The Oregon Ducks destroyed the Trojans 48-28 in bitterly cold, sunny weather today at a packed Autzen. RB Royce Freeman ran wild for 147 yards, but USC’s players and coaches had one explanation for the reason why: Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams, Jr.
The Eastern Washington transfer threw for 313 yards, completing 14 of 17 passes for 4 TDs and an interception — just in the first half. He finished with 407 yards and 6 TDs — the most ever against USC in their long history — to six different receivers. Adams actually had more passing touchdowns than incompletions (5 of his 25 tosses).
Adams was also remarkably elusive, escaping pressure to find open receivers on play after play. USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said: ”He hurt us bad, and there were a number of [those plays]. He was really able to improvise and make things happen with his feet.”
Interim head coach Clay Helton is filling in for Steve Sarkisian, who was fired on October 12th after a series of alcohol-related incidents. He told reporters that ”Vernon Adams has a unique ability to keep his eyes downfield, extending plays until he finds somebody. … We had a lot of opportunities to get Vernon on the ground [in the first half], but we didn’t. There is only so long you can stay in man coverage.”
Defensive backs coach Keith Heyward stated: “We’ve got to cover better. If it’s zone, you need to plaster to your man. Man coverage: it’s one on one. Me on you. Cover 10 seconds if you have to. It was only a couple of plays in zone [today. But] if you’re playing man, you have to cover your man. That’s it.”
Cornerback/wide receiver/kick returner Adoreé Jackson explained what it was like to be covering Oregon’s talented receivers on those extended plays. ”It felt like they went on forever.”
The Trojan pass rush started to find its target in the second half, sacking Adams four times, and a punt return touchdown by Jackson brought USC back within 10 points.
USC forced the Ducks to punt, and started the fourth quarter perfectly poised for a comeback.
That was the point where USC self-destructed with two consecutive false start penalties, followed by a strip-sack fumble. On the first play after Oregon recovered the ball, Adams threw a 26-yard touchdown to Charles Nelson (who excelled in all three phases) and the game was over.
On the false starts, the raucous Autzen crowd clearly rattled USC’s offensive line. Trojan OL coach Bob Connelly acknowledged as much. ”The crowd was absolutely a factor, people chanting and yelling. It was loud. You have to concentrate in a hostile environment, which Autzen Stadium is.”
He also felt the Ducks were engaged in some extreme — if not unfair — gamesmanship. “They got our cadence down, did some rapid movement, and they were clapping [to imitate USC’s signal]. We’ve got to keep our eyes up to see that it’s their guys doing it.”
A reporter asked if that’s against the rules. ”They didn’t call a penalty, so I guess it isn’t,” he replied unconvincingly.
USC quarterback Cody Kessler, touted by some as a top NFL prospect for next spring’s draft had a tough game. He explained his strip-sack fumble this way: “I was trying to get outside of the pocket so I could throw it away. Obviously, I didn’t see the guy coming up from behind.”
Kessler also gave credit to Oregon’s defensive game plan and players. ”We expected a lot of two-high coverage, but they mixed it up with a lot of 0ne-high and two-high coverages. They have a great secondary and very strong front seven.”
I asked him if Oregon’s NFL-sized defensive linemen, such as 6’7″ DE DeForest Buckner, made it hard to see open receivers. The 6’1″ Kessler didn’t respond directly.
“They had a strong twist game up front, but we just needed to play better. We needed to win our one-on-one matchups a little better.”
Regardless of the cause, it was a tough game for a proud Trojan team whose historic domination of the Ducks ended 10 years ago. Kessler said: “This hurts just as bad as any other loss. This is a very good football team but so are we.”
Coach Helton, thrown into a tough situation, took responsibility. “We made a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball. It was not a good day. That was my responsibility as coach and that’s not on [the players].”
This late in the season, though, what really matters is the Pac-12 standings, and USC remains on top of the Pac-12 South after Utah also lost. This sets up a showdown for all the marbles with UCLA next week.
To win the North division and set up a possible rematch, the Ducks still need to take care of business in the Civil War, which shouldn’t be too hard. They also need the Cal Bears to knock off Stanford tonight.
As Buckner said after the game, ”Today, we’re all Cal fans. Go Bears!”
Feature photo by Gary Breedlove