Ducks make statement in dominating USC
The Oregon Ducks made a statement Saturday on a big stage and on national television, routing USC 56-24 and setting up a run to the Pac-12 title game.
In the championship game, the Ducks (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12), ranked No. 7 in last week's Associated Press poll, would likely play No. 9 Utah (8-1, 5-1), Friday, Dec. 6 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
It's not premature to think about the matchup. Both teams passed, arguably, their toughest remaining tests Saturday. The Ducks overcame a sluggish start and penalties and used Justin Herbert's passing to 6-4, 230-pound receiver Juwan Johnson — three touchdowns — to beat the Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a game televised nationally on Fox, coming closer to clinching the North Division.
And, Utah rallied to win at Washington, 33-28, and took over sole possession of the South Division with USC's loss.
The teams have favorable schedules, after each enjoy Nov. 9 bye weeks: Oregon — vs. Arizona, at Arizona State, vs. Oregon State; Utah — UCLA, at Arizona, Colorado. Something to keep in mind: Should Arizona or Arizona State knock off the Ducks (highly unlikely), the Beavers could win out, including beating UO, and win the North Division.
Oregon and Utah should move up in rankings, because No. 6 Florida lost.
And, could the Oregon-Utah winner then be considered for the College Football Playoff? Yes, that is a possibility. The CFP ranking comes out Tuesday.
Remember, Oregon's only loss, to Auburn, came on a touchdown pass with nine seconds left.
"We have to keep playing at a high standard," coach Mario Cristobal said. "Over the past (eight) weeks we've proved to ourselves that we deserve to be in that (national) conversation."
The Ducks scored four touchdowns off USC turnovers, not to mention Mykael Wright's stunning, 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with eight seconds left in the first half. And, the aggressive UO defense, which had given up 66 points and 860 yards combined against Washington and Washington State, held the Trojans scoreless in the second half until late in the game.
Oregon had only 16 net yards in the first quarter, and racked up 12 penalties for 157 yards (including ejections to Nick Pickett and Austin Faoliu), but the Ducks otherwise manhandled the Trojans (5-4, 4-2).
Said Cristobal: "We get a little bit emotional and passionate and go over the top sometimes, but we play hard. We're becoming a more physical team that plays with trust and cares for each other. We took care of business."
Herbert threw an early interception, but went 21 of 26 for 225 yards and the three scores to Johnson, the Penn State transfer who sat out the first five games with an injury. Johnson had seven catches for 106 yards.
"A guy that size who can run like that ... he's added so much to our offense the last couple weeks," Cristobal said.
Herbert also had a rushing TD.
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis had played well after taking over for injured JT Daniels this season, and the Trojans had not lost at Memorial Colisuem — beating Utah there with third-string QB Matt Fink. But, the Ducks rattled Slovis with pressure, and he threw three interceptions and fumbled deep in UO territory.
With an injury-plagued backfield, Slovis went 32 of 57 for 264 yards and three touchdowns.
Oregon led 28-17 at halftime, after struggling early and overcoming penalties, and then used the Herbert-to-Johnson hookup to put the game away in the third quarter.
Despite an injury scare to Herbert, who left briefly after a low hit, the Ducks went up 35-17 when Herbert hit Johnson for a 15-yard TD touchdown pass.
Safety Pickett got ejected for targeting, one of several bad penalties by Oregon, but the Ducks intercepted Slovis for a third time and Deommodore Lenoir returned the pick into USC territory. Johnson, who's excelling as a big-time matchup advantage at receiver, caught his second TD pass of the third quarter, 11 yards from Herbert and it was 42-17.
Then, Johnson made it a three-TD night, taking a Herbert pass and scoring on a 37-yard TD play for a 49-17 UO lead.
For good measure, Tyler Shough tossed a TD pass to Mycah Pittman for the final UO score. USC added a late touchdown.
The Ducks got off to an awful start with only 16 first-quarter yards as USC took a 10-0 lead, only to rally behind four big-time mistakes by the Trojans — three turnovers leading to touchdowns, and Wright's 100-yard kickoff return for a TD on a questionable kickoff call that gave UO a 28-17 halftime lead.
The Trojans drove 77 yards on 16 plays and scored on Slovis' 8-yard TD pass to Drake London.
Later, Herbert threw an interception deep in UO territory, but the defense rose up to force a field goal.
Then, the USC mistakes started to mount.
Verone McKinley III picked off Slovis in UO territory. The Ducks drove for a touchdown, aided by a targeting penalty (and ejection) by USC safety Isaiah Pola-Mao. Herbert ran up the middle for a 10-yard TD run.
USC drove the ball, taking advantage of double unsportsmanlike penalites (and ejection) by Faoliu. But, on third down at the UO 3, Slovis coughed up the football under pressure, with the Ducks recovering.
The Ducks went 92 yards on nine plays, culminating with Jaylon Redd's 2-yard TD run, putting UO up 14-10.
Slovis then threw right into the waiting arms of UO safety Brady Breeze on the next series, and Breeze returned the pick 32 yards for another touchdown and 21-10 Oregon lead.
USC got some points back, helped by Isaac Slade-Matautia's unnecessary roughness penalty away from a third-down play. Michael Pittman Jr. caught a 13-yard TD pass from Slovis, and it was 21-17.
Then, the inexplicable happened with 20 seconds left in the first half. USC opted to kick off the ball (by Alex Stadhaus) for Wright to be able to receive it cleanly — rather than a squib kick or a long kick into the end zone — and Wright cut through the poor coverage and sprinted through a gaping hole for a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown and 28-17 UO lead.
With a struggling run game because of injuries, the Trojans threw the ball 42 times — Slovis was 24 of 42 — in the first half. The Trojans defense actually played well, holding Oregon to 16 rush yards in the first half.
OREGON 0 28 14 14 — 56
USC 10 7 0 7 — 24
USC — Drake London 8 pass from Kedon Slovis (Camden Lewis kick), 9:15
USC — Chase McGrath 24 FG, 3:00
OREGON — Justin Herbert 10 run (Lewis kick), 10:11
OREGON — Jaylon Redd 2 run (Lewis kick), 2:36
OREGON — Brady Breeze 32 interception return (Lewis kick), 2:36
USC — Michael Pittman Jr. 13 pass from Slovis (McGrath kick), 0:20
OREGON — Mykael Wright 100 kickoff return (Lewis kick), 0:08
OREGON — Juwan Johnson 15 pass from Herbert (Lewis kick), 11:39
OREGON — Johnson 11 pass from Herbert (Lewis kick), 6:14
OREGON — Johnson 37 pass from Herbert (Lewis kick), 13:55
OREGON — Mycah Pittman 35 pass from Tyler Shough (Lewis kick), 6:50
USC — Kyle Ford 20 pass from Slovis (McGrath kick), 3:11
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