Oregon won big at USC on Saturday. They won so big that USC might end up searching for a new head coach.
That was the basis of almost every question posed to Clay Helton after a massive home loss to the surging Ducks. One reporter asked Helton if he went in to the game thinking that he was coaching for his job. Helton responded with several lines of coach-speak about focusing on players and being ready to bounce back on Monday.
Helton did open the press conference talking about Oregon. He spoke about how effective the Ducks were at capitalizing on mistakes over the course of the game. He noted that any game against Oregon would be difficult, but to commit four turnovers and several costly penalties while giving up a massive kickoff return touchdown during Oregon’s 28-7 run to end the first half destroyed any momentum that USC possessed.
Helton praised the early ten-point lead that the Trojans had built at the end of the first quarter, but lamented the points left off the scoreboard.
Justin Herbert had a pass intercepted for only the second time all season, leading to a field goal that Helton felt should have been a touchdown. The field goal put USC up 10-0, and the Ducks looked like they were attempting to repeat the 2018 Washington State game, where they fell behind by so much, so quickly, that a comeback attempt in the second half was simply impossible.
The first half of the game was marked by the two teams, particularly Oregon, playing out of control. Both teams had players ejected, and multiple post-whistle flags were thrown because Oregon players ignored their cues to let up. At the end of the first half, Oregon had only 113 total yards of offense, while they had committed 97 yards worth of penalties.
Fortunately for the Oregon faithful in the stands, Herbert was able to rush for his first touchdown of the season with 10:11 left in the second quarter. USC looked like they would march down the field on the ensuing drive, but Drayton Carlberg forced a fumble on a sack on third and goal, and Brady Breeze recovered the ball.
Oregon outscored USC 49-14 after the fumble.
When asked if there was a point or play in the game that marked the turning point, Helton said that it was likely the interception returned for a touchdown with 2:16 left in the first half, but it was more than likely the aforementioned fumble. USC had a chance to lead 17-7 with five minutes remaining in the first half. Their defense had mostly held Oregon in check to that point, and their offense was moving the ball easily.
Oregon marched down the field drive after drive and stifled the previously potent Trojan offense, with only seven of the Trojans’ fourteen second half points coming during meaningful minutes. Without the fumble, Oregon would have likely been down two scores, but instead they took the lead and never looked back.
Herbert threw to Juwan Johnson for 106 yards and three touchdowns, more than doubling Johnson’s season total of 100 receiving yards and zero touchdowns entering the game.
After managing -11 yards on the ground in the first quarter, the Ducks ended the game with a reasonable 139 rushing yards and two touchdowns, which includes the two sacks that counted against Herbert’s rushing total.
The Oregon defense began operating in bend-don’t-break mode, locking down as soon as the Trojans reached midfield. The combination of lethal offense and prevent defense was enough to overwhelm the Trojans. Despite their early punch, they couldn’t withstand Oregon at full speed.
“Credit to Oregon,” Helton said early in his press conference “They are a well-coached team.”
It was that well-coached team that that scored on four of their five second half possessions, the outlier being the game-ending drive.
But the game didn’t end with 00:00 on the game clock. The home team was beaten long before that. The home crowd realized after Herbert’s second touchdown pass to Johnson with 6:14 left in the third quarter that the game had effectively ended, and it was simply a matter of running out the clock. Many Trojan fans headed for the exits, and by the time USC scored the final touchdown of the game, the stadium was full of mostly Duck fans.
After the game, the Ducks remained on the field. They took pictures and high-fived fans. Troy Dye jumped in to the stands to talk to people. Penei Sewell high-fived every fan in sight as he walked through the tunnel.
Trojan fans may have left with over 21 minutes of game time remaining, but Duck fans stayed in their seats for twenty minutes after the game had come to a close.
As I walked through the tunnel to the press conference for Helton, Mario Cristobal finally left the field, he threw up an “O” as he entered the tunnel at essentially a run. I said “Good game coach!” as he ran passed me. “Thank you!” was the breathless response he gave.
Catch your breath coach, you’ve got Arizona next.
Los Angeles, CaliforniaTop Photo Credit: Eugene Johnson
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
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