The No. 4 Oregon Ducks entered the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with the highest scoring offense and the third-best rushing offense in the nation. The USC Trojans were coming off a disappointing loss to the Arizona Wildcats, which ended their run for a national championship.
With only the hopes for a Rose Bowl berth on the line, they took the field against the likely Pac-12 North winners. Here's a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the game.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota threw for two TDs in the first quarter against the USC defense.
The adage goes that you run to set up the pass—and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota did just that. Having already established the power of the run all season long, Coach Chip Kelly gave Mariota the keys for the opening drive, and the redshirt freshman only needed 65 seconds to take the offense down the field.
He went 4-for-4 for 68 yards and completed the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass down the middle to the Black Mamba, De'Anthony Thomas. Oregon 7, USC 0
The LA Times reported that USC quarterback Matt Barkley said that his team needed to hold onto the ball to eliminate opportunities for Oregon's offense. The Trojans mixed up their play-calling and dialed in seven pass plays and five runs on the opening drive.
On Barkley's third pass of the drive, he took a big shot to freshman wide receiver Nelson Agholor. The 6'1" receiver streaked down the left and seemingly hauled in a 44-yard touchdown, but Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu forced the ball out.
In the end, the Trojan offense marched 66 yards to the Oregon 22 and milked almost six minutes off the clock before settling for a Andre Heidari field goal to narrow the Oregon lead. Oregon 7, USC 3
This time around, the Oregon offense did what it does best: run. The Ducks ran seven plays—six of which were runs for 45 yards—and reached the USC 16. Trojan defensive end Wes Horton momentarily slowed down the Duck drive with a blindside sack on Mariota that pushed the offense back five yards to the USC 21.
In what would be an early storyline of the game, USC made a play on defense, but the Ducks would instead make an even bigger play. Mariota threw a WR screen to the right to Josh Huff for a 21-yard touchdown to re-extend the lead. Oregon 14, USC 3
In response, the Trojans marched down the field to the Oregon 8. Barkley then took a shot to his favorite target in sophomore receiver Marqise Lee, who stopped his route because he felt he was held. The referees did not give him the call, and Olomu made the pick in the end zone.
After a six-yard gain by Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, Trojan linebacker Dion Bailey sacked Mariota for a loss of five, but like last time, Mariota picked himself up and completed a pass to Huff—only this time for a first down.
Oregon continued its rushing attack on the legs of Barner and Mariota to reach the USC 32 before ending the first quarter.
Matt Barkley's three TDs in the second quarter narrowed the Ducks' lead to 34-24.
Mariota started the second quarter with a dangerous pass. On 2nd-and-5, USC linebacker Lamar Dawson followed the QB's eyes and drifted towards Josh Huff. Dawson missed an interception at the USC 27.
One thing you can't do against the Oregon offense is miss an opportunity for a turnover. Why is that? On the next play, Kenjon Barner ran to the right for a 27-yard TD. It would be the next storyline of the day: Oregon capitalizes on USC's missed opportunities. Oregon 21, USC 3
The Trojans found themselves in a hole. After throwing an interception to Olumu on his previous pass, Barkley completed a 75-yard TD to Lee, who left Oregon safety Brian Jackson in his wake. It only took USC 13 seconds to make it a two-possession game. Oregon 21, USC 10
A personal foul penalty on the kickoff return placed the Ducks at their own 12, but on the fourth play from scrimmage, Barner broke a 41-yard run down to the USC 29. He completed the drive with a five-yard touchdown. On the point after try, Oregon was flagged for illegal formation, and USC managed to block the attempt. Oregon 27, USC 10
On the next offensive drive that included big runs of 9, then 15, then 20, the Trojans found themselves at the Oregon 21. Facing 3rd-and-11, and not wanting to settle for a field goal, Barkley completed a key pass to Lee on an in-route to get the first down.
Then, in his best Ben Roethlisberger impression, Barkley drifted back way beyond the line of scrimmage, avoided the sack by Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan and extended the play to complete a seven-yard TD pass to Robert Woods. Oregon 27, USC 17
Oregon made big plays in the next 74 seconds. On 2nd-and-1, Mariota ran 58 yards off a read option to reach the USC 14. He then threw a touchdown to receiver Daryle Hawkins. Oregon 34, USC 17
The Ducks made a defensive play on Barkley's next snap. The Trojan QB again attempted to avoid a sack, but this time, Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso picked off the errant pass at the USC 28.
Trojan defensive end Morgan Breslin sacked Mariota on the very next play for a loss of seven yards, and the Ducks could not gain a first down on two rushes by Barner. Facing his first three-and-out of the night, Chip Kelly sent the field goal unit out—yes, Oregon does have one—for a 41-yard attempt, but kicker Rob Beard missed it wide left.
Quick quiz: Who remembers what Barkley did after he threw his last interception? That's right, he threw a touchdown. Coming off another interception, Barkley ran play action and hit Agholor in stride for a 76-yard touchdown. Oregon 34, USC 24
The Ducks started their next drive at their own 32 and took it down to the USC 13, thanks in large part to a 32-yard completion to Keanon Lowe. After losing two yards on a rush the play prior, Mariota mishandled the snap, and USC's Wes Horton recovered the fumble at the USC 19.
With 1:23 remaining, the Trojan offense was in hurry-up mode and took only about a minute to reach the Oregon 15. Barkley then completed a short pass to Lee, who tried to do too much to avoid defenders. Oregon's Dion Jordan came up to force and recover the fumble at their own 23.
