A failed fourth down deep in the red zone and USC driving down for a touchdown midway through the third quarter turned this game into a rout instead of one that might have been close.
The Ducks were down 31-13 with 6:34 left and had the ball on Trojan 11-yard line. Instead of kicking the 28-yard field goal to make it a two-possession game, Oregon doesn’t get it and then watches USC drive 89 yards for the touchdowns.
The score was 38-13 at the time and the final score ended up 45-20, but that 10-point swing might have defined Oregon’s night in Los Angeles.
After coming off a record-setting week against Arizona State, Justin Herbert and the Duck offense was stymied for much of the night. They were held to just 288 yards of total offense and 85 rushing yards for the entire night. Oregon not being able to rush the ball effectively allowed the Trojan defense to focus on the passing game, making things tough on the true freshman quarterback.
But on the other sideline, USC’s offense rolled as they were able to run the ball and using play fakes to help their freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. Tailback Ronald Jones II rushed for 171 yards and found the end zone four times, while Darnold threw for 309 yards and two more scores for 579 yards of total offense.
Oregon’s night got off to a rocky start right away as USC grabbed a 17-0 first quarter lead. The Ducks began with a three-and-out and the Trojans scored on their initial possession. They only had to go 18 yards before kicking a 35-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead.
USC made it 10-0 on its next drive as Jones rumbled for 23 yards for his first touchdown on the night. He made it 3-for-3 when he scored from three yards out with 5:25 left in the first quarter.
After that, the Duck defense made some adjustments and held the Trojans scoreless for the rest of the half. But Oregon’s offense couldn’t take advantage to rally. The Ducks did score, however, right before the first quarter ended after a bad punt that gave them the ball on their opponent’s 25.
Charles Nelson scored on a reverse as he ran 25 yards for the touchdown. Unfortunately for Oregon, the snap was fouled up on the extra point and it stayed 17-6.
For most of the second quarter, the two teams traded possessions until USC finally broke through once again with 35 seconds left. Darnold found Deontay Burnett for a two-yard touchdown pass for the 24-6 halftime lead.
USC then scored on the first drive on the third quarter on Jones’ 66-yard touchdown run. In six of Oregon’s nine games, the opponent scored on its last possession of the first half and its first possession of the second half. That kind of turnaround is difficult to overcome for any offense, especially one as young as the Ducks.
Within just a few minutes, the game went from 17-6 to 31-6.
Down by 25, the Ducks put together their best drive of the night. They went 80 yards in 12 plays and ended when Herbert found Pharaoh Brown for a five-yard touchdown. Oregon had a chance to cut into the deficit even more when Brenden Schooler picked off Darnold. Herbert drove the Ducks down to the 11, but the fourth down attempt failed on an incomplete pass.
USC then scored another touchdown for the 38-13 lead. They took the momentum away with that touchdown and any hope of an Oregon rally.
Now at 3-6, Oregon is going to have to defeat Stanford, Utah and Oregon State in order to become bowl eligible. The Cardinal will be first as Stanford comes into Autzen Stadium next week. They are coming off a 26-15 win over Oregon State to improve to 6-3 overall and 4-3 in conference play.
The game is scheduled for 1 pm on the Pac-12 Network.
— Don Smalley
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