Time to open up the DVR and realize that we’ve seen this movie before. The seventh-ranked Oregon Ducks are set to face off against the under-appreciated USC Trojans football team. Oregon is coming off a thrilling victory against Mike Leach’s Cougars while the Trojans are coming off a come-from-behind win against Colorado.
This is not the first time Oregon has faced USC with a lot on the line. Oregon’s hopes at a national title shot have often been left in the hands of the Trojans, and have wound up becoming unforgettable classics.
October 27, 2007
No. 5 Oregon Ducks 24, No. 9 USC 17
On this day in late October, Mike Bellotti led arguably one of the best Oregon football teams in the history of the program on to Rich Brooks Field to take on Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans. At that time (before the Jets dubbed him the “Sanchize”), Mark Sanchez was the head signal-caller for the Trojans, going up against the up-tempo Ducks offense led by Dennis Dixon and Ducks legend Jonathan Stewart.
Things began looking gloomy right away when the Ducks fumbled the opening kickoff, but on the ensuing USC drive the Ducks regained possession on downs deep in their own territory. The game began with ugliness from both sides, and it remained that way throughout. There was a total of five turnovers, which included three fumbles (two by Oregon) and two interceptions by Sanchez.
The fifth-ranked Ducks came into the game with the second-best offense in the country, and it sputtered throughout the game, only raking up 339 total yards, roughly 200 below their season average to that point. Stewart carried the load for most of the game, putting up 105 yards on the ground and posting two touchdowns.
In a game that had a lot of excitement from both offenses, it was a defensive play that sealed it. Oregon had a 24-10 lead early in the fourth when USC came charging back with a touchdown of their own, and then forced a punt from the Ducks the following drive. Next, USC converted a fourth and one deep in their territory with just over a minute left and followed that up with two big pass completions. With under 20 seconds to play, Oregon safety Matthew Harper stepped in front of a Sanchez throw and made the interception, which sealed the deal for the Ducks. Oregon went on to win arguably the biggest game in program history to that point, in front of 59,277 fans in the Autzen stands.
The Ducks reached as high as number two in the polls during the 2007 season before losing three straight, settling for a Sun Bowl appearance, while USC went on to blow out Illinois in the Rose Bowl.
November 19, 2011
No. 4 Oregon Ducks 35, USC 38
This game ripped out the hearts of many Ducks fans as nearly 60,000 from the Autzen faithful watched a game-tying 37-yard Oregon field goal attempt miss just wide to the left. Matt Barkley led the unranked, probation-plagued Trojans into Autzen Stadium to upset the then fourth-ranked Ducks.
Quarterback Darron Thomas and running back Kenjon Barner were the backbone to Oregon’s offense and really had a fine performance. Thomas threw for 265 and a touchdown while Barner covered 123 yards on the ground and ran for two touchdowns. De’Anthony Thomas also had a couple of touchdowns, including an electrifying kickoff return. Unfortunately for the Ducks, all the positives Oregon had on offense were overshadowed by Barkley’s four touchdown passes.
The third quarter of this game, which was largely dominated by the Trojans, was far from being a classic. USC possessed a 21-7 lead, which grew to 38-14 near the end of the quarter. But in the fourth quarter, the Ducks scored 21 unanswered points to crawl within three. Their defense then rose to the occasion, forcing the ball out of the Trojans’ hands late in the fourth and giving Oregon one more opportunity to tie the game. Oregon’s national title hopes were still alive when kicker Alejandro Maldonado stepped up to a 37-yard field goal attempt to send the game to overtime. He missed, completing the upset for USC and crippling the Ducks’ BCS chances.
This game goes down as an instant classic between these two programs because of the magnitude. The Trojans had little to lose, while the Ducks had everything to lose. The game gave the Ducks a second chance after an opening night loss to LSU. However, it is now remembered as an outstanding comeback that was too little, too late. Oregon would settle for a Rose Bowl win against the Wisconsin Badgers while the bowl-ineligible Trojans were left to watch at home.
November 3, 2012
No. 2 Oregon Ducks 61, No. 18 USC 52
This Oregon team might have been the best Ducks team to take the field in program history, and they were out looking to avenge the defeat of the previous year. The second-ranked Ducks and 18th-ranked Trojans put on a show for the Los Angeles crowd in a game where the defense was abysmal.
The Ducks took the field in their “storm-trooper” all-white uniforms and jumped out to a quick lead in the first quarter. It’s rare that a quarterback throws for five touchdowns and still gets outshined by two opposing players and a loses to boot, but that’s what happened to Barkley. Marcus Mariota threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns, while Barner had his best game as a Duck, thrashing the USC defense for 321 yards and five touchdowns.
By the end, this unforgettable game had fans and play-by-play commentator Gus Johnson gasping for air as both teams combined for 113 points and 1,345 total yards. It was also very back and forth in the sense that Oregon’s lead was as high as 16 points and as low as three.
By the end of the season, the preseason-number-one USC Trojans had not lived up to expectations, and they wound up losing in the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech. As for Oregon, after this win it jumped to number one in the polls before losing to Stanford mere days later. Another strong Oregon team was left to wait another year to have a shot at the national title, but it did defeat Kansas State soundly in the Fiesta Bowl.
Looking at Oregon’s 2019 schedule in the preseason, the stretch with Washington, Wazzu and USC was going to be the toughest part. With the Huskies and Cougars in the rear view, each game becomes the biggest game of the year. Right now, that’s USC, and with a win, the Ducks can begin to make the case that they belong in the College Football Playoff. If history tells us anything, it is not going to be easy and we will have yet another classic on our hands.
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
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