USC vs. Oregon: Streak Breaking Continues

USC vs. Oregon (Trojan Family Weekend)
November 2, 2019 at 5:05pm
Los Angeles, CA: 63,011 (of 77,500)
Total Time: 3 hours 34 minutes

For the first seven games of the season, this was how it went:

Then he decided to go and do that wrong too by breaking the streak last week in an away game win. This week, he continued the streak breaking by losing at home against Oregon. It wasn’t just losing that made it bad. It was in the top five largest margin of loss in the last 50 or so years (since the 0-51 loss to Notre Dame in 1966). Of the eight losses of 30 or more points in that span, Helton accounts for three of them.

2019 USC vs. #7 Oregon: 24-56 (34 point loss)
2017 #11 USC vs. #13 Notre Dame: 14-49 (35-point loss)
2016 #20 USC vs. #1 Alabama: 6-52 (46-point loss)
2009 #11 USC vs. #25 Stanford: 21-55 (34-point loss)
1990 #5 USC vs. #21 Washington: 0-31 (31 (31-point loss)
1985 USC vs. Notre Dame: 3-37 (34-point loss)
1977 #5 USC vs. #11 Notre Dame: 19-49 (30-point loss)
1966 #10 USC vs. #1 Notre Dame: 0-51 (51-point loss)

Even if we stretch it out through all of USC football history, Helton accounts for 13% of all USC losses of 30 or more points from 1888 to 2019 and this game ties for the 7th worst.

Believe it or not, some of them still exist

Before the exodus of USC fans in the fourth quarter, there was still quite a large presence of Oregon fans in the stands. I’ve honestly seen less hostile away games during my time (like USC-Stanford in Palo Alto at 12:30pm, when it feels more like a neutral site or USC home game).

It’s hard to believe that the team started out with a double digit lead before squandering it. The Trojans even pulled back within 4 after falling behind. Most teams would be able to hold it together with 20 seconds left to go before the half, but, somehow, the team with a dedicated special teams coach allowed another large kickoff return that ultimately broke the team’s back.

Oregon scored touchdowns on six straight offensive possessions and one apiece on defense and special teams. In the time that Oregon went from zero to 56, USC scored a single touchdown. The 0-60 stat is supposed to describe how fast cars accelerate, not the scoring totals of the opposing offense. A 56-7 scoring run is absolutely disgusting. The Trojans’ three touchdowns are spaced out by about 25 minutes each after the first one (23:55 and 27:09). Scoring droughts of that length don’t win you many games against top 10 teams. At least the ones that we did see gave us some excitement.

Quarterback Kedon Slovis’ first touchdown pass to Drake London looked like he was inputting keystrokes for Dance Dance Revolution or the Konami Code. He definitely needed cheat codes if he was going to try to win this game on his own.

Unfortunately, as mentioned last week, this kind of hero mentality can also hurt when it doesn’t work. He looked absolutely frantic at times. This generated some bad plays, near-turnovers, and actual turnovers. It reminds me a bit of Darnold starting to reach more and more and becoming a turnover machine later into his time at USC. Perhaps it is borne out of a desperate desire to win under a coach that can’t seem to get it together. Hard to blame him, given the context. By the end of the first half, Slovis already attempted an astounding 40 passes. Throwing 40 passes in a game is already a lot, even for air raid teams. Pass happy air raid teams like Washington State tend to sit around 30 to 50 attempts per game. Slovis hitting those numbers at the half and finishing with nearly 60 attempts illustrates the immense strain they are putting on the true freshman. Two of the three interceptions weren’t even his fault. One was a catchable ball being tipped by the receiver and one was when the receiver fell, allowing the defender unfettered access to the interception.

Good/Badisms

GOOD: Cornerback Greg Johnson’s deep pass break up early in the first quarter. It was a well-disciplined play that has rarely been seen from corners in recent years.

GOOD: Holding Oregon’s offense to zero points and negative yardage for most of the first quarter.

GOOD: Running back Kenan Christon continues to impress at running back. Had the team not fallen behind so much and been forced into throwing situations, he likely could’ve gotten his second career 100-yard game.

