USC tailback Marc Tyler bulls ahead with three Oregon defenders trying… (Steve Dipaola / Reuters )
Reporting from Eugene, Ore. -- Matt Barkley knew the formula.
For USC to upset No. 4 Oregon in its frenzied stadium and on its speedy turf, the Trojans would have to keep their cool under the most trying conditions.
"We can't get all out of whack just because it's a big-time game like this," Barkley said last week.
On Saturday, the No. 18 Trojans played poised and efficient football for three quarters and then wobbled in the fourth.
But in the end, sanctions-strapped USC whacked the quack out of the Ducks with a heart-stopping 38-35 victory before 59,933 at Autzen Stadium.
"This sends a message to the rest of the country," safety Jawanza Starling said. "USC is back."
Victory was not ensured until Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds, but that didn't matter to the Trojans, who improved to 9-2 with the biggest win of the Lane Kiffin era.
"This is all about our fans and our players," Kiffin said. "They've been through so much. They've had so much taken away from them. We just keep moving those clouds away."
On a chilly night in the Pacific Northwest, Barkley passed for four touchdowns, receiver Marqise Lee emerged as a national star and the defense and special teams also came up big at times for the Trojans, who were 15-point underdogs and had been O-for-Oregon in their previous five trips to the Beaver State.
"This is a team that is really resilient," safety T.J. McDonald said. "We'll go into any stadium, anywhere, and play anybody. People sometimes forget: This is SC. And that's how we feel about ."
USC nearly blew a 24-point third-quarter lead, but that, too, mattered little to a team that knocked Oregon out of the hunt for the Bowl Championship Series title game, ended the Ducks' home winning streak at 21 games and stopped their Pacific 12 Conference winning streak at 19.
"This was like a bowl game for us," said Lee, who caught eight passes for 187 yards and also came up with several key kick returns. "The coaches probably don't want to say so, but it was to us."
Oregon, No. 4 in the BCS standings, went into the game with a chance to move up after Iowa State upset No. 2 Oklahoma State on Friday night.
But the Trojans, left for dead last year after being hammered by the NCAA, turned in a performance that could vault them into top 10 in the Associated Press media poll and set them up as a possible contender for next season's BCS title.
"We have been the underdog for awhile, but maybe that has shifted," said Barkley, who completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards, connecting with receiver Robert Woods for two touchdowns and with Lee and tight end Randall Telfer for one each.
"I think Matt Barkley is the best quarterback we faced this year, I will say that after playing against him tonight," Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said. "The game comes and the game goes. It's about making plays. You still have to go out and make plays and execute and we didn't at the end."
USC's defense held LaMichael James to 78 yards rushing, less than half of his nation-leading 150-yard average, and the defense, led by the linebacker corps, harassed Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas and forced three fumbles.
USC built a 21-7 halftime lead on Barkley's 59-yard scoring strike to Lee and two touchdown passes to Woods.
McDonald kept the pressure on the Ducks, blocking a punt on the first possession of the second half. The Trojans, however, had to settle for a 26-yard field rather than a touchdown, increasing their lead to 17 points.
The Ducks, sensing vulnerability, changed gears. De'Anthony Thomas' 51-yard kickoff return ignited a short drive that ended with running back Kenjon Barner's touchdown that cut the deficit to 24-14.
But USC came right back, Curtis McNeal breaking off a long run and Barkley connecting with Lee for a long gain to set up Marc Tyler's short touchdown run for a 31-14 lead.
The Trojans increased the margin when Barkley found Telfer for a short touchdown pass, but De'Anthony Thomas ignited the Ducks, and the crowd, with a spectacular 96-yard kickoff return to make the score 38-20.
The Ducks kept the pressure on, Barner finishing off a 75-yard drive with a short touchdown run that cut USC's lead to 38-27 with 12:44 left in the game.
Safety John Boyett gave the Ducks more life when he intercepted a pass and returned it to the USC 40.
Tight end David Paulson's 18-yard, one-handed reception in traffic set up James' short touchdown run. The Ducks added a two-point conversion on Darron Thomas' pass to Lavasier Tuinei, who was initially ruled out of bounds before a replay review confirmed the catch, cutting USC's lead to three points with just over seven minutes left.
USC began to eat up the clock, driving from its 28 to the Oregon 11. But once again the Trojans turned the ball over, Tyler fumbling with 2:31 left.
Oregon drove into field-goal range, the Ducks setting up initially for a 42-yard attempt. But an offside call against USC's Matt Kalil moved the ball five yards closer.
When the kick went wide left, the Trojans exhaled.
And then the celebration began.