basically put the game away for the Ducks.
With the score at 38-28 in favor of Oregon, the Trojans had the ball at their own 20, before a couple false starts moved the ball back to the 10. Justin Davis popped a nice first down run, and then a De’Quan Hampton catch and Davis run got another first down and some breathing room at the 32. On first down, however, a bad snap from Khaliel Rodgers forced Cody Kessler to go low for the ball, he picked it up and began to roll to his right trying to make a play but was tackled from behind, the ball was fumbled and recovered by the Ducks, who promptly hit a touchdown throw on the next play to go up 45-28 and effectively seal the game.
It was the first turnover of the game for the Trojans, who missed on a couple early scoring opportunities and were unable to keep pace with the Oregon offense.
There will be a lot of attention paid to what happened with the USC defense, and deservedly so, but at some point you also need to tip your hat to Adams and the Ducks. They are a different offense with a healthy Adams at the controls and, as noted above, they are performing at a level that has been seen from Oregon offenses in recent years. In this game he accomplished the rare feat of having more touchdowns (6) than incompletions (5) and he also completed those 6 touchdowns to 6 different receivers. The six touchdowns are also a record for a USC opponent.
The performance by Adams was certainly helped by the unfortunate timing of injuries to USC linebackers Cameron Smith and Lamar Dawson, who were responsible for calling the signals of the defense. At several times in the game there were notable communication and assignment breakdown issues that helped lead to big plays for the Ducks. And when you combine those issues with everything else it resulted in a game in which the Trojans just got overwhelmed.
Penalties: The Trojans committed 12 penalties for 124 yards in the game. Perhaps the most notable came from Chad Wheeler, with a personal foul that turned a 4th-and-1 into a punt in the third quarter. There was also a critical punt coverage flag against Kevon Seymour who hit the return man early.
Filling In: There were several players rotated in at middle linebacker. Olajuwon Tucker led the team in tackles with 9 and had 2.5 TFL, and he generally made his presence felt in the run game. Michael Hutchings had 4 tackles, he was stronger against the pass than against the run.
Injuries catching up: Whether it was JuJu Smith-Schuster getting banged up again, or having to fill key spots along the offensive line and linebacker, this was a game where the injuries impacted the Trojans as much as any this year.
Career day: Davis set his career high in rushing (141) on only 16 carries, and his highlight run where he carried multiple defenders on his back for extra yardage was celebrated by several of the offensive linemen. It also felt like Davis could have done more in the game with increased carries.
Pac-12 South on the line: As if the USC vs UCLA game needed any additional spark, the winner of the game will advance to the Pac-12 title game. That doesn’t wipe away the taste of the Oregon loss but it certainly is a pleasant surprise for this team to still have that opportunity.
Clay Helton talking points
“I was really proud of him. The young man handled himself in that environment with a lot of maturity. He was the most surprising of all” – talking about Olajuwon Tucker as one of the replacement middle linebackers. Tucker led the Trojans with 9 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
“We missed on some opportunities that are going to haunt me for a while. If there are 5-6 plays per game that swing things one way or the other, yesterday they didn’t swing our way. On the fumble, we had put JuJu in the slot to get him vertical against the safety, and he ran a tremendous route. It was a nice opportunity and we didn’t get it.” – talking about missed opportunities for the USC offense
“There are definite emotions at play on senior day. You’ve been a part of these young men’s lives. You’ve helped raise them and now you’re getting ready to say goodbye to them.” – talking about emotions of upcoming senior day game against UCLA