BAD: After the team gave up a pick six, the PAT block unit has a member running onto the field late. Those two consecutive plays demonstrated the mess that this team is under Helton.

BAD: Bad tackling every week.

CommBro Breaker

After the ninth game of the season, USC is 5-4 and still struggling to be bowl eligible. There’s a real possibility they could lose to all three of the remaining opponents (especially with two road games) and finish with a second consecutive losing season for the first time in 60 years. Even if USC wins out, Utah will need to drop a game to make a Pac-12 championship berth a possibility. Finishing 10-4 with a Rose Bowl win is still somehow not outside the realm of possibility.

Best case scenario: 10-4 with a Rose Bowl win then Helton still gets fired and replaced with a competent head coach.

What I expect to happen: 8-5 finish then Helton still gets fired and replaced with a competent head coach.

Ridiculous Stat of the Week: Oregon had more interception return yards (102) than USC had rushing yards (91).

Uplifting Stat of the Week: We really had to dig the bottom of to the bottom of the Walmart DVD bargain bin for this one. USC is #16 in the nation in passing yardage, despite all the changes at quarterback and playing younger players.

Misleading Stat of the Week: USC has a 100% win percentage this season…in games attended by less than 62,546 people. Maybe Helton has stage fright. Just kidding. It just means they are able to beat up on teams that don’t have as much resources.

USC vs. Oregon: Terrible Towel

USC vs. Oregon (Homecoming)
November 5, 2016 at 4:05pm
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA: 74,625 (93,607)
Total Time: 3 hours 33 minutes

This would have been one of those great, feel good games if it didn’t look like a Steelers home game. The Trojans were flagged a total of 13 times for 129 yards.

Instead of Terrible Towels, we had penalty flags

The first few minutes of the game constantly got interrupted for calls. Even if the total 20 penalties all went against Oregon, I would’ve still been irritated by all that wasted time. Part of that is on USC for playing sloppy, but that can only get you so far. Every team says their conference has the worst refs out of a emotion-fueled rants, but watch some games out of every conference. None of them consistently perform that badly—and that’s just the eye test. The statistics show literally half the Pac-12 sits below #107 in penalties per game at this point in the season. That’s actually an improvement from previous seasons.

Oregon head coach, Mark Helfrich, decided to try his luck by challenging the ref’s call on USC’s first offensive play. Personally, I don’t mind, but man was that a waste. It’s a first down play not even two minutes into the game. You burned your challenge for the rest of the game and lost a timeout. Baffling move.

And since we’re on the topic of penalties, it was fun to watch Oregon take two false starts in a row when attempting a fourth down play. The Coliseum crowd noise scared them from a 4th-and-2 near USC’s redzone to a 4th-and-12 and a punt. This all happened after the Trojans took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. I started to think, “wow, we may blow them out more badly than I thought.” Then the Ducks actually held USC for a few drives and scored their own touchdown. I thought, “oh wow, maybe I was wrong and they’ll actually make this a game.” Then they screwed up their PAT and I changed my mind again. Special teams—on either side—was not a bright spot in this game…except maybe for the Oregon punter pinning USC at the 1 and 3 in the first half. But let’s not stop talking about penalties just yet.

The back-to-back penalties (holding and offensive PI) set USC back to a 1st-and-35. A drive that started near mid-field was now inside their own 20. Seemed like a situation that you would end up punting on for sure. It didn’t help that their next play set up a 2nd-and-34. Passes to Michael Pittman and Ronald Jones more than made up the difference.

Ronald Jones II had another career-high night. Last week was in yards, this week in touchdowns. It’s been a long time since somebody rushed for 4 touchdowns on this team (2005), which ties the record, by the way. Definitely the offensive player of the game. Honorable mention to Deontay Burnett and a freshman honorable mention to Michael Pittman. I can’t let the defense be left out though.

Porter Gustin deserve defensive player of the game for his pass deflections and sacks. It seemed like he was in the backfield pressuring the Oregon freshman quarterback on almost every play. His best play was probably during the bat on 4th-and-2. Oregon had intercepted Darnold and drove to the USC 11 before being denied points by his pass deflection. His performance was instrumental in holding Oregon to half their average points per game.

