USC could shoot down Oregon in sequel

Marqise Lee (US Presswire)

Commentary: USC's offense almost did enough to defeat Oregon, and could do so again in Pac-12 championship game rematch.

LOS ANGELES – Sequels usually tend to be an exercise in disappointment, but for USC, a second showdown with Oregon this season would offer the only redemption for what has been a massively disappointing campaign.

USC has the offensive personnel to beat Oregon in a possible Pac-12 championship rematch, even in the deafening noise of Autzen Stadium. They showed in Saturday evening's wild 62-51 loss, rolling up a staggering 615 yards of total offense, a whopping total if not for the opponent-record 730 rolled up by Oregon.

The problem was three times USC drove deep into Oregon territory, only to give away what would prove to be crucial points.

On their opening possession, quarterback Matt Barkley threw behind tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick on a third-and-eight, forcing the freshman to reach back to catch the ball and lose his balance with enough open space in front of him to pick up the first down. At worst, Cope-Fitzpatrick would have gained more than the four yards he did before stumbling, giving head coach Lane Kiffin more to consider than the 39-yard Andre Heidari field goal USC would settle for.

Field goal instead of a touchdown? That's four points left on the table.

On the second drive, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu got away with a blatant pass interference on wide receiver Marqise Lee at the goal line, shoving Lee to the ground and picking off Barkley's pass.

Interception instead of at worst a field goal? That's a minimum of three points left on the table.

Then, in the closing moments of the first half, Lee tried to do too much of a screen pass in the red zone, dancing around and allowing defensive end Dion Jordan to force a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Kiko Alonzo.

Fumble instead of at worst a field goal? That's a minimum of three points left on the table.

"The game comes down to three offensive possessions," Kiffin said. "That can be a big difference there, 18 (possible) points."

"We knew it was going to be a shootout," Barkley added. "I felt like we had to play perfect on offense, to score on every drive. Those few drives that were not productive came back to hurt us."

Add in two more field goals, and USC may have been driving for a game-winning score at the end of the game, instead of playing for pride.

And that's why Oregon will want no part of USC in a one game, winner-take-all showdown for the conference's automatic BCS bowl bid. The 51 points allowed were the most since 2009, when Stanford handed Chip Kelly his only Pac-12 road loss as head coach.

That Cardinal team had Andrew Luck at quarterback and Toby Gerhart at running back, and could dictate matchups through play-action. USC has been able to do the same in its last two meetings with Oregon, including last season's 38-35 upset in Eugene.

Running back Silas Redd averaged a respectable 5.1 yards on his 18 carries. All three receivers, Lee, Robert Woods, and freshman Nelson Agholor, took turns abusing the Oregon secondary, including touchdowns catches of 75 and 76 yards.

Unfortunately, the USC defense was so porous that the offense was stuck playing from behind the entire way, which plays to Oregon's strengths, allowing them to get aggressive and focus on accumulating turnovers and negative plays.

"It started from the jump," safety T.J. McDonald said. "They were going, they were going, they were rolling.

"The offense put up 51 points and that should be enough. We can't put our offense in a situation like that."

Considering the multiple opponent records Oregon set – most points allowed by USC in a game, most first downs, most rushing yards by an opposing running back, among several others – the defense couldn't possibly play any worse in a rematch.

And Oregon needed every point and yard, as Kelly admitted a shootout was in the offing "probably about two minutes into that thing," he said.

"If you watch Lee and Woods and how accurate Matt was throwing, it was going to be one of those games," Kelly said. "We had to continue to answer offensively because those three guys are three all-time greats. I can't say enough about Marqise Lee. He's impressive on film, but he is even more impressive when you see him in person."

But USC has to get Barkley, Woods, and Lee on the same field as Oregon again, which means winning its last two conference games against Arizona State and UCLA to win the Pac-12 South. There is no margin for error left, not after giving away games at Stanford and Arizona.

"We got to keep moving because Arizona State doesn't care how we feel right now. We got to keep pushing," McDonald said.

USC has the A-list star power to make a sequel meaningful. They just have to green light it first.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan

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