It was late in the third quarter of the Oregon Ducks' sensational 62-51 win over the USC Trojans Saturday night at the LA Coliseum that my dad made the following observation about the game. This showdown, in more ways than one, represented a race - USC was a fast runner, but a runner that was always trailing five yards behind the Oregon. The Ducks jumped out to a little lead, and no matter how fast or how hard those Trojans tried, they just couldn't catch the Ducks. The observation was dead-on. USC was really, really good Saturday night. With an offense peppered with players who will play on Sundays at the most important positions, the Trojans put up 52 on one of the better defenses in the country with ease. For the most part, USC played with poise, pride, and skill. But they were nowhere near the Ducks. Oregon was just too good - five yards ahead of the home team all night long.
While Ducks title competitors Notre Dame and Alabama looked like they were playing offense inside a 2x4 tinderbox, Oregon played as if they had the freedom of the entire west coast, leaving the vaunted Monte Kiffin’s defense feeling helpless. They were. The Trojans never had a chance to halt the Ducks long enough to give their offense a chance to win them the game. This was the first time all year that Oregon's starters have played a full game, and their performance was awe-inspiring. 62 points. 730 yards of total offense, meaning the Ducks nearly averaged a first down every single play. It was as easy as 1, 2, 62.
For all the excitement and grandeur of the game, USC never led. While Oregon's defense struggled to keep pace with the best offense they'll see all year, the Ducks offense was masterful, almost without breaking a sweat. Kenjon Barner was taking the ball, and gliding for 10 yards a carry before breaking a sweat. Marcus Mariota transferred his presence and composure that has been so impressive against overmatched opposition, to a close, primetime game in front of almost 95,000 at USC. Mariota possessed a killer instinct, gashing USC for huge runs, and orchestrating an offense humming along at a pace that left LA with a shortage of oxygen tanks by the end of the 60 minutes. Oregon was so effective running the ball that when they did decide to pass downfield, it was a quick, painless Trojan surrender.
There is something to be said today for how far this Oregon program has come. No, not in the last four years under Chip Kelly, but in the last year alone. Last season, USC, a team under crippling NCAA sanctions, a bowl ban, and little to play for, came into Autzen Stadium and handed it to the Ducks. Sure, the final score of the game was 38-35, but the final storyline masked the real meat of the game - that USC dominated Oregon. It was 38-14 Trojans with 3:28 to go in the third quarter, and while the Ducks’ last-gasp fight-back was commendable, brave, and often lucky, USC was the better team. This year, the final score pandered to the Trojans - Oregon was superb and never had a chance to lose.
The Ducks scored four offensive touchdowns that rainy Saturday night in Eugene. On yesterday's picturesque evening in Southern California, they posted nine.
I'm still having a hard time imagining the Ducks beating the likes of Alabama, because, well, I still feel like they haven't been tested by a defense that can match their offense which has, and continues to, change the sport of college football. But in reality, Oregon was tested last night by a very good football team that matches up well the Ducks. Maybe I'm waiting for the Ducks to get a test they won't face. The Crimson Tide gave up 435 yards of offense to LSU last night, and while the Tigers are competent, they are in no way a team that is known for, or even wins games through a great offense.
Chip Kelly has adapted over the years; he's learned and he's better equipped to face a stifling SEC defense now than he ever has been before. Kelly has made his career as an innovator, and just because he's at the top with the offense he has now, that doesn't mean the innovating has stopped. Oregon's machine is more dangerous than it ever has been before and in Mariota, Kelly has his best quarterback to steer it. Common sense tells you that Oregon won't do what they did to USC to Alabama, or Notre Dame, or whoever they face down the line this season. But a computer, the likes of which may deny Oregon that shot at an Alabama, or Notre Dame, might tell you that the Ducks offense can't be stymied, even by the best opposition.
The Ducks certainly sent a message in LA. Sent a clear message to those blasted computers, sent a message to USC and the rest of the Pac-12 that Oregon rules the conference and everyone is light-years behind. They sent a message to the rest of college football that not only does the Ducks offense work against top athletes and teams, it's gotten better against top athletes and teams. Lost in all of this, possibly, is the defense, who created turnovers, stood tall in the red-zone, and didn't back down from a splendid quarterback, Matt Barkley.
I don't know who is going to stop this Ducks team. Stop them for 60 minutes; stop them down the stretch when the debilitating pace starts to kick in. We're watching mastery from Chip Kelly and his club. Of all of Oregon's masterful performances over the last four years under Chip, that was the most jaw-dropping. It wasn't the most unexpected, it wasn't the most groundbreaking, it wasn't the most dominating, it wasn't the most convincing, it was just the most ... wow. Kenjon Barner's stats speak for themselves, as does the fact that Oregon dropped 62 on the preseason #1. USC was good; they just were five yards behind the Ducks all night.
Oregon finally got to spread their wings. They circled this game on their calendar, and delivered. 62-51. The fans, the players, the coaches - except for Nick Alliotti - they all had a whole lot of fun. But the performance wasn't necessarily special in of itself. It was just another day at the office for a special team. There are most likely five games left this season, four of them against ranked teams. The Ducks entre of the USC Trojans was the start of the fun. There's just no telling what level the Ducks can rise to from here.