Both USC and Oregon blitzed on a lot of plays this game. However, the USC offensive line didn’t do a great job picking it up. That probably let to a few ridiculous overthrows by Darnold. Not the best night for him either way, but not horrible either. Luckily, the Trojans were able to take advantage of Oregon’s bad run defense.

Stray Snippets

  • USC under Helton has finally managed to string together a respectable 2-minute drive.
  • TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe’s catch and run off the deflection seems to epitomize the wonky things that happen after Darnold took over as QB.
  • Oregon constantly ran a particular screen to the running back on the left side that got them a bunch of yards. That’s what you get for blitzing so much, I guess.

The Trojans have slowly climbed their way up to 6-3 (5-2 in Pac-12). It’s finally here: the biggest test in Pac-12 play for this season. Washington, sitting at a perfect 9-0. We’ll finally get a measure of how far this has really come from the loss to #1 Alabama in week 1.

CommBro Breaker

Even poor Puddles wanted to be a Trojan during that game. He brought his own plush horse to the Coliseum.

Or maybe he was just using it to chat up the cheerleaders

Or maybe he was just using it to chat up the cheerleaders

An Actual Purposeful Stat that Means a Lot More than Most of the Other Stuff I Put Here: USC is #8 in the nation in sacks allowed (9).

Useless Stat of the Week: USC averages less punt yardage (38.41) than their opponents (41.85).

Misleading Stat of the Week: Ronald Jones lost more yards on rushes than the TEAM.

This one took a lot of mental gymnastics. The stat line credits a -1 yard rush to “TEAM” for the QB kneel. Jones lost 8 yards at some point during his 20 carries.

USC vs. Oregon: Duck, Duck, Punt

Oregon vs. USC
November 21, 2015 at 12:30pm
Autzen Stadium: 59,904?! (of 59,000?!)
Total Time: 3 hours 11 minutes

No loss November officially ended on Saturday. As soon as USC climbed back into the rankings, they dropped right back out. It was a record breaking afternoon—in all the wrong ways. USC gave up the most single game passing touchdowns (6) from a QB ever; the most points allowed since losing to Arizona State 62-41 in 2013 (after which Kiffin was fired); and the largest margin of defeat since losing to UCLA 35-14 in 2013. This was in front of a crowd of 59,904, which is over their officially listed capacity. It was all in front of the fifth highest attendance in Autzen Stadium history.

It started with an interception in the endzone, fufilling Vernon Adams’ childhood dream to complete a pass to a USC player.

Jokes aside, things quickly went downhill after Chris Hawkins’ pick. Vernon Adams Jr. finished the first half with 4 touchdowns and over 300 yards passing. He closed out the game with more touchdowns passes than incompletions. Nothing went as planned for the Trojans.

Not even the broadcast went as planned. With the previous game going into overtime, the television broadcast was delayed until halfway through the first quarter. Meanwhile, fans had to watch through WatchESPN which was glitching out for whatever reason. The TV-lifers wouldn’t even have seen the interception, so for all they know, Adams looked error-free.

Adams averaged over 16 yards per pass attempt. The average Oregon scoring drive was 4.62 plays, spanning a 62.38 yards. The average touchdown drive was even less: 4.17 plays and 62.17 yards. USC, on the other hand, had three 9+ play drives end with a punt or loss failed 4th down conversion.

Like I’ve been saying, this slow start stuff wasn’t gonna cut it against better teams. A better team hit USC in the form of Oregon. The Trojans weaknesses were finally exploited to fruition and it was just ugly.

Embarrassingly bad blown coverage was a problem on a few of the Oregon touchdowns. It’s one thing to get beat one on one because a backup is unable to physically unable to keep up. These were a much bigger error. Just take a look at the frame below. As the ball is making contact with the receiver, there is nobody within a 10-yard radius of Evan Baylis.

nobodyhome

If a receiver catches a ball on the field and no DB was around to see it, was it really a catch? -NFL Refs

Adoree’s helmet didn’t even peek into the screen until both of Baylis’ feet were on the ground. He took it straight to the house to reestablish their lead. It was the first play from scrimmage for that drive. It’s crap like that that allowed Oregon to go on a 24-point scoring run spanning the 2nd and 3rd quarter.

