A review of the films of the Ducks’ 56-24 win over USC showed that there is, for the time being, startling difference in the talent levels of the two teams. Oregon, under the direction of coach Mario Cristobal, has made huge inroads in recruiting the state of California for talented athletes who have helped make the Ducks a contender in the Pac-12 after a three-year hiatus from the favored.
Southern Cal is suffering a mediocre season: having a disappointing number of injuries to key players at quarterback, running back and defense. All deficiencies were barred for the world to see as Oregon’s defense, kickoff return, and offense scored eight straight touchdowns after slopping around their first three possessions of the game.
The offensive touchdown drives were, in order: 59, 95,80, 34, 92, 91, and 75 yards. Four of the drives had one third-down situation, all of which were converted, and three drives had no third-down situations to slow the steamrolling Duck offense. For the second straight game, Cristobal saw his offense’s third-down conversion rate go over the 50 percent goal set before the season—67 percent, even higher than in the win over Washington State.
The Ducks accomplished 16 explosion plays of ten yards or more—10 passing and 6 rushing. Quarterback Justin Herbert threw for nine and ran for two in expertly directing Oregon’s attack. On the other side, USC had nine explosion plays on offense (which was fewer than might have been predicted) and only three rushing plays, a huge falloff from the days when USC ran on everybody, for a lot of yards.
There were four other explosion plays: three by the defense and one by the kickoff return team. The grateful Ducks picked off three passes by ‘SC quarterback Kedon Slovis: 45 yards by Deommodore Lenoir, 25 yards by Verone McKinley III, and a 32-yard pick six by Brady Breeze. All three interceptions resulted in touchdowns. A fourth turnover, a fumble return by Breeze, also lead to a touchdown, all these resulting in 28 points off turnovers.
The fourth explosion play was a beaut—a 100-yard kickoff return by Mykael Wright that came immediately after the Trojans trimmed the deficit to 21-17 with 20 seconds left in the first half. Twelve seconds later, Wright was in the end zone with the kickoff and USC was in shock. The Ducks would trample the Trojans 28-7 in the second half to make a game that might have been tighter a runaway.
Trojan fans were numb at the end of the game: you heard comments like, “I can’t believe how fast the game turned…suddenly we looked up and the game was over…we could not stop them.” These comments were descriptive of what happened—the Ducks scored two touchdowns: the interception by Breeze and return by Wright in the last 2:20 of the second quarter, sandwiched around a nine-play, 74-yard scoring drive in 1:50 by USC. The emotional lift the Trojans had narrowing the scoring gap right before halftime was blown up by the kick return, easily the play of the game for those who pick those kinds of things.
Defensively, Oregon’s coaches saw a lot of improvement from their performance the previous week against Washington State’s Air Raid offense. Man-to-man coverage was tighter, tougher and more resilient. Although the Trojans completed the same number of passes (32) that the Cougars did, their fine stable of thoroughbred receivers were not able to scamper after the catch. Slovis had no completion over 20 yards which is outstanding given that pundits have three of the ‘SC receivers ready to play in the NFL right now.
The Ducks missed at least 22 tackles in the first half of the game, but they were mostly at the line of scrimmage and at the second level. The secondary tackled well and prevented little explosions from becoming big ones, a key factor in USC only able to score three touchdowns, the last with only three minutes left in the game.
USC doesn’t run their pass offense as well as the Cougars do—one reason is that ‘SC is down to their third-string quarterback and don’t have the offensive line WSU boasts. The Ducks had three sacks, seven tackles for loss and six pass breakups: one each for three linebackers and one each for three defensive backs. Slovis could not locate a weaker member of the secondary to pick on as the secondary did not let down during the entire game.
The aggressive nature of the defense was dramatically different than in the WSU game and it showed in the statistics and success the defense enjoyed. Not to be forgotten should be that in the early stages of the game when the score was in doubt, the defense held USC to a lone field goal on two drives that reached first-and-goal on their eight-yard line. Coach Andy Avalos’ defense has done an excellent job all season forcing field goal tries on offensive drives that seemed end-zone destined.
The game was poorly played in the sportsmanship category. Since one of the reasons colleges have football is to develop sportsmanship and chivalry through fierce competition, it is a disappointment that the lads on both teams lost their heads frequently, through the first three quarters of the game. It was more a war of mouths and gestures that precipitated seemingly endless scrums that reminded of hormone-crazed banty roosters bumping chests to impress anyone who might be impressed by stupid.
The Trojans gave up seven first downs by penalty and the Ducks, never to be outdone, did them two better gifting ‘SC with nine first downs when they were struggling to put a drive together. Overall, Oregon had three pass interference penalties and seven personal fouls that were committed after the whistle had ruled a play over.
As a coach, you can accept penalties that occur during play, but penalties called after the play is over are unacceptable. They are selfish, egotistical shows of immaturity and a lack of discipline. Anyone who has heard Cristobal speak of his vision for his players and the manner in which they are going to compete, nationally, will attest to his voiced commitment to doing all this in an honorable way—clean, hard, and fast.
The Ducks left out the “clean” part, accruing 157 yards in total penalties including two 15-yarders on one of the team captains, Troy Dye, who was shown on television pummeling the USC quarterback who was on his back after the play had ended. This is not the picture Cristobal has in mind, according to those who have heard him describe his program.
Chip Kelly said a lot of things that were, actually, thoughtful and worth consideration. He said what “the coaches accept on the practice field, they can expect in games.” Coach Cristobal has some attitude adjustment chores to conduct with his team and quickly, during the bye week. It seems the penalty-discipline issue might be more important than the all-out recruiting that distracts during an open date on the schedule.
This was the second straight game the Ducks had over 100 yards in penalties and they have given away 13 free first downs while doing it. If this isn’t straightened out, you can be sure defeat is just a flag away for an Oregon team that right now has a lot more talent than brains.
The crucial stats for the USC game:
No. 1 (explosiveness, yards per play)—USC 4.3; Oregon 6.4 (Oregon-leader wins 86 percent of the time)
No. 2 (efficiency, 3rd-4 th down conversion—Oregon-6-of-9-67 percent; USC 9-of-17-53 percent (Oregon-leader wins 83 percent of the time)
No. 3 (drive-finishing, points per trip inside 40) –Oregon-6-of-6 100 percent; USC 4-of-6-67 percent (Oregon-leader wins 75 percent of the time)
No. 4 (average field position) –Oregon—23.3-yard line; USC 31.3-yard line (USC-leader wins 72 percent of the time)
No. 5 (turnover margin) –Oregon-1; USC-4 (Oregon-leader wins 73 percent of the time)
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years. He conducts a weekly coach's corner from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the 6th Street Grill.