Oregon running back LaMichael James breaks into the clear on a 43-yard touchdown… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
USC spent two weeks preparing for top-ranked Oregon's high-speed offensive pace.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, they didn't prepare for the Ducks' other gear.
The slow one.
Oregon lived up to its quick-strike billing in the first half and then overcame a three-point Trojans lead by going methodical in the second en route to a 53-32 victory on Saturday night at the Coliseum.
On a night when USC needed to play error-free, the Trojans committed three turnovers against the team that has made a cottage industry of turning mistakes into points.
"Our offense played terrible, and it starts with me," Coach Lane Kiffin said.
USC's defense and special teams helped the Trojans overcome a 29-17 halftime deficit, but Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas was masterful running the Ducks' spread-option attack as the defending Pacific 10 Conference champions improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in conference play.
The sophomore passed for four touchdowns, repeatedly burning the Trojans over the middle for long gains and touchdowns.
Meantime, running back LaMichael James rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns as the Ducks stayed on track for a possible berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
"We honestly thought coming into this game that we had a good chance of beating them," USC defensive end Wes Horton said. "But that offense is better than a lot of people thought."
During the week, USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey had said that Oregon had "a good running back and a good quarterback. Other than that, they're really not that good."
But the Trojans and a national television audience saw all of Oregon's many weapons as USC fell to 5-3 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-10.
The Trojans were hoping to avenge last season's 47-20 Halloween night blowout at Oregon's Autzen Stadium. Instead, Oregon won at the Coliseum for the first time since 2000.
The venue where USC dominated from 2002 to 2008 has turned into a house of horrors for the Trojans, who are 2-4 in the Coliseum in their last six Pac-10 games.
One of the victories was a rout of California two weeks ago, a game in which the defense dominated.
The Ducks, however, are a different animal.
Consider: Despite keeping the Trojans in the game by committing eight penalties for 85 yards, Oregon still outgained the Trojans, 599-376.
"When you get a lead, you don't want to snap the ball with six seconds left on the clock," Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said. "You've got to work the clock a little bit, especially with a kid like Matt Barkley on the other side who can drive his team down and score."
Barkley went into the game playing the best football of his USC career and had not had a pass intercepted in three games. But the sophomore struggled with accuracy and was forced to throw away multiple passes because of good coverage or pressure by Oregon.
Barkley completed 26 of 49 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown, but he had two passes intercepted, and a mistimed snap that bounced off him led to a second-quarter touchdown by the Ducks.
The Trojans converted only seven of 17 third downs.
USC led, 10-8, at the end of the first quarter before Oregon scored three times in the second quarter on drives that took 22 seconds, nine seconds and 28 seconds.
James' 42-yard run put the Ducks ahead, 15-10, Thomas' 45-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Maehl made it 22-17 and Thomas' 33-yard touchdown pass to Lavasier Tuinei gave the Ducks a 29-17 lead.
USC, however, reversed the momentum on the first series of the third quarter, when Horton tipped a pass by Thomas and Casey hauled it in for an interception that gave USC a first down at Oregon's 21. The Trojans pulled to within 29-24 on Barkley's five-yard touchdown pass to Ronald Johnson, and went ahead on their next possession on Barkley's one-yard sneak and a two-point conversion pass to Johnson to make the score, 32-29, with 11:19 left in the third quarter.
But quick-strike Oregon then turned methodical.
"That's a little different for us, especially in the second half," said Maehl, who had eight receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
Oregon used an eternity-for-the-Ducks 4 minutes 46 seconds to take the lead, scoring on Thomas' 30-yard pass to Maehl. After a USC punt,
the Ducks used just over four minutes to drive 82 yards in 11 plays, James putting his team ahead, 43-32 with a two-yard run with 1:14 left in the quarter. The Ducks, who average 55 points a game, added a fourth-quarter field goal and another touchdown by James for the final margin.
"It's always fun to score quick," James said. "But we'll take a five-minute drive."
All the way, perhaps, to the BCS title game.
champions improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in conference play.