USC’s offense had a few good drives, but ultimately were not consistent enough. Instead of catching up on points, they let dumb penalties catch up to them. A kick-catch interference was bad enough, but it also offset a roughing the kicker penalty. That ultimately cost the team a first down, forcing Albarado to punt again. Another drive killing penalty was Chad Wheeler’s personal foul penalty turning a makeable 4th-and-1 into a 4th-and-16. Instead of making up for it, he comes back out and has a false start before the next drive even started. Then the other tackle, Zach Banner picks up a false start. It’s 1st-and-20 before they could get a play off. In total the team had four personal fouls and four false starts—things that are easily avoidable. Having 12 penalties for 124 yards—both season highs—is not a winning formula. Surprisingly, they were able to get past that 1st-and-20, but it was something else they could not recover from.

Cody Kessler made a costly choice on the ensuing 1st-and-10 low snap. He ain’t Russell Wilson, bro. He’s either got to fall on it or throw it away. Instead he tried to roll out and make a play. That ended in a fumble and a quick touchdown by Oregon. Had the Trojans drove down and even scored even a field goal, it would’ve been a one score game. Instead, it became a three score game. With so little time and so many points to catch up on, the USC offense became increasingly more one-dimensional. A pass was expected pretty much every down, and that’s what they did. A predictable offense like that is pretty ineffective. That fumble was so crucial. USC couldn’t even score again that quarter.

On 4th-and-3, down 17 points in the 4th quarter, the team elected to punt. They had a little over 10 minutes to score three times when it took them almost 50 minutes to do that previously (on offense). That punt was basically a surrendering. The defense managed to hold Oregon to a field goal, but the damage was done. With less than 7 minutes and behind three scores, they had no shot, barring a string of miracles longer than the distance from LA to Eugene, Oregon.

While not a miracle, Adoree’ Jackson finally scored on special teams this season, this time returning a punt 41 yards for the touchdown. He also called for a fair catch for the second time in his college career, which might be more of a miracle. However, he had a mistake early, muffing a punt, but Iman Marshall hopped on it like a Black Friday deal.

Justin Davis’ overall performance was great as well. None were better than his run 25-yard run into the red zone in the 2nd quarter. I think I saw something like that before. No, not Kalen Ballage’s run against UCLA. I saw them do that in the Ender’s Game movie first.

CommBro Breaker

By some stroke of luck (shame on you if you cheered for UCLA), Utah lost their game, allowing USC to maintain control of their destiny. However, UCLA is in control of theirs as well. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Who will win? Who will represent the Pac-12 South in the Pac-12 Championship game against Stanford?

Double CommBro Breaker

Sounds way too dramatic. It’s more like an inconsistent force meets a semipermeable object. But still, WHO WILL WIN? Jim Mora Jr. plays against the fourth USC head coach in four years, two of them being interim. Both teams have struggled at times against beatable opponents and each have enough injuries to fill up a hospital ward. One of them will hobble to the finish line against Stanford to get roasted by Christian McCaffrey. Doesn’t that sound better than the CommBro Breaker?

Misleading Stat of the Week: 

If USC somehow manages to beat Stanford and UCLA, they will somehow manage not to be the losingest Pac-12 champion and certainly not the losingest Rose Bowl participant in history.

John Robinson’s 8-5 USC squad in 1993 actually had a 6-2 record in conference, tying both UCLA and Arizona. All three were recognized as co-champions, but USC was unsurprisingly unranked. UCLA went on to lose to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, while Arizona defeated Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. USC beat Utah in the Freedom Bowl.

There have been three previous teams have played in the Rose Bowl with 4 losses. They were 1963 Washington (6-4), 1977 Washington (7-4), and 1983 UCLA (6-4-1). However, 2012 Wisconsin snuck in at 8-5 when both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible to play in the postseason. So again, USC would not be the worst team (record-wise) to play in the Rose Bowl.

Why is this misleading? Because that unranked 2012 Wisconsin team somehow managed to take down #14 Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten Championship game—by a margin of 39. The final score was 70-31 and Wisconsin amassed two 200-yard rusher and one 100-yard rusher. So while the Trojans would have a better record than that 8-5 team, it might be difficult to say that they’re better than that.