November 1, 2009

Oregon all over USC to take control In Pac-10

EUGENE, Ore. - This season's Pac-10 king wears garish gold-and-yellow uniforms and is led by an East Coast coach in a white visor.

With chants of "Go!" and "Ducks!" volleying across Autzen Stadium on Saturday night, delirious Oregon fans rushed the field to celebrate a 47-20 trouncing of USC.

USC's run of seven consecutive Pac-10 championships is all but officially over, as the Trojans fell to 6-2 overall and 3-2 in league play.

"This one hurts, but we have a lot of heart and pride," USC free safety Taylor Mays said. "We had the potential to play really well, but we have to be in the right mindset every game all the time."

Oregon, meanwhile, is 7-1 overall and the Pac-10's lone unbeaten at 5-0.

"This is a team - not just an offense - and everyone contributes," Chip Kelly said. "We are growing as a group. You have to play with what you got, and I know we have lost a few players to injury but the next guy just steps up and plays."

At this moment, no program in the Pac-10 has as much mojo as Oregon, which also happens to be the hottest team in America not named Florida, Alabama, Texas, Iowa or Cincinnati. Since a season-opening loss at Boise State, the Ducks have won seven in a row and have scored at least 31 points in each win except one.

Oregon made USC look like New Mexico. The Ducks sliced through USC's five-star talent, racking up 613 yards, the second-most ever allowed by USC. This was the worst loss of Pete Carroll's USC tenure and the most points any of his teams ever have allowed. Before this drubbing, Carroll's worst setback was an 11-point defeat (27-16) at Notre Dame in his first season in 2001. This was USC's worst loss since a 35-7 setback to Arizona State in 1997.

The most impressive stat? Oregon ran for 391 yards, on just 49 carries. The Trojans entered the game with the nation's No. 5 rushing defense (79.9 ypg). Ducks redshirt freshman running back LaMichael James ran for a career-high 183 yards and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli added 164 yards.

"We believe in ourselves and have high expectations every week we go into practice," James said. "We followed the plan and we were a better team today."

When Ducks running back Kenjon Barner ran in from 3 yards out at the end of the third quarter to give the Ducks a 41-20 lead, the party was officially on in Eugene.

"They overloaded us and threw us off our game plan, and we missed our chance to stay in the game," Carroll said. "We couldn't keep up with the fast-paced offense of Oregon. ... The Ducks' running backs had their way with us, and they were much too fast. It was a real mess with the running game."

Oregon still is playing without arguably its best player - senior running back LeGarrette Blount, who has been suspended since the season-opener after he punched a player following a 19-8 loss at Boise State.

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, who was at the game, said he plans to remain in Eugene to meet with Blount and school officials about Blount's possible reinstatement for Oregon's next game, against Stanford.

After the loss to Boise State, Oregon's season could have been over before it even truly started. But Kelly kept the team focused, and stressed time and again that it was just one game. Close home wins over Purdue (38-36) and Utah (31-24) followed before the Ducks blew out California 42-3. Oregon has dominated ever since, winning its past five games by an average score of 42-12.

Games remain at Stanford, against Arizona State, at Arizona and against archrival Oregon State. The Ducks will be favored in each game, but all four are perilous.

Still, it's difficult to imagine this team losing again.

Can Oregon get in the national championship hunt? Probably not. The SEC champion (Florida or Alabama) and Texas look like the best bets to play in the BCS title game. And unbeatens Iowa, Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State also remain ahead of Oregon.

But just winning the Pac-10 and getting to the Rose Bowl for the first time since Rich Brooks took the Ducks there after the 1994 season would be a great first step in Kelly's debut season.

As for the Trojans, they haven't played in the BCS title game since 2005. The Trojans were upset in that game by Texas. That pattern has continued in each of the past four seasons, as USC is defined more by its losses than its conquests. There was the home loss to 41-point underdog Stanford in 2007. There were the defeats at Oregon State in 2006 and 2008. There was the loss at UCLA in 2006. There was the flop at Washington earlier this season.

But Saturday night's shellacking was more noteworthy than all of those defeats. This was the absolute, most thorough loss of Carroll's USC tenure.

This pasting may have wiped away any mystique that still clung to the Trojans. And you better beware the Ducks.

"You have to finish, and we will continue to finish this season," Kelly said. "We are focused on the task ahead."

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.




 

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