LOS ANGELES -- If you want to nitpick about Oregon ...
The uniforms really do get tackier and wackier each week. Saturday's fashion choice seemed to be prison-issue all white. The Ducks looked like a bunch of Q-Tips running around the Coliseum.
Very fast Q-Tips, but Q-Tips.
|Oregon's LaMichael James and Darron Thomas may be the best one-two punch in the nation. (US Presswire)|
There's also that dirty little secret about why the Ducks score so much. At times, they have to.
But does it matter when they've given up seven points in the fourth quarter this season? Through eight games -- all those yards, all those points -- that's all No. 1 Oregon has surrendered in the final quarter. That might be cumulative measure of the Ducks after a 53-32 win over USC. Because they are more physically fit, they make the opponent go pfft, physically.
"We knew," Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl, "our offense would wear them down."
Maybe it's Oregon's dizzying offense or maybe it's just plain bewilderment. USC came out of the beat down almost feeling good that it wasn't worse.
"I think our two weeks of conditioning paid off," said coach Lane Kiffin, whose team had a week off to prepare. "It sounds weird because we got blown out ... I've really seen a difference in two weeks, so I can only imagine the effect [conditioning] has had for Oregon in two years."
In those two years Chip Kelly is 18-3 as a head coach and ahead of the pack as an innovator. Teams come to him in the offseason trying to find the secret behind scoring more and quicker. It just took a little longer Saturday for the nation's highest-scoring team that was winning games by an average of 39 points. USC actually held Oregon under its nation-leading average (by three points) but still lost by three touchdowns. Down by 12 at halftime, USC came out and hit Oregon with two quick scores to go up 32-29.
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Suddenly, it was 2005 again. The Coliseum was hopping. This looked like the night when another No. 1 would go down. These Ducks, though, not only are in shape but also are shape shifters. They can do it any way you want. At that point they morphed from quick strike to what Maehl called "grinders." Oregon responded to USC's two scoring jabs with two long touchdown drives of 12 and 11 plays.
"Those first two quarters we didn't have any of those real long drives," Oregon offensive tackle Mark Asper said.
Yeah, like that was a problem. In going up 29-17 at halftime, Oregon's four touchdown drives totaled 14 plays -- the last three came in only five plays. A comeback, a challenge, is what the Ducks needed.
"That's where we can get defenses really worn out," Asper said. "We've got pretty good conditioning."
Maybe the best thing you can say about the nation's No. 1 team is that, for all their pinball wizardry, they're in better shape than anyone else at the end of October. Better shape physically, of course, but also in the rankings -- BCS and otherwise -- after clearing a significant hurdle. Not many Ducks would bite on the idea that winning in the Coliseum somehow signified a shift in Pac-10 power. This is the place that bred a dynasty in the past decade.
The Ducks have to admit they were tested on this hallowed ground, coming from behind three times. By winning they set themselves up for a stretch run to that BCS championship game. Even if they didn't admit it, this was the Trojans' bowl game since they can't play in one until 2012, per the NCAA. They sold out emotionally even if the Coliseum did have a smattering of empty seats.
"We honestly thought coming into this game we had a good shot at beating them, but their offense is better than we thought," USC defensive end Derek Simmons said. "Their offense was so fast paced and so many things going on."
Thomas' throwing motion looks strained at times but he is probably a better overall package than the guy he replaced, Jeremiah Masoli. There is no one better on the ball-fake running the zone read option. Thomas had a Cam Newton-like 330 yards in total offense. James is a 5-foot-9, 185-pound bundle of power and speed. Maehl had eight catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who had one offer -- from the Ducks.
"We don't really talk about that kind of stuff," Kelly said. "We're just trying to score. We don't care how we score. Is it going to take 11 plays to get in? Is it going to take one play to get in? We did it both ways today. We're just trying to score points."
We know that by now. Oregon scored the last 24 points of the game, hitting at least 52 points for the fifth time this season. USC's Jurrell Casey raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he said the Ducks were a two-man team, Thomas and James. Let's say he's right. (He's not, by the way.) There are worse ways to go than to have a quarterback who throws for four touchdowns and the nation's leading rusher go for 239 yards and three touchdowns of his own. That's the second most rushing yards ever against USC. The last 200 yard rusher against the Trojans was a guy named Vince Young.
"I thought we'd have the feeling where we couldn't even breathe out there," Kiffin said. "Those are two great players, the quarterback and the tailback. I said all week, 'I don't care if you try to slow the game down or speed it up. Whatever you do you better score touchdowns.' "
There were moments that demonstrated how quick these Ducks are. Oregon held the ball for only 8:38 in the first half but still put up 313 yards because it was snapping the ball, on average, every 15 seconds. Receiver Josh Huff had just been run out of bounds after a 57-yard pass from Thomas with 22 seconds left in the first half. Oregon was desperate to score. USC was desperate -- to catch its breath. That's why Kiffin thought it was more important to call a timeout than it was to let Oregon get on the ball again.
Only a Thomas fumble two plays later kept Oregon under 30 in the first half.
Kelly and Kiffin might be the best play callers in the game. At least they were trying to prove it to each other. In the first quarter alone Oregon defensive tackle Brandon Bair caught a two-point conversion pass fooling everyone, including the network cameras. Kiffin countered with a Wildcat, a flea-flicker and a direct snap to tailback Marc Tyler.
It's obvious USC was trying to play its game of the season. Oregon was happy to get the game to the fourth quarter. Oh, those seven points? They came a few days ago in garbage time against UCLA during a 60-13 victory. Garbage time. If you want to nitpick ...