EUGENE, Ore. — After Oregon upset Washington, 29-22, last week, no one was brash enough to say the Ducks were a legitimate contender in the Rose Bowl race.
Believe it or not, the Ducks are now.
Oregon enhanced its reputation as the surprise team of the Pacific 10 Saturday at Autzen Stadium by beating USC, 34-27, before a crowd of 39,587.
The Ducks, behind quarterback Bill Musgrave's ball-control passing game, were as hot as the 80-degree temperature.
Oregon was in control all the way, leading, 21-0, at halftime and expanding that advantage to 34-14 early in the fourth quarter.
The Trojans avoided total embarrassment by scoring the last two touchdowns of the game.
Oregon has a 4-1 overall record and is 2-0 in the Pac-10. USC is 3-2 and 2-1.
The worst may yet be in store for the Trojans. This was the first of three demanding games on the road. Washington, which beat Rose Bowl winner Arizona State, 27-14, Saturday, is USC's next opponent, at Seattle. Then, it's on to South Bend, Ind., for USC and a date with Notre Dame.
As for Oregon, it is gathering momentum and could take the inside track in the conference race with a victory over UCLA next Saturday in Pasadena.
Musgrave, a redshirt freshman, had USC off balance the entire day with his dropback and rollout passes, mainly short throws to his tight end, Tim Parker, and his running backs.
And, once in a while, he would go deep to further confound the Trojans.
Musgrave competed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns while throwing 2 interceptions.
He was particularly effective in the first half--15 of 24 for 214 yards. Oregon so dominated USC in the first two quarters that the Ducks had 305 total yards to only 126 for the Trojans.
Oregon hadn't beaten USC since 1971, which meant that Rich Brooks, in his 11th season as the Ducks' coach, was winless against the Trojans until Saturday.
But he got one of the most significant wins in his coaching career at the expense of USC.
By scoring 34 points, Oregon matched its highest output against USC--a 34-0 victory in the first game of the series in 1915.
USC Coach Larry Smith said the Trojans were ready to play and hadn't underrated the Ducks. His players supported him in that view.
"You have to give Oregon credit. They made the big plays in the first half, and we didn't," Smith said. "You can't spot someone 21 points in a game like this, and it's pretty hard to come all the way back.
"Our big problem was that we couldn't keep our defense off the field in the first half, and our offense played bad."
Oregon had 52 plays to only 28 for USC in the first half.
Quarterback Rodney Peete completed 6 of 12 passes for only 70 yards in the first half while throwing an interception. Tailback Steven Webster was limited to 18 yards in 8 carries. He finished with 62 yards, after three consecutive 100-yard plus rushing games.
Peete's numbers were more respectable for the entire game as he completed 21 of 39 passes for 279 yards and 3 touchdowns while throwing 2 interceptions.
However, many of his passes were sailing on a windless day.
"Sometimes the ball was just slipping out of my hands," Peete said. "I'm a better football player than I showed today and I'm a better passer."
It wasn't a classic game for the junior quarterback, but what about USC's defense?
Oregon wound up with 448 yards of total offense to 421 for USC.
"Our tackling stunk," Smith said. "We were the worst tackling team in America."
Tim Ryan, USC's defensive tackle, tried to provide some levity in a subdued USC dressing room when he said, "We didn't bag our limit of Ducks today."
Apprised of Smith's remarks that USC's tackling was odorous, Ryan agreed.
"I know I missed a few tackles myself that I should have made," he said. "They just knick-knacked us to death. They just kept coming up with first downs on third and five and third and six. They made a lot of key plays."
Marcus Cotton, USC's prospective All-American linebacker, said the defensive unit just didn't play up to its capabilities.
"It was not so much what they did, but what we didn't do," he said.
If there was a turning point in the game, it came on the opening series.
Peete teamed with split end John Jackson on a 29-yard pass play that carried to the Oregon 38-yard line.
Then, on third and seven, fullback Leroy Holt was jammed at the line for only a one-yard gain. Chris Sperle punted into the end zone for a touchback.
Smith said that a run was the preferred call on third down because the Ducks were in a nickel defense.
"One of our linemen just got beat by one of theirs," the USC coach said.
Oregon then took command of the game.
Musgrave drove the Ducks 80 yards to a touchdown. The score came as Parker split USC's deep zone to catch a 28-yard pass with strong safety Cleveland Colter the closest Trojan defender.
It soon became 14-0 as Oregon split end J.J. Birden was isolated on the sideline and caught Musgrave's perfectly thrown pass for a 36-yard gain to the USC nine-yard line.
Tailback Derek Loville got the touchdown from the one-yard line.