Plenty of Offense, No Defense, for Oregon and USC
Oregon vs. USC: Defense MIA but Offense Steals the Spotlight
College football fans can always count on the annual Alabama-LSU showdown for a good, hard-fought game, but anyone tuned in to this weekend’s Saban Bowl missed an offensive explosion in Los Angeles between USC and Oregon that would make a Hollywood special effects director proud.
Points were at a premium in Baton Rouge because of the stingy SEC defenses on both sides of the field, but they were equally precious in the Coliseum because of the lack of defense.
Both the Trojans and the Ducks are stacked with offensive weapons, and they unleashed them in full force Saturday night. Other than a fumble here and an interception there, there was no stopping them. Each team punted just once the entire night, both in the fourth quarter, because once the offenses had the ball, they were either going to turn it over or, more often, score.
USC and Oregon accumulated 1,345 yards of total offense and 113 points. The Ducks alone had 730 yards – just 36 fewer yards than both LSU and Alabama combined.
Trojans’ quarterback Matt Barkley needed statement games against Oregon and Notre Dame to get back on the invite list for the Heisman Awards ceremony, but his 484 passing yards and five touchdowns were overshadowed by two costly interceptions in the 62-51 loss.
Barkley surpassed his interceptions total from 2011, but his primary target, sophomore Marqise Lee, continued to prove he’s one of the best receivers in college football. Lee had 157 yards and two touchdowns, but he had an even better night on special teams, with an 82-yard kickoff return.
Lots of players put up big numbers, but around the nation, no one had a better night than Oregon tailback Kenjon Barner. Fellow Duck De’Anthony Thomas might still be "the fastest man in football," but Barner’s the one who ran all over the Trojans’ home field, racking up 321 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Oregon’s impressive win over USC helped dispel the argument that the Ducks hadn’t been tested yet, but questions remain about whether the defense, which allowed 615 yards and 51 points, is championship-caliber. Thanks to Barner and the offense, they’re one game closer to finding out.
If you were watching the riveting SEC showdown instead, here’s what you missed from Oregon-USC.
There's been talk about Alabama's AJ McCarron becoming a Heisman candidate after his game against LSU, but if voters had their eye on the Tigers and the Tide, they might not have seen what Kenjon Barner can do. He ran all over the USC Trojans in the L.A. Coliseum, and his 321 yards set a new record for rushing yards by a USC opponent. (It's also more yards than the entire Washington State team has had on the ground all season, just to put it in perspective.)
Barner set a new Oregon record for single-game rushing yards, breaking the mark set byLaMichael James. He might have run in James' shadow last season but he eclipsed the former star against USC on Saturday. He had as many touchdowns against the Trojans this weekend - five - as James had in his entire career against USC.
USC Defense Plays Down to Preseason Expectations
Before the season, most observers thought USC had the offense to win a national championship but were concerned that the defense might be team's Achilles' heel. For most of the year, the defense had actually kept the Trojans in games while the offense looked off-kilter, but against Oregon, the offense scored 51 points and it still wasn't enough to win.
Barner, Thomas, and quarterback Marcus Mariota gashed the defense for first downs, or close to it, nearly every time they touched the ball. The Trojans had at least 20 blatant missed tackles. And when Mariota dropped back to pass, he had plenty of time throw to wide open receivers.
Trojans' Defense Brings Pressure, Just Not As Much as Ducks
The Trojans' defensive line was solid all season and is fourth in the Pac-12 in sacks, but they didn't consistently bring pressure against Oregon. Mariota was sacked three times by the Trojans, matching his season-high, but when he picked himself up, the USC defense wasn't ready to come right back at him.
The first time Mariota was sacked, he threw a touchdown on the next play, and that was the story throughout the game. Every time the Trojans made a big stop - and they did make some hard hits in the backfield - the Ducks responded with an even bigger play.