The Ducks took over with only 15 seconds on the clock. Barner ran for 10 more yards on the next play, and Oregon may have continued to drive down the field with its quick-strike offense, but a personal foul penalty on Huff set the team back to its own 18. Mariota took a knee to take the Ducks into halftime with a 34-24 lead.
Silas Redd ran for two TDs in the third quarter.
The Trojans started the second half with the ball and continued with a more balanced attack, running five pass plays and six runs to get down to the Oregon 8. Facing 3rd-and-goal after two incompletions, Barkley attempted a pass to tight end Randall Telfer.
The refs, however, called pass interference on Oregon's Olomu, which gave the Trojans a first down at the 2-yard line; Silas Redd punched it in for the touchdown. Oregon 34, USC 31
Oregon's next possession was anything but balanced. Kelly called for 10 run plays and only three pass plays.
The Ducks converted two fourth downs on the drive, and Barner capped it off with a nine-yard TD run, in which he avoided a tackle in the backfield by Lamar Dawson and broke two more on his way to pay dirt. Another example of missed opportunities by the Trojans. Oregon 41, USC 31
Marquis Lee returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards to the Oregon 16. After two runs left the Trojans facing a 3rd-and-8, Lee stepped up again and caught a pass to reach the Oregon 3 and give the offense a new set of downs. Redd punched it in again from short distance for the touchdown. Oregon 41, USC 38
Oregon continued with their rushing attack with Kenjon Barner, who gained 38 yards on three rushes to get to the USC 36. The offense then lined up in a trips left formation with Josh Huff in the slot against Dion Bailey, a linebacker.
Huff streaked down the field; Mariota spotted the mismatch and hit him for the touchdown. Oregon 48, USC 38
Barkley finished the third quarter by completing two passes for 13 yards.
Kenjon Barner's 22-yard TD in the fourth quarter sealed the Ducks' win.
Barkley completed only one more pass on this drive. The offense stalled and faced a 4th-and-6 on their own 41. Too long of a distance in too dangerous a territory, the Trojans punted the ball away.
Starting the drive at their own 15, Oregon continued the ground attack while milking almost five minutes off the clock. Barner finished with a touchdown from five yards out. Oregon 55, USC 38
Marqise Lee again made a play on special teams and returned the kickoff 44 yards to the Oregon 47. Down 17 points with 9:15 to go, it fell on Matt Barkley to win the game. The Trojan passing attack—helped along by two penalties by Oregon's Avery Patterson—finished the drive with a three-yard TD to tight end Randall Telfer. Oregon 55, USC 45
USC attempted an onside kick, and Trojans cornerback Nickell Roby looked like he may have recovered it. But the referees ruled the ball was out of bounds, and the booth replay did not help the Trojan cause. Oregon rushed three more times, but the defense finally forced a punt.
There was a chance USC could actually win the game down only 55-45 with 3:35 to play. Instead, the Trojans could not get a first down and, on 4th-and-5, turned it over on downs.
The Ducks started their next drive at the USC 20 with three minutes left. Again, Oregon took to the ground, but the USC defense was overpursued and Barner broke off a 22-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-12. Oregon 62, USC 45
Try as he might, Barkley's Trojans could not over a 17-point deficit with less than two minutes to go. He went six-for-six on a meaningless drive against a softer Oregon defense; he completed a three-yard touchdown pass to Lee. Barkley attempted a two-point conversion to Lee, but failed. Oregon 62, USC 51
With the game already decided, USC Coach Lane Kiffin kicked the ball off so he would not injure any of his players and Mariota took a knee to send the Ducks to 9-0.
Kenjon Barner may have run himself into the Heisman race.
In the beginning, it seemed as though Marcus Mariota would win the game for the Ducks. He started off strong, he rebounded from negative plays, and his arm accounted for three of Oregon's TDs in the first half.
Not so fast (a phrase Oregon's offense has trouble identifying with). Kenjon Barner was averaging 6.91 yards per carry (per cfbstats.com), but against the Trojans, he boasted a 8.4 YPC average in an effort that amassed to a total 321 yards, a single-game school record, and five TDs.
If he wasn't already being considered for the Heisman, he sure made a case today.
According to cfbstats.com, USC entered the game ranked 29th in rushing defense, surrendering 123.25 yards per game. It only ceded six TDs on the ground all season, good for 12th in the nation.
Oregon made sure those stats would bottom out. In addition to Barner's 321, Mariota racked up 96 yards on the ground himself; he would have gone over the century mark if he hadn't kneeled the ball.
The Trojans lost the game when it punted on 4th-and-6 at its own 42 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. I understand that you don't want to give an unstoppable offense great field position, but Coach Kiffin should have realized that he was facing just that—an unstoppable offense.
When your opponent is racking up yards at will, then you have to put the game in the hands of your offense. It's like in 2009 when Bill Belichick decided his New England Patriots would go for it on 4th-and-2 from their own 28 against the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts.
Manning was on fire in the fourth quarter, finishing his first of two 79-yard touchdown drives in just over two minutes. The Patriots were able to pick him off on his next drive, but he came back and completed his second 79-yard drive in less than two minutes (h/t ESPN). There was nothing to Patriots could do to stop him.
Likewise, the USC defense had not stopped the Oregon offense all day, and it didn't make sense to punt it away in that situation. The Ducks scored on their next possession and pulled away from there.
Barkley may now be officially dropped from Heisman ballots. He may have posted Heisman-like numbers with 484 yards and five TDs, but his play has not culminated in the wins that were expected from the preseason No. 1 ranked Trojans.