Oregon conquers USC in Pac-12 title game slugfest

LOS ANGELES, CA – There’s a couple of ways that you can negate a quick-strike offense. The first avenue would be to run the football. And then run the football some more. If you have a successful rushing attack the way the Oregon Ducks run the football you’re bound to knock off a lot of time off the clock, thus creating a no-room for error scenario for the opposition.

Sometimes running the football philosophy could be used as an effective way to achieve two separate goals: run down the time and cover up whatever deficiency you may have on the other side of the football. Against the USC Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship game, Oregon tried to achieve both goals.

They wound up attaining that accomplishment in a 31-24 upset of the No. 13 Trojans, thanks in large part to the push of the Ducks defensive front line.

Oregon beat USC in Pac-12 title game
Photos courtesy of John McGillen/USC Athletics

“It’s a talented front,” USC head coach Clay Helton said. “We know Kayvon (Thibodeaux) and what he can do. I thought he had tremendous jump off the ball tonight. They did some nice things, got three sacks tonight. They flushed Kedon (Slovis) out of the pocket and got him off his spot a bunch. I thought Kedon did a nice job keeping his eyes up and downfield and creating a lot after being flushed. Credit to them, they’re a good football team. Their front is talented and they played well tonight.”

A prime reason why Oregon was able to stuff the Trojans was the play all night long by defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux was all up in the grill of USC quarterback Kedon Slovis, helping the team record three sacks and making life in the pocket a miserable place to be. When asked after the game about what clicked for the Ducks, Thibodeaux said blocking the haters and all the outside noise.

“It was the sheer thought that we had to play for each other,” Thibodeaux said. “Coming into this year there were a lot of excuses, a lot of feeling sorry for yourself. You could tell this game that we played for each other. We cut out the noise and we played with a chip on our shoulder.”

Photos courtesy of John McGillen/USC Athletics

Oregon came into the game with the Pac-12 No. 1 offense, averaging 467  yards a game. That’s also good enough for the 21st spot in the country. That means putting points on the scoreboard is no big deal for the Ducks. The high-flying Ducks average 34 points a game on the season. But the Trojans have scored at a better clip than Oregon, going for 35.2 points per game.

Something had to give. It wasn’t the Oregon defense. Before coming into this game, as a team, the Ducks defense ranked No. 72 in the country. That’s not bad. But it sure as heck won’t scare anybody. What the Ducks did do was put a body on USC and got physical upfront. As a result, Oregon held the Trojans to just 68 yards rushing and didn’t give up any freebies through the air.

That included picking off USC quarterback Kedon Slovis three times in the ballgame.

“Right away with the turnover, with the pressure on the quarterback, stopping the run game, physical on the line of scrimmage, physical on the perimeter really just came out with an attitude and purpose and mission.,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said following the game.

Photos courtesy of John McGillen/USC Athletics

The keep-away offense Oregon used in the second-half worked to perfection for the Ducks. Oregon rushed for 162 yards. The Trojans have had made it a habit to come back from deficits all season long. Each time, the Trojans have made their comebacks to victory look easy and entertaining.

Against Arizona State and Arizona, the Trojans spotted the two Pac-12 South rivals large leads before they were able to rally for last-gasp wins. The Trojans also pulled a rabbit out of a hat against UCLA to keep their regular season streak of undefeated games at five (5-0). The Trojans have been impressive during their run.

Don’t ask the Ducks how impressed they are with the Trojans. This time the rally came up short for the Trojans. While Oregon was busy consuming time off the clock, USC played desperation ball all game, going down 14-0 from the jump.

“It was an emotional game,” USC safety Isaiah Pola-Mao said. “Coach always says when emotions go up, intelligence goes down. Things happen and we just have to lock in in the moments, be in the game and be smart.”

Photos courtesy of John McGillen/USC Athletics

“Great college football game,” Helton said. “Credit to Oregon and Mario (Cristobal), played a wonderful game. Very good gameplan, and the kids played with great heart. As well as our team. I’ve never been associated with a group of kids who fight harder or have more heart. There’s a lot of hurt souls in our locker room right now. It’s something that I know our kids wanted extremely badly, to win a championship, and we came up a play too short today. These kids have taken us and laid a stepping stone, a foundation to what a championship team is going to look like.”

Since 2009, Oregon has won five of the last seven games against USC, including last year’s spanking in which the Ducks handed the Trojans a humiliating 56-24 defeat at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Why is this paramount to this conversation?

Well, the Trojans got an opportunity to square that embarrassing defeat to the Ducks last year when they played Oregon in the Pac-12 Conference Championship game a week from Christmas. With an undefeated mark and winning the Pac-12 South Division, the Trojans earned the right to play in the title game.

Oregon, on the other hand, sort of backed into the championship contest. After ripping off consecutive wins in their first three games, the Ducks dropped their last two matchups, falling to Oregon State and Cal by a combined seven points. And only because Washington, the Pac-12 North Division champs deciding to opt-out of playing in the title game did Oregon get the go-ahead to play.

By no shape or fashion should the Ducks have even been in the title game. One reason being is that Oregon lost 25 seniors, including quarterback Justin Herbert, off of its Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl-winning team of a year ago. Current Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough, who finished the game with 91 passing yards and two touchdowns, is just happy to lead his team to a Pac-12 title victory.

“It’s a blessing,” Shough said. “We were on our couch at home and got called back for a season. A lot of us are mentally drained. I’m so proud of our team because of the way we fought through these tough circumstances.”

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