When USC had the ball on offense, the Oregon defensive line came right at Barkley. He was only sacked once, in the game's final minutes, but he was under pressure on almost every drive. He took a hard hit on the Trojans' disappointing opening drive that ended with a field goal, instead of a touchdown, and his second interception came in the second quarter when he threw under pressure - right to the Ducks' Kiko Alonso. The young offensive line has had its hands full all season, but never more than against the Ducks.
Marcus Mariota Deserves More Credit
Mariota is in his first season as the Ducks' quarterback, but it's hard to tell watching him play. He was 20 of 23 for 304 yards and four touchdowns against USC, and he was just shy of 100 rushing yards with an impressive 58-yard run right up the middle. With 22 passing touchdowns and just five interceptions on the year - a great ratio for any quarterback, but particularly a redshirt freshman - Mariota is unquestionably a key factor in the Ducks' undefeated record.
Marqise Lee is Really Good - But He Could Be Even Better
USC head coach Lane Kiffin said Lee could finish his career as the best receiver in school history. It seemed like an exaggeration at the time, but after he set the school and conference record for single-game receiving yards (345) a few weeks ago, it doesn't seem as far-fetched.
He had 157 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yarder, against the Ducks, but he could've had even more. Lee didn't fight for a catch in the first quarter and the potential touchdown turned into a Matt Barkley interception in the end zone. He dropped a few other passes, but he also made critical catches to keep drives alive.
Lee got plenty of action on kick returns as the Ducks kept scoring and kicking off, and he made the most of it, with 251 return yards. Big returns of 82 and 43 yards each kicked off Trojans touchdown drives, but in the end, it wasn't quite enough.
Nelson Agholor is One to Watch
People wondered if the freshman from Florida would follow in Robert Woods' and Marqise Lee's footsteps as a star true freshman receiver for the Trojans. But Woods and Lee are still on the field, so Agholor hasn't had many opportunities to make a name for himself. (Even Woods hasn't had as many opportunities this year thanks to Lee). Agholor got more playing time against the Ducks and he showed he can play on the same level as the veterans, leading the team in receiving yards, with 162 yards on just 6 catches, including a 76-yard touchdown grab.
Unfortunately, he made his only rookie mistake of the night when the Trojans could ill afford it. In the fourth quarter, USC was down ten, and on third-and-5, Agholor dropped the easiest catch he would've had all night. if he'd held on, it would've been a first down to keep the Trojans moving. The drop didn't necessarily cost the Trojans the game - there were plenty of factors in the loss - but it was one of many plays that certainly affected the outcome. If the rest of Agholor's night against the Ducks is any indication, he'll have plenty of chances to redeem himself over the next two years.
Penalties Don't Affect the Final Result
USC lost the game but in a small victory, they finally cleaned up their season-long penalty problem. The Trojans entered the game as the most-penalized team in college football, but they were only flagged three times against the Ducks, for 25 yards. It was a glimmer of silver lining in an otherwise disappointing performance, but given the choice, the Trojans would probably take a flurry of flags in exchange for the win.
Oregon was called for 10 penalties for 79 yards, but it didn't make a difference. A facemask in the first quarter got the Trojans into the red zone but Barkley was intercepted on the next play. Oregon's Michael Clay picked up a personal foul that moved the Ducks back, but they still scored thanks to missed Trojan tackles. Two USC touchdown drives - to narrow the score 34-31 and, later, 55-45 - were aided by pairs of Oregon penalties, but the Ducks just came right back down the field to get the points back.
The Trojans focused so much on cleaning up the penalties because they knew there was no margin for error against a team like Oregon. Oregon wasn't concerned, because the team knew it would gain enough yardage and score enough points to negate any penalties, within reason, they incurred. It illustrates just how much stronger the Ducks are overall right now.
The Ducks' big win over a ranked USC team improves Oregon's strength of schedule and keeps them on track for a potential spot in the BCS title game, which is where they looked like they belonged on Saturday night. The USC loss means the Trojans are no longer in control of the Pac-12 South division, but they can still play for a spot in the conference championship game. If they win their next two, against Arizona State and UCLA, the Trojans and Ducks could line up for another must-see offensive showcase.