EUGENE, Ore. -- Halloween in Eugene began in darkness, with a steady rain and a few thousand fans screaming as national cameras rolled on an Oregon athletic department parking lot at 6 a.m.
That party ended about 15 hours later, the sky pitch black. The rain had stopped and, mercifully for the Southern California defense, so had Jeremiah Masoli, LaMichael James and the Oregon offense.
|LaMichael James (183 yards rushing, one TD) and Oregon score a huge victory at home. (Getty Images)|
With Oregon football in 2009, seeing is believing. You'd be excused if you have to look twice. Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll will take several looks at the carnage before he's able to decipher what went wrong. All the while, the 10th-ranked Ducks are unexpectedly in the mix for a national title.
"It was a real mess for us tonight," Carroll said.
Even Phil Knight, the most devout of the many Duck Heads, couldn't have predicted an outcome like this.
The Trojans allowed the most points in the Pete Carroll era, giving up 613 total yards to Oregon's surgically precise offense, watching the redshirt freshman James rush for 183 yards and Masoli for 164 on only 13 carries. Masoli's 222 passing yards and a touchdown were almost an afterthought next to the Ducks' 391 yards rushing.
Need perspective? The only time a Trojans team has allowed more total yards in a game was in 1946, to a Notre Dame team that amassed 621. The team that bullied its way past Ohio State in Columbus just two months ago in front of more than 100,000 people melted into thin air in the second half in front of a stadium-record 59,592 at Autzen.
"Masoli was ridiculously effective," Carroll said of the resurgent engine of the Oregon offense.
"I was as relaxed as I've ever been in my career," said Masoli, who cracked 1,000 rushing yards for his career, which spans less than two full seasons. "Even me and LaMike break a couple jokes every so often."
The Ducks answered every question Saturday night, except for the one that isn't up to them: How far will they climb in the rankings?
To answer the question, of course, some will consider what has come earlier in the season. That means the season-opening disaster against Boise State on Sept. 3, a 19-8 loss that showed their offense to be anemic and running back LeGarrette Blount's right fist to the world.
Dodds and Ends
Once buried, Oregon has surged back into the national picture long after being forgotten. The attention, and deservedly so, went to teams like USC, the seven-time Pac-10 champion.
"I guess when we lost that game people wrote us off," said cornerback Talmadge Jackson, who harassed quarterback Matt Barkley into just 49 passing yards in the second half. "But there's 120 people in this locker room that believe we can do whatever we want to."
After questions about its offense were answered with a 42-3 beating of then-No. 6 Cal, Oregon won without its leader -- Masoli (knee injury) -- on the road against UCLA on Oct. 10. Then Oregon aced the upset test -- the same one that felled USC on Sept. 19 -- by beating Washington in Seattle a week ago, 43-19.
Its latest test, playing at night with a national audience peeking in, was a retake of the one it failed at the season's start. A test that, former athletic director Pat Kilkenny will tell you, had coach Chip Kelly visibly anxious this week when he saw him in his office.
"It was intuitive," Kilkenny said.
A weary Carroll, now two games out of first place in the conference, confirmed that the Ducks have been able to ace these tests and their body of work should now speak for itself.
From here on out, the target on Oregon's back will grow, but it's doubtful it will be any brighter until the regular season ends after the carnival atmosphere surrounding Autzen before the game, when the national audience first focused on Eugene.
Kilkenny, who still consults with the Oregon athletic department after former head football coach Mike Bellotti became athletic director on July 1, stared up at the set of the national pregame show, and grinned ear-to-ear.
"It gives me goosebumps," he said. "I'm old enough to remember when there was no one here."
Fully into the thick of a BCS-bowl race and seated with a 10-2 grip in the driver's seat toward its first Rose Bowl berth since 1995, Oregon now deals with the possible return of Blount for its Nov. 7 game against Stanford. First-year Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said Saturday he will meet with Bellotti, Kelly and Blount to discuss a recommendation from the league, which has sole authority to endorse Kelly's possible plan to reinstate the tailback.
"The conference has got to form our own independent point of view about what's happened so that if the school comes to us with a request we'll be ready to respond," Scott said. "Nothing will be decided tomorrow. The school hasn't made a request to me yet. Until they make a request, there's nothing we can do."
Scott talked while Knight, the Nike co-founder and Oregon alumnus, announced to the nation he was picking the Ducks to win on Saturday night.
After this game, who won't?