The Oregon Ducks have been playing with fire this season. Beating Stanford so decisively last week covered the wool over how inconsistent the Ducks have been the past year. Despite boatloads of talent at the skill positions, Oregon simply is not as strong in the trenches as they've usually been. The losses from last season were just too difficult to overcome, and the replacements have been sloppy on too many occasions.
All of it led to a Saturday upset in Autzen, as they met a team that was ready to trade them punch for punch. The symptoms of their bad play were all on display against the USC Trojans, and the prognosis was the end of their BCS title hopes.
Oregon got off to another slow start, punting twice, turning it over on downs once, and fumbling it twice. The two fumbles were particularly costly, since Oregon got one fumble deep in USC territory and did nothing with it, and drove toward the end zone late in the first half to cut the Trojan lead to a touchdown and got it popped out in the red zone.
The Ducks were giving up the big plays rather than being the only ones making them. Oregon gave up plays of 59, 24, 32, 21 and 41 yards to help set up four of five USC touchdowns. The Oregon defense has generally been high risk, high reward, but no offense has been able to make them pay in Pac-12 play until Saturday night.
Oregon wide receivers have been generally ineffective this season, and that trend continued on Saturday as they dropped catch after catch early on. The Ducks offense requires that the wide receivers are precise in catching their routes, and mistakes like Rahsaan Vaughn dropping a sure touchdown cost Oregon.
Bruce Feldman points out that Oregon had only one run over 17 yards after having 13 runs combined the last two games. The Ducks got manhandled on the offensive line (the fourth or fifth time this season), but this time LaMichael James and Darron Thomas could find no room against the big Trojan defenders committed to stopping them.
Kenjon Barner provided the Ducks with a late spark on offense and Thomas did eventually start connecting with his receivers as they found the holes in the Trojans zone, but they dawdled for too long, and Oregon needed USC turnovers to really get back into the game late. Oregon still generated the points (don't they always generate the points?), but it was an offense borne out of desperation in a deep double digit hole. Credit to them for digging back, but as Takimoto of Addicted to Quack pointed out, it should never have come down to that for the Ducks.
Chip Kelly and the Ducks are still in the driver's seat to get to the Rose Bowl, but they learned that just like any team good or bad, the team needs to execute right to keep the team moving forward toward Pasadena. And for once, the high tempo of Oregon's attack didn't translate to a high level of football.