Ashley Landis/Associated Press
For the second consecutive year, the Oregon Ducks are Pac-12 champions after their 31-24 victory over the USC Trojans on Friday night.
The Ducks weren’t originally supposed to play in the game but were named as a replacement on Monday when it was determined Washington would be unable to meet the necessary roster requirements because of COVID-19 concerns.
Oregon had a 3-2 record during the regular season, with consecutive losses in its previous two games against Oregon State and California. Head coach Mario Cristobal led his team to its best win of the season over previously undefeated USC.
The Ducks only had 244 yards of total offense, but they took full advantage of three Kedon Slovis interceptions. Two of those led to 14 Oregon points, while the third came late in the fourth quarter to stop a potential game-tying drive.
Tyler Shough threw two touchdown passes for the Ducks. They also racked up 136 rushing yards on 41 carries.
Notable Game Stats
- Tyler Shough, QB (ORE): 8-of-15, 91 yards, 2 TD, INT
- Travis Dye, RB (ORE): 11 carries, 55 yards; 3 receptions, 17 yards, TD
- D.J. Johnson, WR (ORE): 2 receptions, 27 yards, TD
- Kedon Slovis, QB (USC): 28-of-50, 320 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT
- Bru McCoy, WR (USC): 6 receptions, 76 yards, TD
- Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR (USC): 5 receptions, 74 yards, TD
Turnovers, Penalties Cost Trojans in Upset Loss
The Trojans have frequently been their own worst enemy in games. They trailed by at least 10 points in three games, including Friday, and needed a last-second touchdown to beat an Arizona team that didn’t win a game this season.
USC didn’t waste any time digging a hole for itself against Oregon. Slovis’ third pass on the first drive was picked off by Deommodore Lenoir. The Ducks scored three plays later after starting at the USC nine-yard line.
The Trojans’ next three drives ended with a punt, an interception and a turnover on downs. Before head coach Clay Helton knew what happened, his team was trailing 21-7 early in the second quarter.
As has been the case so many times this season, the Trojans seemed like they were going to pull off another comeback win by getting within seven points on two different occasions. It wasn’t meant to be for them on this night.
Unfortunately for Slovis, USC’s defense was unable to keep Oregon at bay for long. The Trojans gave up a 14-play, 83-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter that put them back down by 14 points.
Even when USC seemed like it was on the verge of making something good happen, it would be negated by a bad penalty or a careless turnover.
Following Oregon’s touchdown to open the second half, Gary Bryant Jr. returned the ensuing kickoff 27 yards to set USC up with good field position at its own 38-yard line. But the play was called back 17 yards due to a holding penalty.
Slovis was able to drive them deep into Oregon territory, with a 1st-and-goal from the four-yard line. The offense stalled at that point, forcing them to settle for a field goal.
Perhaps sensing that was a missed opportunity, Helton had his special teams unit execute a tailor-made onside kick to get the offense back on the field. He wasn’t rewarded for that approach, as Oregon forced a three-and-out to keep it a two possession game.
The USC defense was able to force a punt, but a roughing the kicker penalty on Talanoa Hufanga allowed Oregon to keep the ball.
Late in the fourth quarter, with a chance to tie the game, Slovis scrambled on second down and for some reason decided to throw the ball into a spot where only Oregon players were standing. Jamal Hill came down with the ball inbounds for the turnover to secure the Ducks’ win.
It’s telling that USC entered the Pac-12 title game ranked No. 13 in the nation, despite being undefeated (5-0) in a Power Five conference. This was a team that lived on the edge all year. It worked most of the season, but in the biggest game with an outside shot at the College Football Playoff, the team came up small.
Ducks Set Up for Bounce-Back Season in 2021
Nothing about this season went the way Oregon was expecting, but that doesn’t mean this is the beginning of a fallow period for the program.
The Ducks defense struggled throughout the season, allowing 28 points per game coming into the Pac-12 title game. There were logical reasons to explain that, not the least of which were the opt-outs by defensive backs Jevon Holland, Thomas Graham and Brady Breeze.
But that unit came out playing inspired football against a good USC offense. Slovis entered this contest with a total of four interceptions in five games, but the sophomore had two within the Trojans’ first 12 offensive plays.
The fact that the Ducks were able to stop USC’s first drive of the second half to force a field goal, instead of allowing a touchdown, was significant. If the Trojans had been able to punch it in there, they would have had touchdowns on three of their previous five drives and the score would have been 28-21.
This game was a microcosm of the good and bad elements Cristobal brings to Oregon. He certainly makes questionable in-game decisions, including playing conservatively in the fourth quarter with consecutive runs on second and third downs when the offense was in field-goal range.
Some of that conservatism stems from Tyler Shough’s propensity to give up the ball. The Ducks quarterback had an interception and only attempted 15 passes.
Even though this wasn’t the best game Cristobal has ever coached, he was pushing many of the right buttons early.
Geoff Schwartz @geoffschwartz
Thoughts on the Oregon game tonight…
I consider this an opportunity to beat USC + recruiting win more than a Pac-12 championship game. So I hope we win for that reason. Will we win? I don’t know. Our defense has to tackle + play much better in the secondary + force turnovers
And Oregon is trending in the right direction with a top-11 recruiting class after the start of the 2021 early signing period this week, per 247Sports composite rankings.
While the unranked Ducks had a disappointing year despite the conference title, there’s nothing in the big picture that suggests they are going to stay down for long in a Pac-12 that doesn’t have one standout program.
Both teams will wait to see which bowl game they will be invited to.